The Avanti Brahmin’s 24 Gurus

One of the most significant teachings of the Bhagavatam is found in three chapters of the Eleventh Book. There we hear about the avadhut, also sometimes called the Avanti Brahmin, who claims to have taken lessons from a wide variety of teachers, simply by observing and studying their behavior. I would like to share the lessons from this chapter with you.

When it comes to understanding the nature of Guru-tattva, it must be remembered that the Guru appears in two forms, as the teacher or śikṣā-guru and as the initiator or dīkṣā-guru. Though the roles of these two kinds of teacher may be a little different, in either case, both are considered to be manifestations of Krishna. It is precisely when we recognize the presence of God in the external world, either in human or in some other form -- when we have a "epiphany" -- that we are experiencing the tattva called Guru.

This was also stated by the 16th century acharya Krishna Das Kaviraj—

guru kṛṣṇa-rūpa hana śāstrera pramāṇe
guru-rūpe kṛṣṇa kṛpā karena bhakta-gaṇe
According to the revealed scriptures, the spiritual master is the manifestation of Krishna. Krishna comes in the form of the guru to show his mercy to the devotees. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.1.45)

śikṣā-guruke to jāni kṛṣṇera svarūpa
antaryāmī bhakta-śreṣṭha ei dui rūpa
I understand that the siksha guru is identical with Krishna. He has two manifestations: one as the Indwelling Guide and the other as the best of devotees. (Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.1.47)
The Indwelling Guide is called antaryāmī in this second verse. To help explain the concept of the antaryāmī, Krishna Das refers to the following important verse from the Bhagavatam, spoken by Uddhava to Krishna at the end of the section known as Uddhava-gītā. Here Uddhava names the higher intelligence that comes from within Krishna’s caittya-vapuḥ.

Uddhava said,

naivopayanty apacitiṁ kavayas taveśa
brahmāyuṣāpi kṛtam ṛddha-mudaḥ smarantaḥ
yo’ntar bahis tanubhṛtām aśubhaṁ vidhunvann
ācārya-caittya-vapuṣaḥ sva-gatiṁ vyanakti
Great philosophers could never reach the end of your glories, O Lord, even if they should dwell on them with increasing joy for aeons. This is because you destroy all inauspiciousness and reveal the way to reach you in two forms: as the intelligence within and the teacher without. (SB 11.29.6, CC 1.1.48)

This teaching is not entirely new to the Bhagavatam. Krishna also emphasizes his role as the inner guide in his teachings to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita,

teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ , bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ, yena mām upayānti te
teṣām evānukampārtham aham ajñānajaṁ tamaḥ
nāśayāmy ātma-bhāva-stho jnāna-dīpena bhāsvatā
To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the intelligence by which they can attain Me. In order to bless them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy the darkness of their ignorance with the lamp of knowledge. (Gita 10.10-11)

So this is Krishna's promise to his devotee. He tells the devotee that he will never perish because he will give him the intelligence to awaken from his slumber of ignorance. Indeed, what is the Gita itself but an allegory for the Divine Intelligence speaking to the bewildered passenger in this chariot of the body as he stands facing the indecisions and dualities of this world?

So the role of the intelligence is illustrated nicely in the story of the Avanti brahmin, which is told at the very beginning of another gītā, this one spoken to Uddhava by Krishna just before his departure from this world. Uddhava asks him for instruction, saying,

“O Lord, other than you, the soul of my soul, I see no other divine being who can speak the truth to me, for even Brahma and the rest of the gods are embodied beings who are bewildered by your Maya and confused by superficialities. I take shelter of you, please instruct me.” (10.7.17)

Krishna immediately answers that through the use of their own intelligence, the perspicacious can lift themselves out of the inauspicious state they find themselves in.

ātmano gurur ātmaiva
puruṣasya viśeṣataḥ
yat pratyakṣānumānābhyāṁ
śreyo’sāv anuvindate
The Self is spiritual guide to the self, especially for human beings who through direct experience and inference are able to establish what is truly good for themselves. (11.7.20)

In his commentary, Srila Jiva Goswami specifies, however, that this intelligence arising from within also inspires us to find and follow a spiritual master without (gurv-anusaraṇe pravartaka ity arthaḥ). This is also stated by Krishnadas:

jīve sākṣāt nāhi tāte guru caittya-rūpe
śikṣā-guru haya kṛṣṇa mahānta-svarūpe
Since one cannot directly experience the guru as the intelligence within, Krishna appears as the siksha guru in the form of a highly advanced devotee. (CC 1.1.58)

Saraswati Thakur also explains here in his Vivṛti, “The non-self can never cause anything untoward or inauspicious to happen to someone situated in knowledge of his true nature. Thus someone situated in such knowledge does not get entangled in the perception of the non-self, but rather sees the presence of the Supreme Self (Paramatma) as guru in those things. Such a person is liberated and is truly capable of using the faculties of direct perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna).”

Krishna goes on to say that those who possess self-discipline seek him out, the Supreme Lord, by using their faculty of reason; and even though he is beyond the material nature, they are able to know him as the cause of all causes. Of course, Vishwanath points out the limits of reason—though one may be able to come to some understanding of the Brahman and Paramatman features of the Lord, Krishna as the Supreme Person is certainly beyond the scope of inference alone.

In other words, it may be possible to rationally conclude that there is a cause of all causes, since through observation we see that the world functions in a causal manner; it may even be possible to understand the logical basis for the Lord’s manifestation in human form, but without bhakti and the practices of hearing and chanting on the basis of revealed sources like the Bhagavatam and without the realizations of the acharyas in the disciplic succession, no one can independently know Krishna as God.

In the previous post, Krishna had just begun to explain to Uddhava how the higher Self acts as spiritual guide to the individual self, especially those who are capable of learning what is truly good for themselves through direct experience and inference.

In order to illustrate this point, Lord Krishna begins to tell Uddhava how King Yadu, his forefather, once observed a young renunciate, an avadhuta. An avadhuta is someone who has given up all possessions and worldly responsibilities, and has no fixed home. Yadu saw how this young man had a peaceful and joyous aspect, despite this complete absence of any of the usual sources of happiness. So he asked him how his intelligence had become so different from that of ordinary folk. How was it that he seemed so happy?

The Avadhuta answered him that he was fortunate enough to have had many preceptors who had shown him the way:

santi me guravo rājan
bahavo buddhy-upāśritāḥ
yato buddhim upādāya
mukto’ṭāmīha tān śṛṇu
I have had many teachers, all of whom have taken up residence in my intelligence. By making use of this intelligence, I am now able to wander through this world in complete liberty. (11.7.32)

Saraswati Thakur paraphrases this verse as follows, “Ordinary jivas who have no interest in serving Krishna look upon the various objects in the universe in terms of their ability to exercise mastery over them, with the intent of achieving the various goals of human life and increasing the length of their lives, their fame and beauty, and so on. The avadhuta had a completely different approach to the world. When Yadu saw this he asked why. In answer to this question, the Avadhuta said, ‘I have given up looking on the world with a view to accepting or rejecting things in terms of their potential as sense objects. Instead, I look upon them as teachers who can give me guidance. Other people are deprived of service to the guru because they are on the mental platform. I, on the other hand, wander through the world takng shelter of fixed intelligence; I have thus been able to find twenty-four gurus who have helped me to cross various obstacles so that I can attain loving service to the Supreme Lord.’”

And with that, the Avadhuta began to describe each of these teachers one by one, along with the lessons he had learned from each. The first five are the principal elements—earth, air, fire, water and ether.

1. The earth

The avadhuta said, “From the earth I learned that when one is overcome by the elements of material nature through one’s destiny, one should not swerve from the spiritual path. From the earth’s trees and mountains I have also learned to be selfless, and so I am ready to act for the benefit of others, like the trees.”

These qualities were also given special attention by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who wrote

tṛṇād api sunīcena taror iva sahiṣṇunā
amāninā mānade kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
One can constantly chant the holy names of the Lord if one is more humble than the grass, more tolerant than the tree, without any pride and ready to honor all others. (Śikṣāṣṭaka, 3)
One hot summer’s day, Krishna was out grazing the cows with his friends. Sitting under one broad-leafed shade tree, he said to the other cowherds, “Just look at these trees. You can tell they are the most fortunate souls because they have given their lives just for the benefit of others. They subject themselves to the weather—blustering winds, blistering heat, torrential rain and frost, and through it all they offer us shelter. What is more, they have made a success of their lives by providing for so many other creatures. They are like the most generous benefactors, who turn no one in need away. They satisfy all with their leaves, their flowers, fruit, shade, roots, bark and wood, their scents, sap, branches and even their ashes.”

Then he concluded,

etāvaj janma sāphalyaṁ dehinām iha dehiṣu
prāṇair arthair dhiyā vācā śreya evācaret sadā
This then is the ultimate success in human life: to use one’s deeds, wealth, intelligence and words in such a way that others are benefited. (SB 10.22.35)

This verse is so beautiful that Krishna Das Kaviraj used it to express Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mood in spreading the prema-dharma during his appearance in the early 16th century. Mahaprabhu said that the purpose of human life is to seek out true spiritual goals and to do the highest welfare work for others by sharing one's findings. He even said that this was the special duty of those born in India:

bhārata bhūmite hoilo manuṣya janma jāra
jīvana sārthaka kori koro para-upakāra
One who has taken human birth in the land of India should make his own life a spiritual success and then act for the good of others. (CC 1.10.35)

Some people mistake spiritual life for inactivity or inactivity for spiritual life, but this is a big mistake. Whatever we gain from our learning, our seeking, our meditation, our sadhana, our association with the guru and the saintly souls, all of it is so that we can ultimately help others become free from the sufferings that accompany the ignorance of material consciousness and forgetfulness of our eternal constitutional position as servants of God. Prahlada understood this, as he says in the Bhagavata—

prāyeṇa deva munayaḥ sva-vimukti-kāmā
maunaṁ caranti vijane na parārtha-niṣṭhāḥv |
naitān vihāya kṛpaṇān vimumukṣa eko
nānyaṁ tvad asya śaraṇaṁ bhramato’nupaśye ||
Sages are nearly always desirous of their own liberation and so they stay clear of worldly company and practice silence. They have no determination to help others. But I will not abandon these miserly materialistic people who wander through the material world, birth after birth, just to find salvation for myself alone, for I see no other shelter for them than you. (7.9.44)

So even though the avadhuta kept clear of the pitfalls of material and practised severe renunciation, still he was conscious of the need to serve humanity by teaching the truth of spiritual life to those who had lost their way.

2. The Air

The brahmin’s second guru was the air. In the yogic world view, air is of two kinds, that which flows around us and that which is present within the body. The latter is also known as prana, or life air. The prana does not require excessively rich or good-tasting foods to remain in the body, and so the brahmin took this lesson—that one should only eat as much as one needs to keep one’s intelligence awake and one’s mind and speech sharp. The pleasure of the senses itself should not be the object of our sense activities.

Similary, from the all-pervading air that surrounds us, the brahmin took another lesson: that of detachment. A yogi, he said, interacts with the sense objects, just like the air does. Similarly, just as the air does not become attached, neither does the yogi. Sometimes the air takes on the odors of the earthly objects it passes over or through. However, it simply carries these odors. One of the names of the wind in Sanskrit is therefore gandha-vāha, “the carrier of fragrances.” The yogi knows his spiritual identity and so is unaffected by the world around him, even when to others he appears to have taken on its qualities; this is because he knows that ultimately he is transcendental to it.

3. The Sky

The brahmin then named his third guru: the sky, from whom he had learned about the all-pervasive nature of the Soul and its transcendence. On the one hand, the all-pervading sky makes no distinctions as to moving or non-moving, conscious or unconscious beings: it is present in all equally. Similarly, the yogi recognizes that God is present in all beings equally and so makes no distinctions between them.

In the Bhagavad Gita also, Krishna compares his relationship to creation with the sky.
“All things are within me,” he says. “Yet I am not in them. Then again, the creation is not in me, because I am beyond it. Just as the wind blows in the sky but does not affect it, so the creation is within me, but does not affect me.”

4. Water

The brahmin’s fourth guru was the water, with its natural purity and purificatory qualities. In its natural state water is clear, refreshing, and sweet. Saintly persons are similar to water in that they are simple, pure and kind. Moreover, the brahmin said, they transform and sanctify every place they flow. The Sanskrit word for holy place is tIrtha, which means a “crossing.” India’s many holy rivers were considered places where one “crossed over” into the spiritual realm. In the Bhagavatam, King Yudhisthir says to his saintly uncle Vidura,

bhavad-vidhā bhāgavatās
tīrthī-bhūtāḥ svayaṁ vibho
tīrthīkurvanti tirthāni
svāntaḥ-sthena gadā-bhṛtaḥ
Great devotees like you are places of pilgrimage in yourselves. Indeed, you are what make the places of pilgrimage truly holy, for you carry the Lord in your heart. (1.13.10)
Water in a brook makes a gurgling sound. The waves breaking on the ocean shore make a sweet and regular soothing sound, and even a crashing waterfall’s constant roar soothes the soul. Similarly, though the sage purifies the world by his presence alone, his most powerful tool for benefiting others is his voice, for either through his song or his speech, he transforms the hearts of those who suffer due to lack of God consciousness.

tato duḥsaṅgam utsṛjya satsu sajjeta buddhimān
santa evāsya chindanti mano-vyāsaṅgam uktibhiḥ
santo’napekṣā mac-cittāḥ praśāntāḥ sama-darśinaḥ
nirmamā nirahaṅkārā nirdvandvā niṣparigrahaḥ
An intelligent person should therefore abandon all bad association and stay in the company of the saintly. Only such holy persons can cut through one’s unhealthy mental attachments through the use of their powerful words. The holy are desireless and peaceful; they treat everyone equally. They claim nothing as their own; they are without ego. They are unaffected by dualities like hot and cold, and are uninterested in others’ possessions. Above all, their minds are always fixed on me. (SB 11.26.26-27)
5. Fire

From fire, the brahmin said he had learned about not allowing himself to be affected by the things he consumed.

tejasvī tapasā dīpto durdharṣodara-bhājanaḥ
sarva-bhakṣyo’pi yuktātmā nādatte malam agnivat
A sage who has been made spiritually effulgent like fire through austerities, develops infallible powers of digestion. Even if he eats inedible things, he is not negatively affected. (SB 11.7.45)
This applies both to Krishna and to the perfected saint. At the end of the Rasa Lila, Maharaj Parikshit asked how Krishna could dance with the gopis, who were the wives of other men. The sage Shukadeva answered that this was something Krishna could do because of his unique position, and that in general, unless one has similar kinds of powers, one should not attempt to break the moral code. He gave two examples—one of Shiva who could drink an ocean of poison without ill effects, and the fire, which burns even flesh or poison without being affected. These are things that ordinary mortals cannot do.

In the Bhagavad Gita also, Lord Krishna says that someone who is rightly situated and acting according to his prescribed duty is not adversely affected by sins he may incur. In the case of Arjuna, this meant someone who was going to have to fight a war and kill members of his own family who were on the opposing side. Krishna said there,

yasya nāhaṅkṛtir bhāvo
yasya buddhir na lipyate
hatvāpi sa imāṁl lokān
na hanti na nibadhyate
He who is free from egotism (arising from aversion to the Absolute), and whose intelligence is not implicated (in worldly activities)—even if he kills every living being in the whole world—does not kill at all, nor does he suffer a murderer’s consequences. (Bhagavad Gita 18.17)
The yogis have known since ancient times that we are what we eat and have always advised a diet that purifies one’s existence and keeps the spirit strong. Thus there are many things—meat, fish, eggs, alcohol and various psychotropic drugs—that increase the modes of passion or ignorance and have a negative influence on our spiritual lives. However, when one has attained a level of spiritual power, one can transcend such considerations.

dharma-vyatikramo dṛṣṭa
īśvarāṇāṁ ca sāhasam
tejīyasāṁ na doṣāya
vahneḥ sarva-bhujo yathā
Whenever we see an infringement of the moral law in very powerful persons, we should not think that they are negatively affected, or that it is a fault, any more than fire is at fault because it consumes everything. (SB 10.33.30)
Another lesson the brahmin took from fire was not to accumulate anything, nor to be greedy, but to only take what one needs.

Moreover, the brahmin took another lesson from the sacrificial fire. In the Vedic sacrificial system, the yajaman, or patron of the sacrifice, would engage brahmin priests to offer many things into the fire. This included animals in the earliest days, a custom that fell away after the rise of Jainism and Buddhism. The brahmin makes the point that by offering things into the fire, the yajaman would be benefited as the fire burned away all his sinful reactions. In the same way, the saintly may accept gifts from the faithful, but they do so with detachment, conscious of the benefit to others.

Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur here reminds us of one of the great teachings of Rupa Goswami—

anāsaktasya viṣayān
yathārham upayuñjataḥ
nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe
yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate
A person who wishes to advance in devotional service should be detached from the objects of the senses, using them only inasmuch as they have utility in the service of Lord Krishna. This is called engaged detachment or yukta vairagya. (BRS 1.2.127)
The brahmin learned yet something else from the fire. Sometimes a fire is covered by ashes, but it is still present. If we sprinkle oil or butter on the ash, it suddenly bursts into flame again. In like manner, the truly saintly prefer not to advertise themselves. However, when a seeker approaches them with faith and inquiry, the saint’s qualities manifest like a flame and he spreads the light of his knowledge to others.

And the fire imparted one final lesson, a more philosophical one about the nature of God. God is present in all things, like fire is present in wood. However, one needs a spark in order to see the fire come out of fuel. The Bhagavatam also states elsewhere,

pārthivād dāruṇo dhūmas
tasmād agnis trayī-mayaḥ
tamasas tu rajas tasmāt
sattvaṁ yad brahma-darśanam
Firewood is a transformation of earth. Smoke is better than the raw wood. But fire is better still, for fire can be used in sacrifice and lead to many benefits. Similarly, the mode of passion is somewhat better than ignorance, but the mode of goodness is better than either of these other two qualities of nature, for only in this state can one attain knowledge of Brahman. (SB 1.2.24)
Of course, Vishwanath Chakravarti points out that the state of goodness or sattva is not sufficient in itself to attain direct knowledge of God. One needs to be filled with the spirit of loving devotion that attracts God.

In a similar example, elsewhere in the Bhagavatam, Sri Krishna says,

ācāryo’raṇir ādyaḥ syād
ante-vāsy uttarāraṇiḥ
tat-sandhānaṁ pravacanaṁ
vidyā-sandhiḥ sukhāvahaḥ
The teacher is like the upper piece of wood, the student like the lower. The rubbing of the upper stick on the lower is the speech of the teacher, and the fire that is produced is knowledge, which brings everyone all happiness. (SB 11.10.12)
6. The Moon

The Avanti brahmin’s sixth guru was the moon. The moon goes through various phases during its monthly cycle. But the fullness or darkness of the moon at the beginning and end of each fortnight are only appearances—the moon itself remains unchanged. Similarly, each of us is a spiritual being that essentially remains unchanged even through all the changes of the body. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita,

dehino’smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
tathā dehāntara-prāptir
dhīras tatra na muhyati
Just as in this body we all must pass first through childhood, then youth and then old age, at death we simply take another body. Such a change does not disturb the minds of those who know the truth. (Gita 2.13)
As an afterthought, the Avadhuta further added, “The flames of a fire appear and disappear at every moment, and yet this creation and destruction is not noticed by the ordinary observer. Similarly, the mighty waves of time flow constantly like the powerful currents of a river, and imperceptibly cause the birth, growth and death of innumerable material bodies. And yet the soul, which is thus constantly forced to change his position, cannot perceive the actions of time.”

7. The Sun

The sun evaporates large quantities of water with its potent rays, but then release it to the earth in the form of rain. In the same way, a yogi may take possession of all types of material objects, but redistributes them when a worthy person in need is present. Thus, both in accepting and giving up the objects of the senses, he is not entangled.

Even when reflected in various objects, the sun is never divided, nor does it merge into its reflection. Similarly, although the soul is reflected through different material bodies, the soul remains undivided and non-material. Lord Bhishma said in the last moments before leaving his body, with Krishna standing before him—

tam imam aham ajaṁ śarīra-bhājāṁ
hṛdi hṛdi dhiṣṭhitam ātma-kalpitānām
pratidṛśam iva naikadhārkam ekaṁ
samadhigato’smi vidhūta-bheda-mohaḥ
Now I can meditate with full concentration upon that one Lord, Sri Krishna, now present before me because now I have transcended the misconceptions of duality in regard to His presence in everyone’s heart, even in the hearts of the mental speculators. He is in everyone’s heart. The sun may be perceived differently, but the sun is one. (1.9.42)
8. The Pigeon

Once upon a time there was a pigeon that lived in a forest along with his wife. He built a nest in a tree and lived there with her for several years. The hearts of the two pigeons were bound together with great affection. They only had eyes for each other and their every thought was for the other. Naively trusting in the future, they enjoyed their lives as a loving couple among the trees of the forest. The pigeon was so devoted to his wife that he fulfilled her every desire, no matter how demanding.

Then the female pigeon experienced her first pregnancy. When the time arrived, she filled the nest with eggs where she sat on them until they hatched. The two pigeons became most affectionate to their children, with their tender limbs and feathers, and took great pleasure in listening to their chirping, which though still unformed sounded very sweet to them. And they began to raise them lovingly, taking happiness in their happiness.

One day, the pigeon parents went out to find food for the children. During their absence, a hunter caught sight of the fledglings as they hopped about near the nest. He spread out his net and captured them all.

When the adult pigeons returned, they saw their empty nest and soon realized that their babies were caught in the hunter’s net. Overwhelmed with anguish, the mother cried out and rushed toward her young as they appealed to her for help. Her judgment completely clouded by despair, she rushed toward the net in a frantic attempt to free her helpless children. The hunter was waiting quietly nearby and immediately trapped her as well.

Then it was the father pigeon’s turn. Seeing both his children and his wife, who were as dear to him as life itself, fatally bound in the hunter’s net, he began to lament wretchedly. He said, “What a fool I am! My family life has been destroyed, leaving me unsatisfied and unfulfilled. I must have done something truly wicked for this to have happened to me. My wife was perfect for me. She loved me and was always devoted and faithful. Now she has gone with our children, leaving me behind in an empty home to grieve.”

The grief was so great that the father pigeon lost all will to live. Completely mesmerized by the sight of his family struggling in the net and dying, he too fainted and fell into the cruel hunter’s clutches. The hunter, considering his day’s work a great success, went home.

The lesson the Avadhuta drew from this drama he had himself witnessed was that too much attachment to material pleasures results in pain and deception. He used the word kṛpaṇa or “miser” to describe the attitude of the pigeon, recalling the words of the Upanishads—

yo vā etad akṣaram aviditvāsmāl lokāt praiti, sa kṛpaṇaḥ.
atha ya etad akṣaraṁ gārgi viditvāsmāl lokāt praiti, sa brāhmaṇaḥ
O Gargi, one who goes through life and dies without coming to know the imperishable Supreme Truth is truly a miser. But one who goes through life and dies after coming to know the imperishable Supreme Truth is truly a brahmin. (Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad 3.8.10)
The doors of liberation are opened wide to those who have attained the human form of life. But any human being who sees life’s only goal in worldly happiness and sense gratification, even in a devoted family life, is considered a miser. The Avadhuta also uses the expression ArUDha-cyuta, “one who has fallen after climbing a mountain.”

In other words, the human form of life is in itself a great attainment for the soul, which wanders from one body to another, never having the intellectual equipment or awareness to seek higher truths. If after coming to this human form of life one chooses to use it for perfecting the pleasures that are already available in animal species, then he has squandered a great opportunity. Thus it is said,

nidrāhāra-bhaya-maithunaṁ ca
samānam etat paśubhir narāṇām
jñānaṁ hi teṣām adhiko viśeṣo
jñāna-vihīnaḥ paśubhiḥ samānaḥ
Both the lower creatures and humans must sleep, eat, defend themselves and reproduce. Human beings have a higher awareness, however. So the human being whose life is nothing more than eating, sleeping, defending and mating, no matter how sophisticated his tastes, he is nothing more than an animal. (Hitopadeza 1.25)
9. The Python

The Avadhuta’s ninth guru was the python. This great snake lies quietly for great lengths of time without searching for food. Rather, it waits for its prey to come to it. If nothing comes to it, it is capable of tolerating hunger. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati states, “Most of us are furtive in our eagerness to satisfy our ever-demanding senses. We should learn to tolerate these demands without giving in to them.”

10. The Ocean

The Avadhuta’s tenth guru was the sea, from which he learned that one should not be disturbed by the thoughts and desires that constantly enter the mind. In the rainy season, the rivers constantly enter the ocean without raising its level. In the dry season, the rivers are reduced to a trickle, yet the ocean’s level is not diminished. So too does a self-realized sage remain level-headed in all circumstances, because of his deep understanding of his eternal spiritual identity.

Krishna imparts this same lesson in the Bhagavad Gita—

āpūryamāṇam acala-pratiṣṭhaṁ
samudram āpaḥ praviśanti yadvat
tadvat kāmā yaṁ praviśanti sarve
sa śāntim āpnoti na kāma-kāmī
The ocean is constantly being filled by the rivers that flow into it, but it remains deep and unchanging. Similarly, one who recognizes that sensual desires are constantly flowing into him will attain peace, and not the person who increases his desires by attempting to fulfill them all. (Gita 2.70)
11. The Moth

The Avadhuta took this lesson from the moth—the sense objects attract us with their beauty, but they lead to our destruction, just as a moth is drawn into the light of the fire to its death.

In his description of the universal form, Krishna also uses the example of the moth to describe how all creatures are drawn into the fire of death.

yathā pradīptaṁ jvalanaṁ pataṅgā
viśanti nāśāya samṛddha-vegāḥ
tathaiva nāśāya viśanti lokās
tavāpi vaktrāṇi samṛddha-vegāḥ
Just as moths rush into the bright flames of the fire, meeting their destruction, so too do all these worlds rush with great speed into the mouths of your universal form, there meeting their death. (Gita 11.29)
The world is also a form of the Lord, known as his universal form. However, one who sees it as the object of enjoyment instead of service is like the moth, which mindlessly follows the light and falls to his death. As an object of enjoyment, the phenomenal world is a creation of Krishna’s illusory power.

12. The Honeybee

From the honey bee, the mendicant took several lessons. The bee goes from flower to flower, taking just a sample of what each has to offer.

stokaṁ stokaṁ grased grāsaṁ
deho varteta yāvatā
gṛhān ahiṁsann ātiṣṭhed
vṛttiṁ mādhu-karīṁ muniḥ
One should take only small mouthfuls when one eats, taking only enough to maintain the body. One should not stay as a guest in anyone’s home to the extent that it disturbs them. This is called the honeybee’s way of life. (SB 11.8.9)
The bee that becomes greedy and continues to drink the nectar from a flower for too long risks being trapped after the sun sets and the flower’s petals close.

Of course, in this example, as in others, the mendicant was speaking of the hermit’s way of life, of someone who depended on charity to maintain body and soul together. There are still some renunciates in Vrindavan who live in this way. The six Goswamis, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s beloved companions, are described following a regime of this sort. Krishnadas Kaviraj says,

mahāprabhura bhakta jata vairāgya pradhāna
jāhā dekhi tuṣṭa han gaura bhagavān
Renunciation is the predominating characteristic of every one of Mahaprabhu’s devotees. When Lord Gauranga sees their renunciation, he is very pleased. (CC 2.6.220)
However, even though these standards of renunciation are not possible for the great majority of people in today’s world, the principle of simple living and high thinking is still basic to the culture of spiritual life. Rupa Goswami himself summarizes,

yāvatā syāt sva nirvāhaḥ
svīkuryāt tāvad arthavit
ādhikye nyūnatāyāṁ ca
cyavate paramārthataḥ
One who knows his purpose should accept only as much as he needs to maintain his existence. If he accepts more or less than that, he will fall from the supreme objective. (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.108)
13. The Elephant

Like the moth, the elephant is led to destruction by desire. In India, wild elephants were typically captured by using captive cow elephants to lead them towards a pit, into which the lusty bull would fall. The lesson there is, once again, that a renunciate should not allow himself to be influenced by attraction to the opposite sex.

For the householder, of course, the lesson is the same. One should remain satisfied with one’s spouse, as long as they are true partners in the cultivation of spiritual life. The wife or husband who helps to cultivate one’s relationship with Krishna becomes sat sanga, or beneficial association. On the other hand, if one quits one’s husband or wife because they interfere with one’s sensual pleasure, then this will not lead to auspiciousness. Lord Brahma says,

bhayaṁ pramattasya vaneṣv api syād
yataḥ sa āste saha-ṣaṭ-sapatnaḥ
jitendriyasyātma-rater budhasya
gṛhāśramaḥ kiṁ nu karoty avadyam
Fear follows one who has no control over the mind, even in the forest far from temptation, because his six enemies (lust, anger, greed, envy, intoxication and illusion) accompany him wherever he goes. But what harm can living with one’s wife and children do to one who has conquered his senses, is self-satisfied and awake to the spiritual purpose of life? (SB 5.1.17)
14. The Honey Gatherer

In ancient Indian society, some people specialized in gathering wild honey from hollow trees and other places where bees made their hives. The Avadhuta said to the king, “Some miserly people are like the bees who gather honey and store it. They neither enjoy this wealth themselves, nor do they share it. What happens is that to them is that someone else comes along and takes everything they have, like the honey gatherer who takes all the bees’ accumulated honey. The holy mendicants who come to the householders and ask for charity give them the chance to engage their wealth in productive ways that will bring them eternal benefit.”

15. The Deer

A monk should never listen to mundane songs or gossip, for these will enchant him into forgetfulness of his spiritual goal. In ancient India, hunters would play a flute or some other musical instrument to attract the deer, which they would then kill.

16. The Fish

Similarly, the lesson given by the fish is not to be too attracted to nice foodstuffs. The fish sees the bait, but not the hook. Of all the senses, says the Avadhuta, the tongue is the most difficult to control. Someone who has been able to overcome the desire to please all the other senses will still be tempted by the tongue.

indriyāṇi jayanty āśu nirāhārā manīṣiṇaḥ
varjayitvā tu rasanaṁ tan nirannasya vardhate
tāvaj jitendriyo na syād vijitānyendriyaḥ pumān
na jayed rasanaṁ yāvaj jitaṁ sarvaṁ jite rase
One can quickly conquer the other senses simply by disengaging from them. The only exception is the tongue, whose desires increase when one does not have tasty food to eat. One may be completely self-controlled, but until one conquers over the tongue, one cannot be said to have controlled the senses. One who has overcome the sense of taste has overcome everything. (SB 11.8.20-21)
All yoga practices ultimately rests on the idea of a higher taste. The pleasure that an advanced yogi experiences, whatever path he or she follows, is greater than those afforded by the material world.

viṣayā vinivartante
nirāhārasya dehinaḥ
rasa-varjaṁ raso’py asya
paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartante
Although the spiritual aspirant may externally avoid sense objects, he will not be able to give up the desire for them. This taste for sense gratification can only be overcome when one has direct experience of the Supreme. (Gita 2.59)
The path of devotion is somewhat different from that of yoga, gnosis or other paths of renunciation. Though the adherents of all the yogic paths claim to experience this higher taste, this is really only true in the case of those who engage in devotion to the personal God, for on the devotional path one actually uses and spiritualizes the mind and senses themselves through hearing and chanting, and even through eating prasad.

Devotees control the tongue by taking Krishna’s remnants. Bhaktivinoda Thakur sings,

śarīra avidyā jāla jaḍendriya tāhe kāla
jīva phele viṣaya sāgare
tāra madhye jihvā ati lobhamaya sudurmati
tāhe jetā kaṭhina saṁsāre
This material body is the net of ignorance. The material senses are death. They fling the conditioned soul into the ocean of sensual existence. Of the senses, the tongue is the greediest and the most resistant to control.

kṛṣṇa boro dayāmaya karibāra jihvā jaya
sva-prasāda anna dila bhāi
sei annāmṛta khāo rādhā kṛṣṇa guṇa gāo
preme ḍāko caitanya-nitāi
Being most merciful, Krishna has given us the gift of his prasad in order to conquer the tongue. So take this nectarean food, sing the glories of Radha and Krishna, and lovingly call out the names of Chaitanya and Nityananda.
17. The Prostitute Pingala

The Avadhuta then told the story of the prostitute Pingala, his seventeenth guru. Though this description comes at the end of the second of the three chapters in this section of the Bhagavatam, Pingala is special in that she is the only human guru named and is the only one whose teachings are given in her words rather than through her example or through a deduction. She is also exceptional in that she is named elsewhere in the Bhagavatam, namely in the gopis’ reply to the letter Uddhava delivered on Krishna’s behalf after his departure from Vrindavan.

Pingala lived in the ancient city of Videha. She would stand in front of her house on the street, watching the men as they walked by, sizing them up and speculating whether they were prospective clients or not. “Does this fellow have money? That one looks rich. Will he pay me well?” One night went by without a single customer, and she anxiously went in and out of her doorway, gradually completely losing hope that anyone would come. She became morose, and her face dried up. Then, despite her anxiety for money and her disappointment, she began to feel detachment, and this resulted in a feeling of freedom and joy. So she started to sing a song that is summarized as follows:
Just see my illusion ! Being unable to control my mind, I foolishly desire sexual pleasures from sinful men. I have brought myself so much suffering through selling my body to men who are mere slaves to their sex desires. How could I ever think that pleasure can come of this material body, which is full of stool and urine, covered by skin, hair and nails, and is constantly excreting foul substances. All the pleasures of this body, as well as those who bring them, are temporary, so how could I ever have placed any hope in any of them? I don’t know what I have done to deserve Lord Vishnu’s mercy, but he must have been pleased with me for he has shown me the pleasure that comes in freedom from the desire and hope for money and material sense pleasure.
Thus showing her detachment from the body and its pleasures, Pingala showed that she had come to understand a great truth found in the Upanishads—
I have been so foolish that did not serve my true beloved, who is situated in my heart. The Lord is the dearmost lover of all beings, the soul of all souls. I will give up my false identity with this body and seek the pleasure of the soul with him, just as the goddess Lakshmi does. I am now completely satisfied and have full faith in the Lord’s mercy. Henceforth I will maintain my body with whatever comes of its own accord and shall look for pleasure within, in the company of my eternal beloved, the only true source of love and happiness.
Srila Jiva Goswamipada uses these verses as an example of raganuga bhakti, especially in the mood of romantic love (Bhakti-sandarbha 312). Pingala taught that not only we should give up our desire for love with men or women in this world, but that we should seek instead the love of the Soul of our soul, our true lover Krishna. The gopis showed this when they answered Uddhava, who had brought them a letter for Krishna. The gopis said,

paraṁ saukhyaṁ hi nairāśyaṁ
svairiṇy apy āha piṅgalā
taj jānatīnāṁ naḥ kṛṣṇe
tathāpy āśā duratyayā
Though a prostitute, Pingala taught that the greatest happiness comes when one loses hope. Even though we know this truth, we are unable to abandon our hope for Krishna, which resists all our attempts to give it up. (SB 10.47.47)
In other words, the gopis had known Krishna, the Soul of all souls, manifested before them in human form. Therefore, they could not give up their hope for him. Even though their separation from Krishna was painful, it was not the pain of separation from sense gratification, which is the essence of suffering of this material world. Shukadeva states in the Bhagavatam—

kṛṣṇam enam avehi tvam
ātmānam akhilātmanām
jagad-dhitāya so’py atra
dehīvābhāti māyayā
Know that Krishna is the Soul of all souls. For the benefit of us all, he has come into this world by his Divine Potency and appears like an ordinary human being. (SB 10.14.55)
18. The Falcon

The Avadhuta then said, “Accumulation of things leads to misery. One who knows this becomes an akinchana—someone who knows that nothing is truly his.” To support this, he told the story of the falcon, or kurara bird. One day, a falcon had a successful hunt and caught a mouse. Unfortunately, the other falcons had not caught anything and so they ganged up on the first one, who immediately dropped his prey in order to save his life. In so doing, he was surprised to find that he attained peace of mind.

19. The Innocent Child

The Avadhuta then said, “I am indifferent to praise and insult. I have no worries for wife or children. I take pleasure and joy in my own being. In this way, I go through life like an innocent child. There are two kinds of persons who are free of worry—one is the fool, one who is bewildered and stupid; the other is the sage who is beyond the entanglements of material nature.”

20. The Marriageable Daughter

The Avadhuta’s twentieth lesson came from a young girl whose parents were looking to get her married. One day, when she was alone at home, several suitors came to seek her hand. Since no one else was there, she herself greeted them. While she was preparing a meal for them, the bangles on her wrist made a great deal of noise. Ashamed that she was making a sound that disturbed her guests and suitors, she broke her bangles one by one, leaving only a pair on each wrist. When she returned to cutting vegetables again, however, the bangles again made a sound, so she slipped another off each wrist, leaving only one. The Avadhuta concluded,

vāse bahūnāṁ kalaho
bhaved vārtā dvayor api
eka eva vaset tasmāt
kumāryā iva kaṅkaṇaḥ
When many people live together in a single dwelling, there is a lot of noise. Even when there are two people living together, there is still conversation. One should therefore live alone, just like the virgin’s bangle. (SB 11.9.10)
In his commentary on this verse, Vishwanath Chakravarti again reminds us of the difference between the path of jnana yoga followed by the Avadhuta and the path of devotion. He writes, “Jnana yoga requires its followers to avoid all company, just like this poor girl who had neither lover nor husband got rid of her bangles. Bhakti Devi, however, is like a princess who has a husband. When she is going to meet her husband, she puts on her most colorful bangles so that their sound will give musical accompaniment to their embraces. In the same way, Bhakti Devi brings together the devotees who have taken shelter of her so that they can make the beautiful sweet sounds of Harinam sankirtan. So devotees do not avoid the company of others at all costs. This is supported in the third canto of the Bhagavatam—

naikātmatāṁ me spṛhayanti kecin
mat-pāda-sevābhiratā mad-īhāḥ
ye’nyonyato bhāgavatāḥ prasajya
sabhājayante mama pauruṣāṇi
The devotees who are addicted to my service never seek becoming one with me in all respects. All their activities are dedicated to me and so they are attached to each other’s company, in which they glorify my pastimes. (SB 3.25.34)
This verse shows specifically that devotees have no interest in attaining the oneness with Brahman that is the goal of the jnanis because in this state of liberation, there is still no joy of service to the Lord’s lotus feet; the pleasure in relishing the Lord’s beauty and sweetness and the happiness of hearing and glorifying his nectarean pastimes are also missing. So though it may be considered happiness by the jnanis, the devotees find such liberation to be a kind of hell.

In the Bhagavad Gita also, Krishna speaks of the joy his devotees take in each other’s company—

mahātmānas tu māṁ pārtha daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ
bhajanty ananya manaso jñātvā bhūtādim avyayam
satataṁ kīrtayanto māṁ yatantaś ca dṛḍha vratāḥ
namasyantaś ca māṁ bhaktyā nitya yuktā upāsate
O Arjuna, son of Pritha, the great souls take shelter of my divine nature worship me with undivided attention because they know my unlimited opulences. They are constantly chanting my glories, endeavoring fully firm in their vows, bowing down to me with devotion, and worshiping me. In this way, they are permanently united with me. (Gita 9.13-14)
By taking shelter of the Lord’s divine nature, the devotees have no reason to fear the activities of the senses. Prabodhananda Saraswati says that for those who have taken shelter of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and have received his mercy, the senses are like poisonous serpents whose fangs have been removed. They can no longer cause any harm because they have been transformed through devotional service.

So even though devotees avoid the company of those who are opposed to devotional service, they do not generally favor a life of absolute solitude.

21. The Arrowmaker

There once was an arrowmaker who was so absorbed in his work sharpening arrows that he did not even notice the passing of a king in great pomp and circumstance in the street just outside his workshop. Similarly, a yogi becomes so absorbed in the Self that he does not care for inner or outer events.

22. The Snake

From the example of the snake, the Avadhuta said he learned that a renunciate should live alone, without any fixed home, with invisible movements, without depending on anyone, and speaking little. He says,

gṛhārambho hi duḥkhāya
viphalaś cādhruvātmanaḥ
sarpaḥ para-kṛtaṁ veśma
praviśya sukham edhate
Building one’s own home is a source of distress. Ultimately, it is a failure, because no one lives forever. The snake sets the example of living in a home made by someone else. He enters that home and lives there happily. (11.9.15)
23. The Spider

The spider emits its thread from its own body, creating a complex web, and when its work is finished, draws the thread back into itself. Similarly, the Supreme Lord creates the universe out of himself and when the work of the creation has been completed, draws it back into himself. This teaching is also found in the Upanishads,

yathorṇa-nābhiḥ sṛjate gṛhṇate ca
yathā pṛthivyām oṣadhayaḥ sambhavanti
yathā sataḥ puruṣāt keśa-lomāni
tathā’kṣarāt sambhavatīha viśvam
This universe appears from the unmanifest like the thread emitted by the spider, like the plants that appear from the earth or like the hairs that grow on a man’s head. (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.7)
24. The Wasp

It is seen that certain kinds of wasp make a nest of mud in which they place a caterpillar who has been paralysed by their sting. Then the wasp closes the mouth of the nest with mud and leaves it alone for a few weeks. After the gestation period, the eggs the wasp laid within the nest hatch and the larvae eat the caterpillar that the parent wasp left there. When they are ready, the young wasps break through the mud shell of their nest and fly away.

In ancient times, observers saw that a caterpillar had been placed inside the nest and a wasp came out, and concluded that the caterpillar had become so frightened by the wasp that it froze in fear. Then, once trapped inside the nest, it spent its time absorbed in fear that the wasp would return at any moment. As a result of this total absorption in fear of the wasp, the caterpillar was transformed and turned into a wasp.

Though like many of the examples from ancient texts, empirical observation has shown the premises to be incorrect, there is nevertheless a truth in this story that even modern psychology has come to agree with: Whenever we become absorbed in something, whether in a favorable or unfavorable way, it tends to change our character. Sometimes the result is that we even become the very thing that we wish to avoid becoming.

The lesson the Avadhuta drew from the wasp was this: the sadhaka becomes transformed through meditation on the Supreme Lord, eventually becoming qualitatively one with him. Thus even the most sinful person becomes changed through the practice of devotion.

api cet sudurācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati
Even if a person of very bad behavior worships me with undivided devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly, for he has the proper resolution. He quickly becomes righteous and attains everlasting peace. O son of Kunti, let it be known that my devotee never perishes. (Gita 9.30-31)
25. The Human Body

After going through these twenty-four different gurus, the Avadhuta stated that he had another, a twenty-fifth guru that he had not named at the beginning of his discourse. That guru was his own body.

What exactly is it that we learn from the human body? The avadhuta said:

sṛṣṭvā purāṇi vividhāny ajayātma-śaktyā
vṛkṣān sarīsṛpa-paśūn khaga-dandaśūkān
tais tair atuṣṭa-hṛdayaḥ puruṣaṁ vidhāya
brahmāvaloka-dhiṣaṇaṁ mudam āpa devaḥ
With the help of his creative powers, the Lord created this visible world with its trees, serpents, animals, birds and other creatures, but his heart remained unsatisfied. Then he created man, who alone possesses the intelligence to see Brahman, and was delighted. (SB 11.9.28)
labdhvā sudurlabham idaṁ bahu-sambhavānte
mānuṣyam arthadam anityam apīha dhīraḥ
tūrṇaṁ yateta na pated anumṛtyu yāvat
niḥśreyasāya viṣayaḥ khalu sarvataḥ syāt
After many, many births, one finally is born in a most rare and valuable human body which though temporary nevertheless provides the soul an opportunity to attain the supreme goal. Therefore, the wise individual should immediately take up the effort to find out what is the supreme good in all times and circumstances, and not give up that effort, even to the very moment of death. (SB 11.9.29)
Another thing that one learns from the human form of life is that which comes up again and again from the Upanishads and other revealed scriptures. The Supreme Truth that lies behind this creation is a person—puruṣa-vidhaḥ. Thus the universe is conceived as a human form, but more importantly, the Creator behind the universe is recognized as a Supreme Person, who takes a human form in order to enjoy his innate bliss in the company of his energies and his devotees. The Chaitanya Charitamrita says,

kṛṣṇera jatek khelā, sarvottama nara-līlā,
nara-vapu tāhār svarūp
gopa-veśa, veṇu-kar, nava-kiśor, naṭa-var,
nara-līlār hay anurūp
Of all Lord Krishna’s transcendental activities, his earthly pastimes in the human form are most excellent, for this is his actual, eternal identity. In this form he dresses as a cowherd boy, plays the flute, blossoms with ever fresh youthfulness and dances expertly. His activities resemble those of a human being. (CC 2.21.101)
The emphasis placed here on the human body confirms Krishna’s statement at the beginning of this teaching (Cf. 11.7.20-23): “There are many different species of life. In some forms, they have bodies with only one leg, some have two, four, many or none. Of them all, however, the human form is most dear.”


The Avadhuta concludes the chapter with the following statement—

na hy ekasmād guror jñānam
susthiram syad apuṣkalam
brahmaikam advitīyaṁ vai
gīyate bahudharṣibhiḥ
An understanding that is entirely dependable and clear cannot come from any single teacher. The Supreme Truth is truly “One Without a Second,” but is glorified in many different ways by the divine seers. (SB 11.9.31)
All the principal commentators have found this verse problematic, since the scriptures elsewhere say that one should take only one guru. Sridhar Swami tackles the problem as follows:
The Avadhuta recites this verse in response to the question: In the scriptures, we see that Svetaketu, Bhrigu and others did not do so, but took shelter of only one guru. So why have you taken so many gurus? The expression, "in different ways" means “either with or without detailed arguments” ( sa-prapañca-niṣprapañca-bhedādibhiḥ). The idea is this: These gurus are not teachers of the ultimate truth; they are only helping the disciple by ridding his spirit of doubts arising from the fear of impossibility, etc., through their direct or indirect instruction. Therefore, it stands to reason that these gurus should be many in number. The giver of knowledge (jnana), however, is only one, as will be said in the next chapter, “Approach a spiritual master who is peaceful and has had direct experience of me” ( mad-abhijñaṁ guruṁ śāntam upāsīta , 11.10.5), and as has already been stated, “Therefore, the seeker of the ultimate good should take shelter of a spiritual master” ( tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam , 11.3.22).
Jiva Goswami says:
It is said that you are supposed to take just one guru and perfect your understanding through him. Should one then inquire from teachers who have differing philosophical positions? What point is the Avadhuta making when he refers to all these various material objects, which are only semblances of the guru (gurv- ābhāsa )?

In answer to this, the Avadhuta says that even if one receives firm or clear knowledge from a single, principal guru, it cannot be perfected by hearing from him alone. Why? This is answered in the second half of the verse, "The Supreme Truth is one without a second, but is glorified by the seers in many different ways."

We know that by hearing all the different positions of the different schools, one’s faith in one’s own path is disturbed. Therefore, we should understand the avadhuta to be saying, “I have made these ordinary everyday objects my gurus so that by reflecting on them through the use of my intelligence, the position taken by my principal guru is buttressed and opposing opinions are refuted.” In other words, the Avadhuta did not take shelter of Kapila and others who preach ideas that are diametrically opposed to devotional service.
In the Bhakti-sandarbha, Srila Jiva Goswami adds that this verse applies primarily to those who have been unable to find a single, reliable source of spiritual instruction and are interested in attaining a rational understanding. This is the difference between what he calls the devotional path inspired by taste, or ruchi, and that inspired by judgment, or vicāra (vicāra-pradhāna-mārga).

Vishwanath’s interpretation takes up where Sridhara’s leaves off:
We have heard that “one should approach a spiritual master who is peaceful and has direct experience of Krishna” (11.10.5) and that “one inquisitive about the ultimate good in life should surrender to a spiritual master” (11.3.22). These verses speak of the spiritual master in the singular. Furthermore, it is seen in the Upanishads that Svetaketu and Bhrigu and others took shelter of a single spiritual master rather than many.

To this objection the Avadhuta responds, “This is true. I also have but one single guru who has given me instruction in the mantra, or initiation. He is my worshipable guru. But I have taken these twenty-five gurus as examples of what is favorable or unfavorable to my service to this principal spiritual master. So, either by their direct or indirect instructions, I consider them to be my siksha gurus. Taking a number of siksha gurus is usually done for the sake of strengthening one’s basic understanding.

But is it not true that aspirants usually approach siksha gurus who are exceedingly wise and experienced in order to gain further knowledge? This may be so, but how hard should I look for gurus who share my heartfelt desire among even such learned persons if they adhere to philosophical systems like that of Gautama (Nyaya), and how many such guides can I expect to find amongst them?

In answer, the Avadhuta says, “The Supreme Truth is one without a second, but is glorified by the seers in many different ways.” Brahman is one without a second, but seers describe him in different ways—some with attributes, some without. It is said, “There is no thinker who does not hold a different opinion” (nāsau ṛṣir yasya matir na bhinnā). It is for this reason that I have taken all these ordinary objects as my siksha gurus.
Saraswati Thakur clarifies the matter further by stating that we can learn from the manifestations of nature when we see them as manifestations of the spiritual master. Nature is the creation of the Supreme Soul, who through it teaches us lessons about ultimate truth. In fact, only one who sees the Guru in all things can truly function as a guru himself. (11.8.2)

Clearly, these differing interpretations are testimony to the verse’s meaning itself! As Jiva Goswami points out, this text should be read in the context of the vicāra-pradhāna devotees. This gives a very clear understanding of the difference between the mantra guru and the siksha gurus. The great idea, i.e., the guiding idea or formula behind one’s spiritual life is fixed when we take initiation from the diksha guru. This is why the diksha guru can only be one. Your spiritual life cannot have a hundred different goals. bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca buddhayo’vyavasāyinām. This is why the diksha guru is the helmsman of our spiritual life. So as long as we are faithful to the goal inculcated in us and fixed in our hearts by the diksha spiritual master, who gives us sambandha jnana, there is no harm in seeking to strengthen our understanding through hearing from others.

One thing that we can draw from the three chapters of the Avadhuta’s teaching is the role that the use of reason plays in our spiritual life, both at the beginning and the end.

santi me guravo rājan
bahavo buddhy-upāśritāḥ
yato buddhim upādāya
mukto’ṭāmīha tān śṛṇu
I have many teachers, all of whom have taken up residence in my intelligence. By making use of this intelligence, I am able to wander through this world in complete liberty. (11.7.32)
Sridhar says buddhyaivopāśritāḥ svīkṛtāḥ, na tūpadeśena, "I have taken shelter of them through my intelligence, not through their instructions."

The final conclusion then is that Krishna is present always as the Chaittya Guru, or in our intelligence. dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ tam. A devotee purifies his intelligence through the practice of bhakti yoga, and by so doing ultimately becomes capable of hearing the voice of the Chaittya Guru as it comes to him from every direction, confirming and enriching the understanding received from the Vaishnava guru.


Vraja said…
na hy ekasmAd guror jJAnam
susthiram syad apuSkalam
brahmaikam advitIyaM vai
gIyate bahudharSibhiH

An understanding that is entirely dependable and clear cannot come from any single teacher. The Supreme Truth is truly “One Without a Second,” but is glorified in many different ways by the divine seers.

I don't like that translation, it makes no sense. It is stating that you cannot get an "entirely dependable and clear" understanding from just one guru. If you read the commentaries they are not commenting on this translation you give us, and this translation gives a false teaching. Instead of "entirely dependable and clear" something more along the lines of "firmly complete" is better.

The reason is because your translation, or whoever made it, is saying that you cannot gain a dependable and clear understanding from a self realized guru. That is clearly at odds with Vedanta, and not in line with the rest of the Bhagavatam which exhorts people to depend on the clear vision of a guru because of his ability to give you a dependable clear understanding.

The sloka makes sense if it is saying that a single guru cannot give firmly a complete understanding, rather then dependable and clear.

The reason a single guru cannot give firmly a complete understanding is because ultimately we learn and see that the principle of guru is that of oneness with God. God is the guru controlling everything and everyone. Therefore everything we will ever experience - once we come to be able to actually see God controlling everything - becomes our guru because our experience of reality is only an experience of God. Guru is the vehicle for God. Reality is a vehicle for God. Therefore reality is only guru. When we are ignorant of the nature of reality then we do not see god/guru everywhere, we only see matter and spirit interacting together independent of overarching causal control. But that is an illusion.

When we are freed from ignorance then we can become free from illusion, then we find out that we have an infinity of gurus. Everything we will experience becomes guru because everything we experience is a vehicle for God's control, and nothing else.

Therefore no single guru can ever give a firmly complete understanding because our experience is always being informed by a newer and newer experience of reality. Our understanding or experience of reality is never complete, it is always increasing, therefore no guru can give a complete understanding. From moment to moment in everything we experience - for a self realized soul - everything is experienced as a new guru since everything is controlled by God.

A single guru can give you clear dependable and complete understanding of spiritual knowledge, but eventually we find out that everything we experience becomes a continuum of God, or gurus, as we continue to exist within the realm of absolute reality. Our relationship with God experienced in the state of full awareness of the true nature of reality, is experienced as a world of gurus - although not gurus in the sense of their purpose being to instruct an aspiring transcendentalist in spiritual truth. By that stage the jiva has already learned all spiritual knowledge. The gurus or experiences of this world at that level have only one purpose: they only serve to enhance rasa, in his relationship with God.
Satya devi dasi said…
This is fabulous! I look forward to spending more time reading and digesting it.

My 26th guru is Google Guru. I ask so many questions and Google Guru has so many answers.

Please note that your reference 10.7.17 should be 11.7.17.

Thank you so much. Jaya Radhe Syama!
Anonymous said…
Excellent article, Jagat!

Jagadananda Das said…
Well, basically it seems to me that I was saying pretty much that, but perhaps I was not sufficiently clear. I was making the distinction between diksha and siksha gurus. This is why that distinction is made, why there is only one diksha guru and many siksha gurus.

I will think about the wording though. susthiram means dependable or firm. supuskalam means clear. It seems to me that the commentators were commenting to make the meaning of these words clear, i.e., to keep you from taking one meaning, the evident one, they steer you in the right direction.
Hey, I have a bunch of less than half-finished notes along the same lines! Thanks for posting this, a good article indeed. Some say the Avanti Brahmin was Dattatreya. Any sources or confirmations?
Vraja said…
I agree with you when you say that you were giving more or less the same explanation that I have. The problem is the translation of the verse, it is saying something totally different. There is a big difference between saying that you cannot receive all possible understandings from a single guru, versus saying that you cannot get a clear dependable understanding from any single guru.

The context of the verse is about seeing various experiences as manifestations of guru tattva. The avadhuta explains how the variety of things he encountered were seen by him as a manifestation of guru. He was able to see how those experiences were manifesting in such a way that he was able to gain spiritual guidance from otherwise seemingly ordinary phenomena. The context of the verse in question is that no one source can be all things to a person on the spiritual path. The commentaries you cite stay within that context as well. But if the verse is saying that no source can give an "entirely dependable and clear" spiritual understanding, then the context has nothing to do with the point of the teaching of the avadhuta.

The avadhuta is telling a story about how various experiences which may seem mundane or ordinary were being used as a vehicle for edification, a vehicle for guru. The context of the verse is not that no single source or guru is entirely clear or dependable, it's that no single source of spiritual teaching or guru has the ability to be all in all.

I also don't think the verse is talking about diksa versus siksa gurus. Some commentary may speak about that to make some point the commentator is trying to make, but the verse and it's context is not specifically about that. It's a more universal teaching. it's making a broad point about the potential of perception and reality.
Anonymous said…
Reply to question on Avanti Brahmin was Dattatreya. Any sources or confirmations?

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