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Shri Datta Guru: Origin, Avatars and Sadgurus of Datta Lineage

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Shri Guru Dattatreya or Shri Datta Guru
"I bow to him (Sadguru) who is the embodiment of the bliss of Brahman, the bestower of Supreme happiness, the absolute, and the personification of pure knowledge, who is beyond duality (of you and me). He is all pervasive like the sky and who is the final goal of the Vedic mahavakya “Tat-vam-asi” (Thou art that!) He is the one eternal. Pure, steadfast and witness of all thoughts, abiding ever beyond all modifications of mind and body and attributes of the Trigunas – Sattva, Raja and Tama.”
Lord Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity
                                            Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh-Shiva
Lord Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh-Shiva
Shri Guru Dattatreya or Shri Datta Guru is Hindu deity (Ishta Devata) encompassing the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, collectively known as Trimurti. The name Dattatreya can be divided into two words - "Datta" (meaning given) and "Atreya" means, in Sanskrit, "son of Athri". Athri is one of the 7 seers / principles of creation. Athri also means in Sanskrit "not three". The one who came down from that which is not three is called Athreya. Dattatreya is also a combination of “Datta” and “treya” - Treya being the trinity – Bramha (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer).

In the Nath tradition Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of the Lord Vishnu and as the Adi-Guru (first teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Naths. Dattatreya is primal manifestation in the Guru tradition (Supreme Guru principal). Dattatreya is considered to be the presiding deity (Ishta Devata) for the path of yoga – therefore called as "Lord of Yoga".

Shri Dattatreya is also known by another equally popular name of ‘Avadhut’. Avadhut is one who washes away the temperamental defects i.e. the three qualities or Trigunas – Sattva (Purity and Knowledge) Raja (Activity and Passion), Tama (Ignorance and Inertia). He destroys Trigunas. He bestows the spiritual experience of the unmanifest principle. Importance of Lord Datta from the seekers point of view is - There are many deities (Ishta Devatas or Ishvara) in Hindu religion, but there is only who is worshipped in the form of a Guru – and he is Lord Datta. Hence the extolling (Jai-ghosh) of ‘Avadhut Chintana Jai Gurudev Datta’. Shri Datta Guru is the ideal of the Guru principle and a proponent of Yoga.

Shri Datta Guru 'the ascetic' helps the devotees in times of calamity and also leads them to Moksha (freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth) and hence is worshipped widely by the masses.

Shri Dattatreya, in order to bless His devotees and the righteous ones, wanders about in the guise of a random guest at the lunch hour. That's why Vedas say that a guest has to be treated as the very embodiment of Lord Dattatreya.

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The Descent of Shri Datta Guru
It is believed that when the Lord made the Universe. He introduced himself into the creation as Dharma. The planes of existence were created, the beings related to every plane were created and the Dharmas were enunciated. The beings in various planes needed to be guided back unto their original state. The need was felt by the beings, to be guided in terms of their Dharma. For that reason, the seers worshipped the Lord and invoked him as the teacher (Guru).

Out of compassion, the Lord Absolute himself, came down as the teacher to be in the creation and to guide them. He has, thus, donated himself to the creation for a second time and therefore is called Datta (meaning given). Shri Datta Guru is a very kind, compassionate and easily pleased form of the Lord, and just as he has donated (Datta) himself to Atri Rishi, he showers & gives to all those who seek His shelter.
 
Lord Dattatreya - Descent of Shri Datta Guru - Universal Teacher
Lord Dattatreya Descent of Shri Datta Guru - SadGuru
Guru Dattatreya gifted Ashtanga Yoga (eight fold path of Yoga) to the world thousands of years ago.

Ashtanga Yoga comprises of the following
  • Yama (self-restraint) – Non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing and non-receiving.
  • Niyama (discipline) – cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study and self-surrender to God. Moral discipline
  • Asana – Posture
  • Pranayama (Yoga breathing) – ‘Prana’ (vital breath) is the life-force, ‘Yama’ is control. 'Pranayama' consists of breath control exercises.
  • Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) – Withdrawal of senses away from 5 sense organs (Panchendriya)
  • Dharana – Concentration of the mind combined with retention of breath
  • Dhyan – Meditation.
  • Samadhi – The transcendental or super conscious state of being united with the God

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Shri Datta Guru - The Ascetic
The typical form in which the Shri Datta Guru appears is that of an ascetic with 3 heads & 6 arms. Shri Datta Guru’s 3 heads and 6 hands symbolize unification of the trinity – Bramha [creator], Vishnu [preserver] and Shiva [destroyer].

His whole body is covered with Vibhuti (holy ash). He has an aura of a rising Sun around him and has lustrous Jatta (long hair) tied in a knot over his head. He is dressed in a deer skin and is a radiant and assuring figure for the devotees. His arms are seen to be holding various objects each of which has a spiritual connotation. Thus, he is seen with a Japa-mala (rosary), Kamandalu (holy pot), Damaru (holy musical instrument), Trishul (trident), Shankh (conch) and Sudharshana-chakra (a holy weapon).
 
Shri Guru Dattatreya or Shri Datta Guru
Shri Guru Dattatreya or Shri Datta Guru - The Trinity – Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Shiva (destroyer)
Symbolism
Shri Datta Guru is accompanied by a white cow. She is called 'Kamadhenu', the wish fulfilling cow. In the Vedic symbolism, the cow stands for the creation and also for our planet Earth. The planet and the creation offer innumerable wealth, experiences, happiness and bliss. The planet nourishes the beings of the planet. The creation nourishes the beings in creation with its milk. The planet and the creation are willing to nourish the beings in all planes of existence. The drinking of cow milk is symbolic of such nourishment, growth and contentment in the physical, vital, mental and blissful planes. It is for this reason, the cow is considered sacred and is respected, worshipped, protected and fed well before one uses her milk.

There are four dogs at Lord Dattatreya’s feet. These 4 dogs represent four Vedas (repositories of Spiritual Wisdom - holiest Hindu scriptures). They also represent the 4 Yugas, or the 4 states of the Word or the 4 states of Existence.

The 4 Vedas are - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yayur Veda and Atharva Veda. The 4 Yugas are - Krita, Treta, Dwapara and Kali Yug, The 4 states of the Word are - Para (beyond), Pasyanti (perception; Madhyama (conception), Vaikhari (vocal) and the 4 states of Existence are - Existence, awareness, thought and speech or action.

The Trishul (trident) in Dattatreya’s hand ndicates that he has transcended the three-Gunas, which constitute the illusory world - Sattva (Purity and divine Knowledge) Raja (Activity and Passion), Tama (Ignorance and Inertia).

The 'Sudharshana-chakra' (disc) indicates that Shri Datta Guru is beyond the cycles of time i.e. past, present and the future and his holding of ''Sudharshana-chakra' means he is the controller of the time.

The Shankh (conch) represents the eternal sound 'OM’ – which is the manifestation of the soul and the life principle within the cosmos. OM is the word of power. It is the sacred symbol of Brahman or God. OM consists of A, U, M, and an Ardhamatra. OM is infinity. OM is eternity. OM is immortality. OM is Sat-Chit-Ananda (existence, consciousness and bliss absolute). In the beginning there was the word; the word was with God; the word itself was God. This is OM. The whole world also has come out of OM. OM is the best thing in this world. OM is Pranava (the word of glory). OM is the mystic word, OM is the very essence of all teachings. OM is the secret of secrets. OM is the Source of all power.

The Japa-mala (rosary) wearing Shri Datta Guru reminds us that our primary duty is chanting Mantra (sacred name of Lord or mystic divine words formula), meditation and surrender at the God, and that our Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) depends on this discipline alone.

Shri Dattatreya is carrying a begging bowl to teach us Vairagya (dispassion, indifference, non­attachment) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness, non-gathering of even the food).

Shri Datta Guru 'the ascetic', is known to have disciples through the Yugas [cycle of creation], well known among them are Lord Parashuram, Sahasraarjun, Prahlad, Ayu Raja, Yadu, Alarka, Samvarta etc. 

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Shri Datta Guru - The Guru Principal
There are three things which are indeed rare and are due to the grace of the God. They are 1) human birth, 2) longing for liberation and 3) protecting care of a perfected sage – The Guru.

Shri Datta Guru represents 3rd one – The Guru Principal – The one who liberates us from the cycle of birth-death-and-rebirth.

The Gurus (spiritual masters) in various planes are the manifestation of the one universal teaching (Guru) principle that is referred to in the ancient Indian wisdom as Dattatreya. Shri Dattatreya is the “Grand Teacher” or the "Supreme Guru principle" in the universe (also called Guru or Sadguru or Spiritual master).
 
Shri Datta Guru - Guru is one who leads the created to the creator
Guru is the one who leads the created to the creator. Guru is the descent of the Divine in human form to create the right conditions for the seekers to ascend to his Divine essence (Moksha or Enlightenment or Chaitanya).

Everything that happens is but an expression of the Divine Will. The ‘descent of the Divine energy’ (Guru principal) and the ‘ascent of the human aspiration’ (spiritual path of the seeker) are mutually complementary.

Guru is one in whose presence, by whose touch (shaktipat) or thought (sankalpa) one feels inner happiness and bliss. Guru alone can remove doubts, pitfalls and snares in the path of the seeker. Guru is God Himself. Guru inspires, Guru guides and Guru enlightens seekers and struggling souls of the Samsarik world.

Shri Dattatreya is the supreme form of that Guru principal. Since Shri Datta Guru performs the task of the Guru principle, His mission will continue till the last person in the universe attains Final Liberation.

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Shri Datta Guru - Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient - All in one and one in all
Athri and Anasuya are said to be the parents of Shri Datta Guru in the Indian mythology. Athri also means in Sanskrit "not three" - that which is beyond the three. The one who came down from that which is not three is called Athreya. The pure consciousness is called Athri.

The pure consciousness details into the three aspects of consciousness as: Will, Knowledge and Activity of Itcha, Jnana and Kriya Sakthis. The three come together to form the creation with their three qualities – called Trigunas – Sattva (Purity and Knowledge) Raja (Activity and Passion), Tama (Ignorance and Inertia). Their corresponding colors are: golden yellow, red and black. The forming is done through these three qualities and colors along with the related sounds and numbers. As a result the creation happens with all its planes of existence.

The pure consciousness pervades all the planes of existence worked out by the Trigunas. Just as gold is essence of the jewelry, the consciousness is an essence of the Pure Existence.
 
Shri Datta Guru - Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient
Shri Datta Guru - Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient
The poised creation and the poised being are the result of a synthesis of the trigunas, where the three are equally oriented to each other and no one dominates the other. This synthesis of the trigunas is also called the state of equilibrium relating to the three qualities. This state is geometrically described as the equilateral triangle. When the three qualities are thus equally poised and oriented, they consequently form into an equilateral triangle, and that state is called the state of no-malice.

Anasuya in Sanskrit means: "not Asuya". (Asuya means malice or jealousy.) Shri Datta Guru is said to be born to Anasuya, the Mother and Athri, the Father. Athri, the Father, is said to be the pure consciousness and Anasuya, the mother, is the state of no malice (jealousy). The state of Anasuya is depicted as an equilateral triangle and the state of Athri is depicted as a center within the circumference.
 
Sati Anasuya feeding trimurthy Shri Datta Guru
Sati Anasuya feeding trimurthy Shri Datta Guru

This is the essential principal relating to the state of Shri Dattatreya that is: pure consciousness (essence of the Pure Existence) expressed through equated qualities. He is beyond the Trinity but can equally be expressed through the Trinity. He is therefore creative like the creator Brahma, preserver like Vishnu, and destroyer like Siva. As pure consciousness Dattatreya can be like Divine Mother and as Pure Existence he can be the Divine Absolute. He is potent with all possibilities. That is how he is conceived by the seers of ancient times, as "All in One and One in All".

Thus Lord Dattatreya ‘The Guru principle’ is considered Omnipotent (having infinite power), Omnipresent (being present in all places at all times) and Omniscient (knowing everything that is there to know). He is the Guru principle that operates in gross, subtle, or mental world in all the plains of existence through various Sadgurus.

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Dattatreya Linage (Guru Parampara) – Dattavtars or Sadgurus of Datta Lineage
Sadgurus or Perfect masters are in reality, the seers who have realized the Absolute or have reached the highest realm of spiritual attainment, are present forever in the whole universe whether in an embodied or in an un-embodied state. They operate in gross, subtle, or mental world. They have been chosen to execute the Divine Mission and work together for the execution of the Divine Mission – Liberation of the seekers.

Jagat Guru, the preceptor of the Universe Shri Krishna has made it abundantly clear in Bhagavad Gita (IV. 7-8), "yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srjamy aham"

Meaning - "Whenever there is decline in righteousness and rise in unrighteousness, O Bharata, then I send forth myself. For the protection of the good and the destruction of the evil and the establishment of righteousness, I come into being from age to age".
Lord Krishna Bbhagavad Gita Yada Yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata
Lord Krishna - Bbhagavad Gita Yada: "Yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharat"

Sadgurus are embodiment of infinite existence, infinite knowledge and infinite bliss to show the Divine path to the seekers.

The form of Guru is the root of meditation,
The feet of the Guru are the root of worship,
The teaching of the Guru is the root of all hymns and
The Grace of the Guru is the root of salvation.

The Sadgurus or spiritual masters are born at different times in different places and with different cultural backgrounds. Strangely enough their external situations may be widely different (Shri Manik Prabhu was the King enlightened while Shri Swami Samarth is the Digamber) but their actions in their embodied stages display a common theme and common approach - Moksha or enlightenment for the bhakta.

While Lord Dattatreya was the primal manifestation in the Guru tradition, the other Guru incarnations (avatars) in this tradition are:

1. Shripad Shri Vallabha (first avatar of Shri Dattatreya)
2. Shri Narasimha Saraswati (second Datta avatar)
3.
Shri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot (third Datta avatar)

In addition there are several more Sadgurus in the lineage. They are:

Shri Manik Prabhu
Shri Sai Baba of Shirdi
Shri Gajanan Maharaj
Shri Shankar Maharaj
Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati (Shri Tembe Swami)

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