CHAPTER – 3
“Now I wish to know why Sree Guru who is Parabrahman (the Absolute) has taken birth as a human being on earth”, said Namadharaka.
“Son, you are blessed indeed. God’s grace is on you. That is why you are son strongly impelled to know about him. This devotion shall eventually liberate you. Your faith does stir up my joy too. Earlier, I roamed the whole of this earth, but no one ever asked me to narrate the stories of Sree Guru. After so long, only you have asked me about these. Just as the ocean swells at the sight of the full-moon, at the sight of an eager devotee like you, my urge to expound the same wells up within my heart. Now listen carefully,” said Siddha and went on: “Sree Guru is infinite and so is his divine sport. One does not know where to start the narration of his divine acts. That is why, unless you question me specifically, it is not easy to commence the narration. However, it is never possible to express the full significance of his leelas in speech.
The Vedas describe the Supreme as the One, failing to reach whom our speech and mind turn back upon them selves. That is, his divine play can neither be comprehended fully by the intellect, nor its implication conveyed by language. Listening to or reading the stories of Sree Guru’s miracles is like a boat with which one can easily cross the ocean of misery ridden phenomenal existence. During the age of Kali, men are irreligious. Such do not understand this truth and are therefore lost in this ocean. Incessant cravings for pleasure are the ceaseless waves in it; such passions as lust and greed are the frightening creatures that infest it; the inarticulate cries of pain and sorrow of creatures constitute the roar of the surf. In order to take us safely across such an unfathomable and boundless ocean, the Guru is the helmsman. God’s i.e, the guru’s grace is the favorable wind. Owing to your meritorious actions of your past lives, you have got all the means necessary to cross it without much struggle. So make sure, you do so quickly. Now I shall recount the stories of Sree Guru’. So saying, Siddha led Namadharaka to the confluence of rivers Bheema and Amaraja, and both of them sat under the peepul tree beneath which, long ago, Sree Guru himself lived. As the boon bestowing Sree Guru sat under it, that tree too acquired the blessed power and hence may be considered as a veritable Kalpa vriksha, the wish-fulfilling tree. Then Siddha went on.
“My son Namadharaka, human beings are of three kinds; those given to sensual pleasures; the seekers after enlightenment; and the enlightened (or the liberated). The story of Sree Guru (i.e., Sree Guru Charitra) is the sole refuge of all these. The seekers of worldly pleasures gain them either by studying or listening to it. For seekers after liberation, it is the excellent remedy to cure the illness of ignorance. The liberated ones derive supreme bliss by listening to it. It is thus their very life. The full significance and efficacy of Sree Guru Charitra is something which transcends our limited powers of intellectual understanding and verbal communication. However much we recount it, there remains much that is never revealed, unless one is spiritually awakened to it by divine grace.
Once there was a terrible universal deluge and the whole world was submerged by a huge flood of water. Then Lord Narayana lay floating on the coils of the divine serpent, Adisesha (lit., what remains as essence when all forms are dissolved) and was in his yogic trance. Desirous of projecting the world again, he manifested (the creative grace) Maya and originated Brahma the creator from it. In order to promote the creative process, Brahma too, by an act of will, created the seven great seers, Mareechi, Atri, Ribhu, Pulasthya, Pulaha, Angirasa and Daksha. Of these sages Atri happened to be the one to whom Lord Datta was born.
Anasuya the wife of the great sage Atri became famous for her devotion to her husband (paativratya). Such was her spiritual power that the hard, uneven earth turned soft and smooth for her as she walked about. Even the scorching sun and blazing fire turned cool in regard to her. The god of wind dared not blow except as a pleasant breeze for her sake. The gods presiding over nature’s forces were afraid that they would loose their dignity if they defied her greatness and so sought refuge from Lord Vishnu, the Sustainer of all existence.
Once sage Narada who freely moves about the three worlds, visited the abodes of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and proclaimed the spiritual eminence of Anasuya which was a result of her intense, unrivalled devotion to her husband and of her unfaltering vow of hospitality to visitors. Hearing this, the consorts of the divine Trinity, i.e., Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Parvati felt jealous of her and wept. When their husbands tried to console them, they insisted that they should find an occasion to curse Anasuya Devi, or trap her in a moral dilemma and see that her greatness does not exceed their own. So the three gods went to the hermitage of sage Atri, disguised as three random guests (athithis). Anasuya welcomed the guests with due respect and seated them. As per her vow of dutifulness, she said, ‘Holy Sirs, you have sanctified our hermitage by your holy visit. I heartily welcome you. Please say what I could do for you. The master of the hermitage, sage Atri, has gone to the forest to perform his austerity (tapas).’ The guests told her that they were all very hungry and cannot wait till her husband returned home. They wanted to have food immediately. She went in and after making proper arrangements, invited them for lunch. Then the guests said, ’Holy one! Unless you take off your clothes and serve us food in your nakedness, we shall not eat but go away hungry!’ On hearing their words, she smiled to herself and reflected thus: ‘I am totally purified by the long association with the holy sage, Atri. What harm can the god of lust ever do to me? So I need fear nothing. If I do not comply with their precondition, they would go away after laying a curse on me for having failed in my duty and my promise to feed them. As they have sought food from my hands, I look upon them as my own children and not as strangers and grown up men!’ Having decided thus, she said to them, ‘Sirs, I shall do as you wish. Come and have your lunch!’ Then she did accordingly. At once, by virtue of her superior spiritual power, the three divine guests were transformed into infants! At the sight of them, holy motherly love welled up in her heart so intensely that her bosom experienced lactation. She happily suckled them and the three infants were immensely satisfied. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, as though exhausted with their tasks of Creation, Sustaining and Destruction had all enjoyed perfect rest in her lap!
Then Anasuya realized that they were the holy trinity and was very happy. She put them in a cradle and rocked it, singing a lullaby recounting the whole incident. Sage Atri who was on his way home heard the song from a distance and he knew what had transpired. On reaching the hermitage, he glorified the trinity thus: “Oh thou Supreme Spirit! You are the ultimate cause for Creation, Preservation and Destruction. You are the witness of the whole universe, the omni-present, all pervading essence of all existence. You are Lord Vishnu. You are indeed the Reality. But by your divine sport, you manifested yourself as the holy trinity for your won play. Though the universe is a projection of nescience of your real essence, it is not distinct from you. Only when perceived through the illusory sense of I and mine’, it looks distinct from you.”
As he sang thus, even while the three infants were in front of him, they also appeared before him in their original forms and wanted him to seek a boon from them. He then looked meaningfully at his wife and said, ‘My dear, these holy ones cannot be reached even by the mind. They appeared here only by the power of your devotion. Tell them of your heart’s wish.’ She replied,’ my lord, you were created by Brahma for the promotion of the phenomenon of creation. Therefore, I shall be pleased if you pray to the one Lord that has appeared as this trinity to live here as our sons.’ Sage Atri did so. And the One Spirit, manifest as the trio said, ‘Oh wise sage, I offer myself to you henceforth as your adopted son. Hence I am Datta’. Owing to the power of Anasuya’s devotion, the divine trinity continued to live at the hermitage as her children. At the same time, they also left for their celestial abodes in their subtle forms and were united with their consorts.
As Lord Vishnu gave himself up completely, the sage named Brahma who was charming as Chandra, infant Siva as Durvasa and Vishnu as Datta. The children of Atri are called Aatreyas. Thus, in order to denote that Datta was his son, he came to be called as Dattatreya. He is indeed the supreme lord himself, the goal of Vedas. He is of the nature of Reality – Awareness – Bliss. He is the master of yoga and wisdom, the wish fulfiller of his devotees and is ever ready to bless them at their mere thought of Him. He wanders all over the creation. Durvasa was choleric in temperament. Still, he blesses others. Chandra sustains the worlds.
The Supreme Spirit, henceforth known as Dattatreya, is indeed unbound by phenomenal existence. Yet, in deference to a curse laid on him once by sage Durvasa, he ever abides on earth, assuming different human forms. This he does out of compassion for the creatures on earth and for the gods. There were avatars of the Lord earlier too, but all of them, after completing their mission, left off those forms and returned to their one essence. In order to bless his devotees, the Lord had incarnated as Lord Dattatreya, yet he did not, like the other avatars, leave the earthly plane of existence after accomplishing his divine mission. I shall illustrate the difference. The incarnation of Sree Rama was intended for the destruction of the demon king Ravana. The avatar of Sree Krishna was intended for the annihilation of King Duryodhana and his wicked train. So, after the completion of those missions, Sree Rama and Sree Krishna had cast off their physical bodies and left for their heavenly abode. But the avatar of Dattatreya was intended for the welfare of all creatures. As this mission has to be carried out as long as creation exists, he does not lay down his body and leave for his heavenly realm but goes on wandering from place to place. Thus Dattatreya is the eternal avatar of god’s spirit of self dedication to the salvation of all creatures. He manifests himself perennially at the perfect saints of all religions of the world.
As Siddha thus went on enumerating the unique features of the avatar of Datta, Namadharaka expressed one of his doubts thus: “Sir, Durvasa, by laying a curse on Dattatreya, has indeed done immense good to all creatures! If he was not cursed to wander about for the welfare of all, Lord Datta too would have laid down his physical body like the other avatars, after the fulfillment of his limited mission. But tell me, why at all, Durvasa cursed him. Besides, how could the curse affect him who is ever above all manifestation?”
Siddha replied, “Son, the supreme Lord is indeed ever un manifest, but when invoked by the power of devotion of the faithful ones, he manifests himself on earth out of compassion for them. He is full of the spirit of endurance. Durvasa once cursed king Ambarisha who was a devotee of Vishnu. Then Dattatreya requested Durvasa to transfer the curse to him, as he is has pledged to take over himself the sufferings of his devotees. Durvasa did so. And thereby curse accrued to Vishnu who manifested himself as Dattatreya. I shall recount the details of the story.
Long ago, there was a king named Ambarisha who honored his guests as the veritable forms of Lord Vishnu. He scrupulously observed the vow of ekadasi (the eleventh lunar day from either full or new moon day). The vow consists of fasting on ekadasi and breaking the fast before noon on the next day of dwadasi (lit. ‘The twelfth day).
Once sage Durvasa wanted to test the righteousness of Ambarisha and arrived at his palace with a large retinue of disciples on the morning of a dwadasi and demanded food for all of them. Ambarisha happily invited them all for lunch. Durvasa then went to the river for ablutions and deliberately delayed his return to catch the King in the horns of a dilemma. If, in order to fulfill his vow, he were to break his fast without waiting for the guest, it would amount to disrespecting the latter, according to the religious law. As a way out of the dilemma, Ambarisha sipped a little holy water (teertha). For, the act may be interpreted as breaking the fast without insulting the guest. The next minute, Durvasa arrived and was wild with rage. He said, ‘as per the letter of the holy law, you have taken the holy water as food, leaving us, the holy guests’ and cursed Ambarisha thus, “May you, in every one of your births, wander about without an abode!” The correlation between the curse and the error committed to deserve it is that Ambarisha could not await, in patience, the arrival of the guest and the curse ordains that its victim should like wise be deprived of any stability and comfort in all his future births.
Ambarisha being an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, the latter appeared on the scene and said,” Oh Durvasa, you being a great rishi, your curse cannot go in vain. But my devotee Ambarisha cannot stand it either. And it is my promise that I bear the burden of my faithful. You modify the curse so that I could suffer it in his stead.” Durvasa pondered for a while; ‘This Lord Vishnu is not easily accessible to devotees on earth. Hence it is for the good of all if He, instead of Ambarisha, should wander about this earth’. So he modified his curse accordingly. It is for this reason that the Lord Vishnu as Dattatreya has been wandering about in different forms all over this earth.
The same Lord, as described in the Puranas, manifested himself earlier as the Divine Fish, the Divine Tortoise and others. Even in this age of kali, he manifested himself twice. Even though these two avatars cannot be seen by the naked eyes of ordinary mortals in this wicked age, they respond to the call of devotees even to-day.
In this age of Kali, even the good which is conceived of in the mind bears fruit within a limited time, whereas in the case of sin, only when it is acted upon does it produce its fruit. It is only because, in the age of Kali, this facility exists, that the Lord did not prevent the spirit of Kali from manifesting himself on earth. How blessed are those, Oh Namadharaka, who live in a virtuous manner without allowing even a single evil thought even in this Kali age!”