BIRTH: The attributeless one without a second Brahman desired to be many and it created Maya which then created the triad of Gods Brahma, Vishnu, Siva who were personifications of three Gunas, satva, rajas and tamas. Lord Brahma then created infinite sons, among whom, were the Sapta Rishis. The senior most among them was the Atri Rishi. His wife Mahasati Anasuya was the daughter of the highly devoted and pious couple, Kardam Rishi and Devahuti.
Atri Rishi and wife Anasuya desired for a son, who would be an incarnation of Nirguna Parabrahma. Atri Rishi performed tapasya standing on one leg- ekapata for 100 years on the Ruksha mountain abjuring food and water. The Trinity were pleased and appeared before Anasuya. On hearing Atri Rishi's desire, the Gods explained that since the Nirguna Parabrahma cannot be seen, they, as manifestation of the Nirguna have appeared. They blessed him saying that his wish would be fulfilled.
In the course of time, Her wish was instantly fulfilled. Brahma was born as Chandra - moon, Vishnu as Datta and Shiva as Durvaasa. After some time, with the consent of Anasuya, Chandra left to take his position in the sky, and Durvaasa departed to do penance. Datta remained with his parents. However, before leaving, Chandra and Durvaasa endowed Datta with their powers. Therefore, Dattatreya is conceived as "three in one" and depicted as having three faces and six hands.
There is a twist in another Puranic version being Vani, Lakshmi and Uma becoming jealous of Anasuya so they sent the Trinity husbands to test her chastity. They came as holy men begging for food and demanded that she serve them naked. She in turn sprinkles holy water and rendered them babies, nurtured and nourished them as her own children. The Trinity wives were alarmed when the Husbands did not return. They came to Arti’s ashram and were shocked to see the husband’s condition. They understood Anasuya’s greatness and beg forgiveness.
It is speculated Datta has a 4000 years history although his birth and death dates are unknown. He is said to have been born on a Wednesday, the 14th day of the full moon in the month of Margashirsha. Datta does not give much importance to caste distinction, in fact his teachings denied the importance attached to the caste system in spiritual life.
TRIMURTI TATVA: Lord Dattatreya is symbolically depicted with three heads each representing Brahma Tatwa, Vishnu Tatwa and Shiva Tatwa. The All powerful creative cause is Brahma, sustaining energy is Vishnu and annihilating energy is Shiva. Srishti, Sthithi and Laya energies are three heads.
‘Datta’ is translated as ‘meaning given to’ and ‘Atreya’ refers to the sage Atri, the physical father. Atri was himself a legendary bard and scholar and one of the nine Prajapatis and a son of Brahma. Datta is called so because the divine trinity have "given" themselves in the form of a son to the sage couple Atri and Anasuya. He is the son of Atri, hence the name "Atreya." Dattatreya has large number of worshipers and each sect worship him differently. In the Shivite Nath tradition he is considered to be the incarnation of Shiva and as the First Teacher or Adi Guru. Among the Vaishnavite tradition he was adapted and assimilated into devotional bakthi despite his early standing as the Lord of Yoga and its distinct tantric traits.
DEPICTION: He is shown with six hands, In his hands He holds a damaru - a drum; a chakra - discus like weapon; the shankha - conch shell; a japa-mala or rosary; kamandala or water vessel and a trisula or trident. The rotating discus -chakra is a round circle with no beginning and no end. Like the universe, it too is constantly moving, always in a flux. He uses this chakra to destroy all kinds of karmic bonds of His devotees. With the japa-mala he holds a rosary with which He counts His devotees, liberating them by merely thinking of their name.
The kamandala holds the nectar of pure wisdom. With this He revives the souls thirsty for knowledge, liberating them from the endless cycle of life and death. The trident is used for killing the ego. The drum is used to awaken those souls who are still sleeping in the slumber of ignorance.
The conch shell is used to sound the the pranava ‘OM’ the primordial sound and the first word of the Hindu scriptures. The conch is also symbolical of the attributes of the Trimurthi and the sound it emanates as composition of AUM: Akara, the Creator -Initiator, Brahma; Ukara, Sustainer-Protector, Vishnu, Makara – Destroyer-Terminator, Maheswara. In combination with the conch of the Lord, they sound as the eternal Omkara – Datta. In Sanskrit, "Datta" means gift, hence, Omkara is the eternal gift of God to all.
ATTRIBUTES: The four dogs of Dattatreya are representations and embodiments of the four Vedas. They follow the Lord as "hounds of heaven, watchdogs of the ultimate Truth". They help the Lord in "hunting" and finding pure souls, wherever they may be born. Lord Dattatreya is depicted with the cow named Kamadhenu. This divine cow grants the wishes and desires of all those who seek the Lord. She grants all material and spiritual wishes of His devotees. He stands in front of the Audumbara tree. This is the celestial wish -yielding tree. It fulfills the wishes of those who prostrate before it. Audumbara is the bearer of nectar.
DIGAMBARA: He was of the period when Veda and Tantra merged to be a single cult. It was a period when most renouncers were stark or near-naked; condition of ‘digambara’. Digambara means ‘clothed in the sky’ or ‘sky as the garment’ symbolizing that the sadhu is one with his environment. Nudity has its own place in Hinduism and a regular part of sadhus’ life. One may take the view that it is an expression of going before God completely impoverished as a primordial state child. Shiva-Shakti depictions of nakedness might have served as a pattern of life for renouncers who desired one-ness to undertake the best possible discipline.
AVADHOOT: Datta is also known as Avadhoot meaning one who has shaken off all worldly desires. The way of life of nature was the highest ideal in Shiva-Shakti pantheon despite the sprouting of civilization and artificial life. The ascetics were beyond these and practiced Brahma-vidya. While they understood that knowledge pointed to realization, it alone could not reach the ultimate goal. Before the soul could be free, the mind must be made free and the body had to be free before the mind became free. Physical developments were essential to the extent it helped overcome past conditioning of the mind.
Dattetraya went in search of the Absolute at an early age. It is said that he spent a major part of his youth wandering the hills of North Mysore through Maharashtra into Guajarat and as far as the holy Narmada River. Scriptures say that he meditated on Gandhmadana Mountains and that he attained realisation near Gangapur.
His basic teachings were that nature is a cosmic teacher and by observing nature one gets enlightened. Dattatreya is depicted with a natural surroundings of birds, animals and the five elements rich with life. He is approached more as a benevolent god than as a teacher of the highest essence of Indian thought. Dattatreya is credited as the author of the Tripura Rahasya given to Parasurama, a treatise. This is a treatise on Advaita Vedanta. Datta, most probably adjusted to meet the needs and understanding of the disciples.
Taking the case of Parashuram, a Brahmin who became a disciple of Dattatreya, he was first initiated into the rituals for the worship of the Mother Goddess Shakti in her Tripura form as destroyer of the three cities or Gunas. Over time, Parashuram developed to understand the higher teachings which were gradually infused. Datta gave no significance for caste seems to have meant that realization and liberation was not a property of a select minority but as a supreme attainment and perceived as a continuous process. His methods exposed the need for a guru. Datta emphasized ‘prathiba’, ‘sahaja’ and ‘samsara’ to a considerable extent in his teachings as was in the Tantrik or non-Vedic agamas.
PRATHIBA: Datta emphasised on ‘prathiba’ in his Avadhuta Gita. ‘Prathiba’ Prathiba’ means vision, insight, intuition, inner understanding, unconditioned knowledge, inner wisdom, awareness, awakening. This is not to be confused with enlightenment or realisation. It is then the insight illumination which is the open gateway to the final goal. It is the inner transformation which enables the aspirant to distinguish Reality from the sham. In some way it can be visualised as a bridge between the mind and the Real Self.
In Yoga Aphorisms or Sutras, Patanjali expresses ‘pratibha’ as the spiritual illumination which is attained through yoga discipline to enable the disciple to know all else. The frequent use of this word in Avadhuta Gita is intended to show that insight-illumination is necessary to clear and pave the way to understand worldly puzzles and complicated ideas.
SAHAJA means natural. It not only implies natural on physical and spiritual levels, but on the mystic level of the miraculous. It means that easy or natural state of living without planning, design, contriving, seeking, wanting, striving or intention. It is that nature which, when once established, brings the state of absolute freedom and peace. Sahaja is a natural state which balances reality between the pairs of opposites and maintains harmony of the Cosmos. Thus ‘sahaja’ expresses one who has reverted to his natural state, free from conditioning. It typifies the outlook which belongs to the natural, spontaneous and uninhibited man, free from innate or inherited defects.
As such even nakedness of the sadhus is considered to be ‘sahaja’. By his own demeanor Datta shows man’s instinct for naturalness and primordial perfection not only of the physical and spiritual level but at the mystical level. A parallel is made to plants and trees which do not grow according ‘svadharma’ or rules and obligations incurred at birth. Nature only has ‘svabhava’ meaning its own inborn self or essence as its guidance. In other words ‘what is to come must come of itself’ to manifest in a state of absolute freedom.
Taoism speaks of ‘sahaja’ as a highest virtue – the loss of the peculiar naturalness or unselfconsciousness. One finds this state in an innocent child which is always in its ‘sahaja’ state unless interfered to by society. In his semi-naked state Datta was just as unconscious of others nakedness as he was of his own. “The person who has conquered the baser self and has reached to the level of self mastery: he is at peace, whether it be in cold or hot, pleasure or pain, honoured or dishonoured" – Bhagavad Gita.
SAMSARA: It is said that one would only comprehend the Avadhuta Gita after understanding the word ‘samsara’. It is also found in the Upanishads and Tantra scriptures where the sages used the word to mean ‘higher truths’. What is ‘higher truth?’ It means the essential unity of all things -- of all existence, the equipoise of equanimity, the supreme bliss of harmony, that which is aesthetically balanced, undifferentiated unity, absolute assimilation, the most perfect unification and the highest consummation of Oneness.
To Dattatreya it meant a stage of realisation of the Absolute Truth where there was no longer any distinction to be felt, seen or experienced between the seeker and the Sought. ‘Samsara’ is explained by Gorakhnath who authored the Nathas texts as a state of absolute freedom, peace and attainment in the realisation of the Absolute Truth. He placed it on a higher level than samadhi. Thus ‘samarasa’ implies the joy and happiness with perfect equanimity and tranquility, maintained after the Samadhi state and continued in the waking or conscious state; a form of permanent ecstasy and contemplation which the saint maintains at all times. Datta practiced ‘samsara’ as a matter of adjusting himself to the complications of the outside word. He saw himself in the world and a world in himself.
Dattatreya’s 24 gurus, Kavacha and Teachings would be a separate posting.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft Gods, Goddess, Minor Deities and Sages)
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi