Understanding the Meaning of Guru: Shedding Light on Darkness

 Discovering the true essence of the Guru with the story of 24 Gurus of Dattatreya.

Mon Feb 20, 2023

"Everything and everyone is Guru or none"

“Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu Guru Devo Maheshwaraha
 Guru Saakshaat ParaBrahma Tasmai Sri Gurave Namaha” 

Translation: “Guru is the Creator ( Brahma ), Guru is the Preserver ( Vishnu ), Guru is the Destroyer ( Maheshwar). Guru is the absolute (Self), Salutations to the Guru.” 

 The word ‘Guru’ is derived from two words – ‘Gu’ meaning Darkness and ‘Ru’ means the Removal of darkness. Thus, Guru is someone or something that dispels the darkness of falsehood and takes us towards the light of truth. 

 Before we explore it further I want to share with you a beautiful story which shows us what's Guru. This story is called 24 Gurus of Dattatreya. 

 Once, while Dattatreya was roaming in a forest happily, he met King Yadu, on seeing Dattatreya so happy, Yadu asked him for the secret of his happiness and the name of his Guru. Dattatreya said that the Atman(Self) was his Guru, and he came to him in 24 forms each to teach him a lesson. Then he describes his 24 gurus and the lessons he learned from each of them:

 1. I learnt patience and doing good to others from the EARTH, for it endures every injury man commits on its surface, and yet it does him well by producing crops, trees, etc. 

2. From WATER I learnt the quality of purity. Just as the pure water cleanses others, so also the sage, who is pure and free from selfishness, lust, egoism, anger, greed, etc., purifies all who come in contact with him. 

3. AIR though moving everywhere never gets attached to anything; so I have learnt from the air to be without attachment, though I move with many people in this world.

 4. Just as FIRE burns bright, so also the sage should be glowing with the splendour of his knowledge and Tapas.

 5. The air, the stars, the clouds, etc., are all contained in the SKY, but the sky does not come in contact with any of them. I have learnt from the sky that the Atman or the Soul is all-pervading, and yet it has no contact with any object. 

6. The MOON is in itself always complete but appears to decrease or increase on account of the varying shadow of the earth upon the moon. I have learnt from this that the Atman is always perfect and changeless and that it is only the Upadhis or limiting adjuncts that cast shadows upon it. 

7. Just as the SUN, reflected in various pots of water, appears as so many different reflections, so also Brahman appears different because of the Upadhis (bodies) caused by the reflection through the mind. This is the lesson I learnt from the sun. 

8. I once saw a fowler spread a net and caught some pigeons. The mother pigeon was very much attached to her children. She did not care to live, so she fell into the net and was caught. The male pigeon was attached to the female pigeon, so he also fell into the net and was caught. From this, I learnt that attachment is the cause of bondage. 

9. The PYTHON does not move about for its food. It remains contented with whatever it gets and lies in one place. From this, I learnt to be unmindful of food and to be contented with whatever I get to eat (Ajagara Vritti). 

10. Just as the OCEAN remains unmoved even though hundreds of rivers fall into it, so also the wise man should remain unmoved among all sorts of temptations, difficulties and troubles. This is the lesson I learnt from the ocean. 

11. Just as the MOTH, being enamoured of the brilliance of the fire, falls into it and is burnt, so also, a passionate man who falls in love with a beautiful girl comes to grief. To control the sense of sight and to fix the mind on the Self, is the lesson I learnt from the moth. 

12. Just as the BLACK BEE sucks the honey from different flowers and does not suck it only from one flower, so also I take only a little food from one house and a little from another house and thus appease my hunger (Madhukari Bhiksha or Madhukari Vritti). I am not a burden on the householder. 

13. Bees collect honey with great trouble, but a HONEY-GATHERER comes and takes the honey easily. Even so, people hoard up wealth and other things with great difficulty, but they have to leave them all at once and depart when the Lord of Death takes hold of them. From this, I have learnt the lesson that it is useless to hoard things. 

14. The male ELEPHANT, blinded by lust, falls into a pit covered over with grass, even at the sight of a paper-made female elephant. It gets caught, enchained and tortured by the goad. Even so, passionate men fall into the traps of women and come to grief. Therefore, one should destroy lust. This is the lesson I have learnt from the elephant. 

15. The DEER is enticed and trapped by the hunter through its love of music. Even so, a man is attracted by the music of women of loose character and brought to destruction. One should never listen to lewd songs. This is the lesson I learnt from the deer. 

16. Just as a FISH that is covetous of food falls an easy victim to the bait, so also, the man who is greedy for food, who allows his senses to overpower him, loses his independence and easily gets ruined. The greed for a sense pleasure must therefore be transformed. It is the lesson that I have learned from the fish. 

17. There was a DANCING GIRL named Pingala in the town of Videha. She was tired of looking for customers one night. She became hopeless. Then she was contented with what she had and then had sound sleep. I have learnt from that fallen woman the lesson that the abandonment of hope leads to contentment. 

18. A RAVEN picked up a piece of flesh. It was pursued and beaten by other birds. It dropped the piece of flesh and attained peace and rest. From this I have learnt the lesson that a man in the world undergoes all sorts of troubles and miseries when he runs after sensual pleasures, and that he becomes as happy as the bird when he abandons the sensual pleasures. 

19. The CHILD who sucks milk is free from all cares, worries and anxieties, and is always cheerful. I have learnt the virtue of cheerfulness from the child. 

20. The parents of a MAIDEN had gone in search of a proper bridegroom for her. The girl was alone in the house. During the absence of the parents, a party of people came to the house to see her on a similar object in reference to an offer of marriage. She received the party herself. She went inside to husk the paddy. While she was husking, the glass bangles on both hands made tremendous jingling noise. The wise girl reflected thus: “The party will detect, by the noise of the bangles, that I am husking the paddy myself, and that my family is too poor to engage others to get the work done. Let me break all my bangles except two on each hand”. Accordingly, she broke all the bangles except two on each hand. Even these two bangles created much noise. She broke one more bangle of each hand. There was no further noise though she continued husking. I have learnt from the girl’s experience the following: Living among many would create discord, disturbance, dispute and quarrel. Even among two, there might be unnecessary words or strife. The ascetic or the Sannyasin should remain alone in solitude. 

21. A SERPENT does not build its hole. It dwells in the holes dug out by others. Even so, an ascetic or a Sannyasin should not build a home for himself. He should live in the caves and temples built by others. This is the lesson that I have learnt from the snake. 

22. The mind of an ARROW MAKER was once wholly engrossed in sharpening and straightening an arrow. While he was thus engaged, a king passed before his shop with his whole retinue. After some time, a man came to the artisan and asked him whether the king passed by his shop. The artisan replied that he did not notice anything. The fact is that the artisan’s mind was solely absorbed in his work and he did not know what was passing before his shop. I have learnt from the artisan the quality of intense concentration of mind.

 23. The SPIDER pours out of its mouth long threads and weaves them into cobwebs. It gets itself entangled in the net of its own making. Even so, man makes a net of his own ideas and gets involved in them. The wise man should therefore abandon all worldly thoughts and think of their falsehood only. This is the lesson I have learnt from the spider. 

24. The Bhringi or the BEETLE catches hold of a worm, puts it in its nest, and gives it a sting, the poor worm, always fearing the return of the beetle and sting, and constantly thinking of the beetle, becomes a beetle itself. Whatever you constantly think of, you attain in course of time. As a man thinks, so he becomes. I have learnt from the beetle and the worm to turn myself into Atman by contemplating constantly on It and thus to give up all attachment to the material.

 In conclusion, potentially everything can be a Guru, anything or anyone which raises our consciousness, which takes us from the pettiness of ego self towards the all-encompassing Self is a Guru. In reality, the 'Self' only is the guru, all our struggles, experiences and relations are there to remove our darkness and take us to our own true Self. When we cultivate awareness, insight, and self-reflection, we can learn from all of our experiences and interactions, regardless of whether they come from a person, organization, or place. Whether we are learning from a wise teacher, a difficult challenge, or a moment of stillness, we can use every opportunity to deepen our understanding and grow in love and compassion. In the end, the greatest teacher and guide we will ever have is the one that resides within us. With patience, perseverance, and an open mind and heart, we can tap into the wisdom of our own inner guru and discover the truth, consciousness, and bliss that lie at the core of our being.


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