24 Gurus of Lord Dattatreya – The Guru of Environmental Education

Lord Dattatreya, also known as Sri Datta, is a Hindu deity who is also regarded as an aspect of the Divine Trinity or Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara. He was the son of Anusuya and Maharishi Atri. Thus his name ‘Dattatreya’ is derived from two Sanskrit words, ‘Datta’, which means ‘giver’ and Atreya which refers to his father the sage Atri. Lord Dattatreya is represented with three faces, one of Lord Brahma, the second of Lord Vishnu and the third of Lord Siva with six hands. The three in right hands hold a trident, a rosary and a lotus flower whereas the three left hands have s discuss, a conch and a water pot. The three heads from the same trunk signify the intimate unity of everything.


God Dattatreya is regarded as one of the most ancient deities. The earliest references to him can be found as far back as in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Dattatreya Upanishad, which is part of the Atharva Veda, describes him as variously taking the form of a child, a madman and even a demon, in order to help his followers attain Moksha (liberation) from the material world. Dattatreya is also the teacher who reveals the secret of life to sage Parasurama in ‘Tripura Rahasya’, an ancient treatise on Vedanta. Lord Dattatreya has been mentioned in several Upanishads too. The four dogs are shown with the image of Lord Dattatreya represents the Four Holy Vedas. A cow standing behind in the image represents the Mother Earth.

Lord Dattatreya is one, who is believed to be the incarnation of all of the three great gods in one. Thus, it is no surprise that he is believed to be one of the wisest Gods in Hindu dharma. Here is also an interesting story of how he became so wise. Lord Dattatreya considered as The Guru of Environmental Education gained enlightenment by his observation from the surrounding, which provided him, 24 gurus. These gurus taught Lord Datta, the path towards the spiritual self-realization of the Supreme.

Srimad Bhagavatam – The Narration of its story

Also known as the Uddhava Geeta, this teaching is considered as one of the best teachings by Sri Krishna after Bhagavad Geeta. Where, in his final teaching to his to Uddhava, Sri Krishna narrates the story of Lord Dattatreya and his 24 Gurus to him.

Srimad Bhagavatam

One day, King Yadu saw Lord Dattatreya wandering in a forest happily, free from worries. King Yadu was surprised and curious. So, with humbleness, the King asked the sage, “Why do you live in the forest, despite you look capable and wise? Also, How could you be so blissful and content, even though you have no family, nor any loved ones? Further, What is the secret of your happiness and what taught you these? What is the name of your Guru?”

Lord Dattatreya answered Yadu’s questions. To which, he replied, “Self-realization! It is the cause for are my bliss and contentment. My Guru is Soul (Aatmaa) alone, yet, the whole creation is responsible for the wisdom I have gained. Therefore, I shall elaborate my 24 individual Gurus among the whole of creation”.

Following, Lord Dattatreya said that he has learned twenty-four gurus. Thus, he explained about the 24 Gurus from nature.

Lord Dattatreya

1. The Earth:

One should acquire the virtues of endurance and tolerance of duality from the Earth. Where one can learn patience and doing good to others from the Earth.

2. The Water:

From the water, one should learn the quality of purity. Just as water retains its impurity at its bed and cleanses others of their impurities so also should we renounce the impurities arising from attachment to the physical body, acquire the treasure of spiritual knowledge and cleanse people with vices, of their sins. We should behave with affection towards all and should never be partial to anyone. Just as water flows from a higher altitude uprooting impudent trees, nurturing humble vegetation on its way to the low lying land so also liberated souls should destroy the vain and wealthy, punish the hypocrite evildoers and redeem those who surrender to them, of their sins.

3. The Air:

We can learn to be without attachment though we move with many people from the air. One should be detached like the wind. Just as the wind blows both in the hot and cold regions without being influenced by their qualities or defects so also those desirous of Liberation should wholeheartedly tread along the path prescribed by the Vedas (Shrutis) in the hot and cold regions without paying attention to virtues or defects of others.

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4. The Fire:

From fire, I learned to glow with the splendor of Self-knowledge and austerity. He should partake of whatever is available, refrain from bad deeds and utilize his virtues only at the opportune moment for a worthwhile cause. When on a pilgrimage, etc. one should eat whatever is available without accumulating it. Always remaining pure like the fire one should behave with equality towards all. Fire delivers the oblations to the deities made in it amidst chanting of their respective Names. In order to realize the transient nature of the body the flame of fire is considered as a Guru. Just as hardly any time is required to kindle and extinguish a flame so also creation and dissolution of a body from the five cosmic elements do not take long.

5. The Sky:

Just like the sky, the soul pervades all animate and inanimate objects yet it remains unaltered, single and steady. One should learn from the sky that the self is all-pervading and yet it has no contact with any object.

6. The Moon:

We should learn from the Moon that the Self is always perfect and changeless and it is only the limiting adjuncts that cast shadows over it. Which are in all sixteen phases of the moon including the subtle phase of the new moon and the fifteen of the fortnight. Though there is waxing and waning of the moon, it remains unaffected by them. Similarly, the soul is not affected by changes in the body.

7. The Sun:

The Sun stores water taking the future into account and benevolently showers it on the Earth at the appropriate moment. In the same way, the man should store useful things and make them available to all living organisms impartially, considering the time, place and the prevalent conditions. Just as a sun, reflected in various pots of water, appears as many, so also God or Brahman appears different because of the embodiment caused by the reflection of the mind. This is the lesson I have learned from the sun.

8. The Pigeons:

He once saw a pair of pigeons with their young ones. A net was spread and which trapped the young birds. The mother pigeon was so attached to her babies that she fell into the net and was caught. From this, I have learned that attachment is the root cause of earthly bondage.

A man who lives with an intense attachment to his wife and children feeling that worldly life is pleasurable is destroyed with time just like the pigeon. Thus, a seeker desirous of Liberation should be mentally detached from all this.

9. The Python:

The python lies in one place fearlessly having faith in its destiny. The python does not move about for its food. It is content with whatever food it gets and has no preferences about the quantity, taste, etc. It does not feel threatened if no food is available for some time and in-spite of having the strength does not make use of it. Similarly those desirous of the Final Liberation should partake of whatever little is available reposing faith in destiny and at times if nothing is available then they should become introverted and remain engrossed in meditating on the soul. From this, we can learn to be content with whatever we have.

10. The Ocean/Sea:

Image source – pixabay.com

Just as the ocean remains unmoved, even though hundreds of rivers flow into it, so also the wise man should remain unmoved amid all the various temptations and troubles. During monsoons just as the sea is neither pleased if the rivers bring in plenty of water nor is displeased if they do not, and consequently does not swell or shrink, so also man should remain steadfast to his duties and should neither feel elated if he experiences worldly pleasures nor unhappy if we are faced with tragedy. We should always remain immersed in Bliss. One should not let anyone perceive one’s virtues just as the sea keeps its length, breadth, depth and the treasures in its bed hidden from everyone. However one should always utilize them favorably, for the sake of others.

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11. The Moth:

To control the sense of sight and to fix the mind on the Self, is the lesson we can learn from the moth. The moth enchanted by the alluring radiance of the lit lamp dives at it and is soon charred to death. A man who is similarly fascinated by a woman’s beauty and youth for the sake of sexual pleasure finally perish in it just like the moth.

12. Queen Bee and The Honey Collector:

The queen bee: The queen bee builds a hive encountering several difficulties in a cumbersome location high up on a tree and collects honey in it. It neither eats it itself nor lets others feast upon it. Finally all of a sudden the honey collector kills it and takes away the hive along with the honey. In the same way, the miser who accumulates wealth with relentless efforts finally either becomes unhappy when it is suddenly lost in the fire, stolen by thieves or taken away by the king or when unrighteous progeny is born to him which misuses it or if he dies issueless. Thus after his death, the wealth either remains where it is or is acquired by someone unrelated to him. If at the time of death he still has the attachment for that wealth then he harasses the one who enjoys it in the form of a spirit or a serpent. Thus learning that accumulation of wealth leads to sudden death like the honey bee, one should stop amassing wealth.

The honey collector: Just as the one who collects the honey acquires it effortlessly so also a male seeker should partake of food cooked in the home of a householder instead of spending time in making a fire, collecting utensils, firewood, etc. and should devote that time to realize God. Such seekers desirous of Liberation partake of food from householders and ultimately uplift them.

13. The Bumble-Bee:

The sunflower which blooms with sunrise closes with the sunset. At that time if a bumble-bee is seated on it, then it gets trapped in the flower. Thus realizing that attachment to object pleasure gives rise to bondage, one should refrain from such attachment.

Just as the bumble-bee savors the fragrance of several sunflowers instead of one so also seekers desirous of Liberation should realize that every science will not be easy to grasp and hence should try to understand their implied meaning.

14. The Elephant:

The elephant is so powerful, yet, we capture it by digging a pit in the ground, covering it with grass and placing a wooden female elephant covered with elephant skin on that pit. Infatuated with the female wooden elephant, the elephant craves for sexual pleasure and runs towards that wooden female elephant with speed and falls in the pit. Thus it is easily made a captive by man.

Similarly man lured by sensuous pleasure is instantly entrapped in bondage. Men allured by adulterous women are destroyed in the same way as elephants overcome with lust die fighting amongst themselves.The male elephant, blinded by lust, falls into a pit covered with grass, even at the sight of a female elephant. Therefore, one should destroy lust.

15. The Deer:

The deer is enticed and trapped by the hunter through its love of music. Therefore, one should never listen to lewd songs but only devotional music. The musk deer which is as swift as the wind and can be captured by none, gets enchanted with melodious music and loses its life to others. Keeping this in mind one should not get entrapped in any kind of attachment.

16. The Fish:

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 loses his independence and gets ruined. When a fish-hook fastened with bait is thrown into the water, the fish lured by the bait swallows the hook and gets caught. Thus it loses its life. Man too is trapped in satisfying his taste buds and thus continues to suffer in the whirlpool of births and deaths.

17. The Girl – Pingala

One night despite a long wait not a single client approached her. As she restlessly waited pacing up and down, hoping for a client she was finally bored and suddenly developed detachment. As long as man has desire he cannot sleep peacefully. The one who sacrifices desire is unaffected by unhappiness.There was a dancing girl named Pingala. One night, being tired of looking for a client, she had to be content with a sound sleep. One can learn that the abandonment of hope leads to contentment.

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18. The Bird:

A Bird picked up a piece of flesh. It was pursued and beaten by other birds and dropped the piece of flesh and attained peace and rest. From this we can learn that people undergo all sorts of troubles and miseries when he runs after sensual pleasures and that become as happy as the bird when they abandon them.

19. The Child:

The child that drinks mother’s milk is free from all cares, worries and anxieties, and is always cheerful. Just like that, we can learn the virtue of cheerfulness, forsaking respect and disrespect, believing that the universe is governed by destiny one should live carefree like a child and enjoy the Bliss.

20. The Bangles:

The maiden was husking paddy. Her bangles made much noise and there were people around. To silence the bangles, she removed them one by one. When she had only one, it did not make any noise, and she was happy. I learned from the maiden that living among many can create discord, disturbance, dispute and quarrel. Even between two people there might be unnecessary words or strife. So, the ascetic should remain alone in solitude. Hence those doing meditation, yoga, etc. should search for an isolated place and live there in seclusion.

21. The Snake:

Two snakes never live or wander about together. They move around cautiously never making any sound. Instead of making a home for themselves they occupy someone else’s habitat. They neither move around freely, criticise without reason nor get angry unless injured by someone. Thus two intellectuals should not move around together, should speak limited, should not quarrel with one another or ridicule anyone, should act thoughtfully, should not address a gathering and should spend their lives living anywhere instead of building a house for themselves. By building a house one develops vanity and consequently attachment develops.

22. The Arrow-maker:

One day an artisan was chiselling the blade of an arrow with a great concentration. A king’s procession to the accompaniment of music passed by that way. A man arriving later approached the artisan and enquired, “Have you seen the king’s procession passing by this way, just now?” The artisan replied, “I was so engrossed in my work that I was not aware of anything”. Just like this artisan a seeker desirous of liberation should meditate surrendering all his sense organs to The Lord.

23. The Spider:

The spider spins a web secreting a fluid from its belly and plays in it day and night. When it feels like it, it swallows the entire web and becomes free again. Similarly God creates the world when He wishes and indulges in various kinds of play in it. When He feels like it, with a resolve He destroys it and becomes single again. Just as a spider can weave a web with its fluid repeatedly so also can God create the universe by a mere resolve, dissolve it within Himself and recreate it at His will. Hence one should not attach importance to worldly events.

24. The Beetle:

The beetle catches a worm and puts it in its nest and stings it. The poor worm, always fearing the return of the beetle and its sting, thinks constantly of the beetle and becomes a beetle itself. I learned from the beetle and the worm to turn myself into the Self by contemplating constantly on It; thus he gave up all attachment to the body and attained Moksha or liberation.


Furthermore, Lord Dattatreya explains what he has learned from his own body.

His body taught him Gyaan (knowledge) and Vairaagya (detachment). Birth and death are along with it. It means that if we hold on to this body then we have to bear sorrows. Dattatreya’s enlightening words impressed the king so much that he abandoned the world and led a life of austerity and meditation on the self.

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