Sri Dattatreya with his 24 Gurus. Artwork by Erik Jacobsen.

The Cosmic Guru is the only Guru. All the rest is just comic. The real Guru is everywhere. Within, without. The Guru is above all the qualities, at the same time you see every kind of quality there. Sometimes the Guru is all sattvic, sometimes very rajasic, sometimes totally tamasic, sometimes, none of these things. It is something indefinable. Guru is the one who removes your darkness of doubt, the darkness of ignorance about who you are, and ultimately tells you how to experience that Guru within and see the same Guru everywhere.

In the Hindu system, Sri Dattatreya is considered Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra put together. He, himself, says that he had 24 Gurus, including various aspects of nature. One of his Gurus was a fisherman. Another one was a mother, in a countryside, who was pounding the grain into powder. They didn’t come to teach him. But he treated them as the Guru. It’s you who make the Guru. Nobody makes oneself a Guru. So it is the student that makes a teacher. Not the other way around. And if you want to learn you can learn from anything and everything.

There is a story that the fisherman was sitting on the bridge with his line cast in the water, his eyes fixed to the little float. There was a huge procession, with all of the band,  music,  dancing, and animals—horses, camels, elephants. It was a mile long procession that was going over the bridge. After the procession was gone, Dattatreya approached the fisherman and asked, “Wasn’t that a fantastic procession?” And there too, he had to go and shake his shoulder, get his attention to ask that question.

The fisherman replied, “I don’t know anything.”

“But, did you hear any sound, the drum?”

“Was there a drum? Where was it?”

“So then what were you doing sitting here?”

“Well, you know, I’m trying to catch a fish. All my attention was on that float. I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t see anything until you came and shook my shoulder and drew my attention.” Dattatreya immediately fell at his feet and said, “You are my teacher. I wish I learned this kind of concentration in my day‑to‑day activities when I want to do something. The whole royal procession didn’t attract you, because your eye was on a teeny little float to catch a little fish. And I am here trying to catch a big fish (God or Cosmic Consciousness). People say it’s in the heaven. Some say it’s everywhere. Some say it has form. Some say it has no form, and so on.  And I’m trying to catch that. How much of a great, big concentration I should have to catch that big fish. I wish I am you.”

See, here, the fisherman didn’t even know any scripture. He didn’t know Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Koran, Torah, no. He was totally illiterate. If we can learn something useful, something practical for our spiritual growth from somebody or from something, then that becomes your Guru. So a Cosmic Guru means everything in the cosmos is the Guru. We can learn from anything and everything if we want to learn.

Sincere studentship is the most important. Mumukshutva, is the final qualification in Sadhana Chatushtaya, the fourfold means of spiritual attainment, in Advaita Vedanta. It is the intense longing, the burning desire for liberation, freedom and Self-realization. Who is the one who will be very keen in learning how to get released from all this turmoil, all this suffering? The one who got bound everywhere. Otherwise, why should they even be looking for liberation?  We try to use our little, finite intelligence, try to understand, grasping after things, to make our lives happy. And then, ultimately, when we realize that acquired things seem to be fleeting and temporary we begin the true spiritual seeking.

Artwork by Uma Schreiber from Enlightening Tales by Swami Satchidananda.

Once a fellow was hiking through a jungle. He was really tired and he couldn’t even walk anymore. When he saw a big tree with a nice shade he thought, “Ahh, let me just sit down here and rest a little.” As he was sitting he heard a big sound, the roar of a tiger. He looked and he saw a ferocious tiger coming towards him. He ran. From nowhere he got all the energy, when a few minutes before he couldn’t even walk one more step. All of a sudden he seemed to have gotten all the energy. That’s what you call kundalini. It is all stored in the body and when the real need comes it will pop up.

So he was really running fast, trying to escape from the tiger. In that pursuit all of a sudden he fell into an old deep well. It was covered with bush and creepers so he didn’t see it. But luckily before he reached the bottom, he was able to hold onto some vines and he was hanging there. The vines were strong and he was able to climb up, but when he looked up he saw that ferocious tiger still looking at him so he couldn’t go up. He held on but very soon he felt tired. He thought, “Why not I slowly slide down to the bottom.” As he looked down he heard a lot of hissing sound. He closely looked and he saw a few cobras that were there. He couldn’t go up or down. He was still holding there, clinging to his life.

At that moment he heard a little gnawing sound, “Krit, krit, krit, krit.” He listened to try and find where the sound was coming from and saw that the very vine he was clinging to was being gnawed by a rat. Any moment the vine will be cut. At that point he looked up, “God, what am I to do?”  When he opened his mouth to say, “God,” he felt something dropping on his lip. When he had fallen, he had disturbed a honeycomb and the honey was dripping from the comb and one drop fell on his lip and he said, “Ahh, I never tasted honey before or after like that until my wedding day. That was a nice wedding. My wife is my true love.” He forgot the entire situation he was in. He was remembering his wedding feast.

The happiness that we find in the world is like that. All our senses are ready to gobble us up like the tigers and the cobras. And our life is really dangling on the vine, every day being cut by the rat. Day by day, as you another sheet of the calendar, you are cutting the life thread. Any cut, any bite, would be the last cut.

When we realize this, we will see that the world is there to teach us this truth. Life is a continuous learning process. And we go through all kinds of experiences. Ultimately we come to the understanding that, nothing and nobody is going to make me happy or peaceful. Ultimately you realize that we don’t find our peace and fulfilment from the outside. It is in us, as our true, essential nature. Even that running after God from outside should cease. Our effort in going and reaching should cease. Then, you stop running.  The simple word for that is contentment.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda