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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Dattatreya: The Origin of All Spiritual Traditions

I've been wanting to tell this story for a while.

it's one of my favorite favorite stories in the Vedic tradition, since it involves the greatest of all divine teachers, Dattatreya, from whom all lineages and all traditions originate, whether people practicing those traditions or religions recognize him as the origin. (I mentioned Dattatreya in conjunction with a few stories about Babaji, in a much earlier entry....)

since the story ALSO features the three goddesses in a kind of not-so-flattering light, I think it's particularly fun.

it goes like this -- there was a great rishi named Atri, an extraordinary rishi. his wife, Anasuya, was, as you might imagine, also an exceptional character. her austerities were so strong that she once literally stopped the sun from shining in order to help out one of her devotees.

her name, Anasuya, means, 'without jealousy.' she was modest and capable, brilliant and loving.

so of course, her pure nature being what it was, it attracted the attention and then the inevitable jealousy of the three goddesses, Parvati, Saraswati, and Laxmi, the wives of the three major gods in creation, Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu.

together, these mischievous women (clearly ladies with too much time on their hands!) decided to play a malicious trick on Anasuya, and sent their husbands to her with an outrageous plan to insult her.

the three husbands, at the command of their wives, show up at Anasuya's door. because in the Vedic tradition, a houseguest is considered an expression of god, it's essential that a host honors any and all requests of a guest, according them the same respect and service one would render a god. (only in this case, they really ARE gods, showing up at Anasuya's door!)

Anasuya invites them in, and offers them refreshment. the three gods, in accordance with their wives' orders, ask that she feed them without any clothes on, totally naked.

in India, even today, women are extremely modest (witness the wrapping of a sari!) and such a request, besides being ridiculous, is outrageous in the extreme, an insult to that woman's virtue and purity.

but because the guest is god, Anansuya had of course to acquiesce to this request.

unflappable as she was, she found a perfect way out of the intended offense to her modesty. first, she turned each one of the gods into an infant. then, she stripped off all of her clothes and breast-fed each god, one by one.

thus she turned a prurient interpretation of nudity into a spiritual principle -- where being 'naked' means, stripped of the three gunas, entirely, free from the illusion of the gunas, without attributes at all. she fed the three infant gods, who in their turn, each represent one of the gunas, and of course to a baby a naked breast isn't a lustful sight -- it simply means food is on the way. nourishment.

after she foiled the plot in this way, and fed the babies, Anasuya got dressed once more and went about her duties in her home, serenely. she left the three deities as babies, however, and when her husband Atri got home in the evening, after a day of sadhana, he took in the situation at a glance and was proudly, and rightfully, amused at the attempted trick and his wife's genius in handling such a lila.

eventually, Parvati, Saraswati and Laxmi got to realizing that the day had turned to dusk, and their husbands STILL weren't home. understanding that perhaps something had gone awry, they went themselves to collect their husbands and see what was going on.

imagine their surprise when they were ushered into Anasuya's home only to discover that their husbands were little drooling baby boys!!! not only were they babies, but neither divine goddess could actually recognize their own mates!

Atri, laughing, suggested that Anasuya should restore the gods to their rightful forms, which she did.

the wives were furious, and embarrassed that their plan had backfired so ridiculously on them, and they left in a huff.

the three gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were so incredibly impressed with Anasuya (and so sheepish at their own collusion in the attempted mockery of her) that they each promised her a boon. they would grant any deep wish she wanted.

Anasuya being way too smart, asked for a baby, a son, from each of the deities' energy. they were happy to comply.

from Brahma, she received Soma, the moon. (also known as Chandra.)

from Shiva, she received Durvasas, a rishi known for his irritability and crankiness as well as his brilliance.

from Vishnu, she received Dattatreya, a most unusual child since he has three heads -- each one representing one of the three gods, the three gunas of creation, the three principles in the cycle of creation, maintenance, and destruction.

Dattatreya went on to lead an illustrious and unorthodox life. he is the original yogi, the original aghori, and the original guru.

Dattatreya -- the son of the amazing rishini Anasuya and the equally amazing rishi Atri, conceived through the energy of Vishnu in response to a lila of illusion from the three goddesses -- is the expert on handling the Mother Divine in all her forms and nature.

his guru, in fact, WAS Nature Herself.

Datta had 24 separate gurus from Nature -- the five elements, the sun, the moon, the ocean, a host of animals and insects, each of which taught him some different aspect of the divine and sadhana, and four human beings: a child, a maiden (virgin), a blacksmith, and a prostitute.