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V. V. Shirvaikar









In this part we shall discuss the advice supposed to have been given by Shri Dattatreya to his six ancient disciples Prahlada, Ayu, Yadu, Alarka and Parashuram.

Mahabharata mentions only Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna of the Haihaya lineage as a disciple of Shri Dattatreya.  It has no relevance to the main story of the Bharata the original composition of Maharshi Vyasa and therefore no doubt must be an addition made by the redactors Suta, Sauti etc. to the original Bharata text (See Part I-A of this series).   Puranas, which are dated later than Mahabharata, mention more Dattatreya disciples:  Prahlada, Ayu, Yadu, Alarka, Samvarta (Sankruti?) and Parashuram. 

As mentioned in Part I-A of this series, there is a chronological conflict in the above list of disciples.  Prahlada was the son of the Daitya king Hiranyakashipu; Prahlada's time is therefore couple of generations before Vaivaswat Manu (3100 BC). Ayu and Yadu were lunar dynasty kings being of the fourth and the seventh generation respectively from Vaivaswat Manu.  Thus these three disciples belong to a time zone nearabout that of Vaivaswat Manu.

In contrast Alarka, Sahasrarjuna and Parashuram stand at 36th, 37th and 39th from Vaivaswat Manu i.e. in the time zone 2400 BC - 2340 BC.  (See Chronology in Part I-A).  Samvarta also lived around the same time but details about him are not available.  He is mentioned in Avadhut Upanishad and Jaabaaldarshan Upanishad.  There is no doubt that Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna had recieved boons from Shri Dattatreya. Based on this it was concluded that Dattatreya was the contemporary of these disciples.  

When one critically looks at the advice given to the three older "disciples" it would be seen that the advice came from an Avadhuta who the Puranas have taken to be Dattatreya.   We shall however discuss this advice since that too is valuable, and had Dattatreya given the advice it could not have been different.


Shri Dattatreya’s teachings to Alarka are given in some detail in Markanda Purana. These concern Yoga practice and are substantially the same as what is given in the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali. This is not surprising since it has also been mentioned elsewhere that Patanjali also obtained the knowledge from Shri Dattatreya.  The advice to Parashurama is contained in the book Tripura Rahasya by Rishi Sumedha or Haritayana written comparatively recently. 

Many spiritual seekers consider Bhagavad-Gita as a comprehensive guide for their pursuit. Commentaries like Bhavarthadeepika (better known as Dnyaneshwari) written by Saint Dnyaneshwar in the thirteenth century make a better guide because of the detailed explanations of the Shlokas of the Bhagavad-Gita. Gita proposes four paths for spiritual pursuit: (i) Path of Knowledge in which a person contemplates on the relation between himself, God or Brahman, Universe etc. and through meditation on these topics experiences the Brahman i.e, attains Self-realization. (ii) Path of Action in which a person carries out his religious and social duties sincerely, but without any desire for the fruits of his actions.  He offers the fruits to God, thus becoming a non-doer in spite of doing the actions.  This attitude negates his Karmas, Therefore, when all karmas are negated, he is not reborn.  (iii) Path of Yoga in which the seeker practices Yoga and meditation by which the Kundalini force is activated.  This Kundalini force cleans the body and mind and leads to an experience of the Brahman and thus, liberation; and (iv) Path of Devotion (Bhakti) in which the seeker becomes devoted to God. His mind becomes free of all thought except of God and thus the seeker becomes one with Him and gets liberated.  The seeker may, to start with, be interested in devotion with personal materialistic motives but in the end, devotion overrides all worldly desires.

Shri Dattatreya’s teachings primarily deal with the yoga path. The path of actions and the path of devotion are not given importance. Bhakti (devotion) is intrinsically implied in this path as a precondition, for the seeker cannot succeed without His grace which can be obtained only through deep devotion.  Dattatreya’s teachings do not mention the Path of Karma.  It is a special feature of Gita that a good virtuous life lived while performing one’s duties without bothering about the fruits thereof can also enable one to attain Moksha. Dattatreya’s teachings do not mention specifically the Path of Knowledge either. Knowledge is synonymous with the experience of the Self. Gita also says the same but mentions the Path of knowledge as a separate path. Though it does not say what the seeker should do, what is implied is reading, contemplation and discussion about the Ultimate until one becomes one with It. As would be seen later in the discussion of Tripura Rahasya, mere learning from books is not knowledge unless it is also experienced by oneself.

While advice to Alarka is primarily on the techniques of Yoga and meditation, the discussions in Tripura Rahasya go deep into the philosophy of Consciousness and the yogic path.  Shri Dattatreya’s teachings to these two disciples are therefore more relevant to the followers of the Yoga path.

It is not that the devotees of Shri Dattatreya shun the pure Bhakti Path. Actually they have deep devotion about Shri Dattatreya as a Guru, Yogi and a person of Knowledge. As mentioned earlier the worship of Dattatreya differs from the worship of other deities in this important aspect. Very few devotees ask for material benefits from Shri Dattatreya. They get them automatically. And it is believed that if any devotee suffers in life that is because Shri Dattatreya wishes him surrender and come to him so that he gets immersed in the devotional practice. We shall now proceed to discuss first the advice given to the ancient disciples and then the advice to the later disciples.


Advice To Prahlada      This episode occurs in the Bhagwat Purana, Canto 7 Ch 13 entitled "The Behavior of a Perfect Person.". (Ref http://www.bvml.org/books/SB/07/13.html ).  In the context of a discourse on the behaviour of different ashramas (stages of life) and particularly that of sanyasa, Narada Muni described a meeting between Prahlada and a saintly person who had adopted the mode of life of a python (allegorially refering to the symptoms of a paramahamsa).

King Prahlada was travelling with his entourage with the intention of studying the nature of saintly persons.  He arrived at Sahya Mountain on the bank of the river Kaveri where he came across a great saintly person who was lying on the ground, covered with dirt and dust, but his bright aura showed that he was spiritually very advanced.

Prahlada immediately offered obeisances to the saintly person who was quite stout in appearance. Prahlada was puzzled because though fat he did not do any work and spent his time lying down.  Prahlada therefore respectfully enquired how he could be so stout since persons of his spiritual advancement generally eat only once in a day.

The saint replied that since bodily pleasures did not make a person happy he had stopped taking part in materialistic activities.  Activities like eating, sleeping, sexual enjoyment and protecting themselves from fear cannot be regulated in the case of animals, but for humans these must be regulated. Every action, be it eating or sex must be performed as a duty and not for enjoyment. Since everything is misused by workers who do fruitful work he had retired from all such activities.  The real happiness for all living beings is the spiritual happiness. It can be achieved only when one stops all materialistic activities pleasures from which are only imaginary. Therefore he had ceased from all material activities and was spending his time lying down there.  The conditioned soul living within the body identifies itself with the body and forgets its self-interest. Because the body is material, his natural tendency is to be attracted by the diversions of the material world. Thus the living entity suffers the miseries of material existence.   

The living entity covered by the material body does not see the happiness within himself but runs after happiness in the material world. He tries to rid himself of the causes of distress but since material nature controls him he is ultimately baffled. 

Materialistic activities are always mixed with three kinds of miserable conditions--adhyatmika (spiritual), adhidaivika (of destiny) and adhibhautika (material). Therefore, even if one achieves some success by performing such activities one is still subjected to birth, death, old age, disease and the results of the fruits of his activities.  For example, a rich man, who is a victim of slavery to his senses, is very greedy to accumulate wealth and therefore suffers from insomnia due to fear from all sides, despite his wealth and opulence.

Those who are considered materially powerful and rich are always full of anxieties because of governmental laws, thieves and rogues, enemies, family members, animals, birds, persons seeking charity, the inevitable time factor and even their own selves. Thus they are invariably afraid. Therefore persons of intelligence should give up the original cause of lamentation, illusion, fear, anger, attachment, poverty and unnecessary labour. The original cause of all of these is the desire for unnecessary prestige and money.

He said, “The bee and the python are two excellent spiritual masters who give us exemplary instructions regarding how to be satisfied by collecting only a little and how to stay in one place instead of moving about. From the bumblebee I have learned to be unattached to accumulating money, for although money is as good as honey, anyone can kill its owner and take it away. I do not endeavour to get anything, but am satisfied with whatever is achieved in its own way. If I do not get anything, I am patient and unagitated like a python and lie down in this way for many days.  Sometimes I eat a very small quantity and sometimes a great quantity. Sometimes the food is very palatable, and sometimes it is stale. Sometimes prasada is offered with great respect, and sometimes food is given neglectfully. Sometimes I eat during the day and sometimes at night. Thus I eat what is easily available. To cover my body I use whatever is available, whether it be linen, silk, cotton, bark or deerskin, according to my destiny, and I am fully satisfied and unagitated. Sometimes I lie on the surface of the earth, sometimes on leaves, grass or stone, sometimes on a pile of ashes, or sometimes, by the will of others, in a palace on a first-class bed with pillows.  Sometimes I bathe myself very nicely, smear sandalwood paste all over my body, put on a flower garland, and dress in fine garments and ornaments. Then I travel like a king on the back of an elephant or on a chariot or horse. Sometimes, however, I travel naked, like a person haunted by a ghost.  Different people are of different mentalities. Therefore it is not my business either to praise them or to blaspheme them. I only desire their welfare, hoping that they will agree to become one with the Supersoul (Paramatman).  The mental concoction of discrimination between good and bad should be accepted as one unit and then invested in the mind, which should then be invested in the false ego. The false ego should be invested in the total material energy. This is the process of fighting false discrimination.  A learned, thoughtful person must realize that material existence is illusion. This is possible only by Self-realization. A Self-realized person, who has actually realized the truth, should retire from all material activities, living ia a state of Self-realization.”

He said, “Prahlada Maharaj, you are certainly a Self-realized soul and a devotee of the Supreme Lord. You do not care for public opinion or the so-called scriptures. For this reason I have described to you without hesitation the history of my self-realization.”

After Prahlada Maharaj heard these instructions from the saint, he understood the occupational duties of a perfect person (paramahamsa). Thus he duly worshiped the saint, took his permission and then left for his own home.

The advice given by the Avadhuta (who is confused with Shri Dattatreya in some Puranas) to King Prahlada  is lucid and requires no comment.  It is basically the same as the lessons from Ishavasyopnishad which Shri Sai Baba of Shirdi taught to Dasganu through the maidservant of Kakasaheb Dikshit of Vileparle Mumbai.  (See Part VII-3)                   

Advice To Ayu      King Ayu had approached Shri Dattatreya for a son on the advice of the royal priest.  Ayu went in search of Shri Dattatreya and finally found him on Sahya mountain. To avoid Ayu Dattatreya called Maya (Shakti) in the form of a beautiful maiden and indulged in amorous activities with her. However Ayu who was a spiritually elevated person realized that this was all a drama and the woman was really Maya with whom the Adi Purusha Dattatreya was playing. He embraced Dattatreya's feet who warned and told him that he (i.e. Dattatreya) was an impure person and Ayu should leave immediately. When Ayu did not leave Dattatreya demanded human flesh in a skull every day. Ayu agreed. Pleased with Ayu, Datttatreya offered him a boon. Ayu asked for a son which Dattatreya agreed and sent him away with a fruit to be consumed by his queen Indumati.

In due course the queen Indumati gave birth to a son.  But the demon Hundasur, who knew of the prediction that this child would be the cause of his death, kidnapped him coming in the form of a maidservant. He gave the child to his queen for killing but taking a liking for the child she secretly sent him to Rishi Vasishta.  The child, now named Nahusha grew up with Vasishta and when he grew up killed Hundasura thus fulfilling the prediction. Vasishta returned Nahusha to king Ayu.  Thus we see that King Ayu was not a disciple n the generally understood maning of the term.

There are also many chronological and geographical inconsistencies in the story. The concept of Brahman and Maya, or Purusha and Prakriti was developed many centuries after Ayu.  Ayu ruled from Sapta Sindhu region. Aryans had not yet reached Matapur (Mahur) which is one of the places claimed to be the birthplace of Dattatreya and is located in what is now Vidarbha where Aryans reached only many centuries later.  Also even the first rishi Vasishtha lived many centuries later than Ayu. This story therefore is one of the typical Puranic myths.  (This story is mentioned from Dattamahatmya by Shri Vasudevananada saraswati.)

Advice To Yadu     King Yadu was the son of Yayati and grandson of Ayu.  Yayati had two wives: Devayani and Sharmishtha. Devayani was the daughter of Danava Guru Ushanas Shukracharya (a Bhrigu). She gave birth to two sons: Yadu and Turvasu. Sharmishtha was the daughter of a Danava king Vrishparva and was the mother of three sons: Puru, Druhyu and Anu.   Yayati became prematurely old due to Shukracharya's curse but had an option to pass the aging to one of his sons. None excep Puru agreed to it. Yayati named Puru as his successor, sending the other four sons with smaller kingdoms near the outskirts of his kingdom. Thus Puru was the ancestor of Pandavas and Kauravas who are, in a way, descendants of the Danava Vrishaparva through Sharmishtha while Shri Krishna, a descendent of Yadu, has Bhrigu blood in him.

King Yayati’s kingdom must have been adjoining that of Vrishaparva because Yayati is said to have met both Devayani and Sharmishtha while on hunting trips which must have been in the forest separating the two kingdoms.  Vrishaparva and Shukra appear to have come from Gujarat, since their priests the Bhrigus were descendants of Varuna, God of the sea, and have always been associated with this region of India (Original name of Bharuch near Baroda was Bhrigu kaccha). Their territory bordered on that of Yayati who was a follower of the Angirasas.

According to the Bhagwat Purana, (Canto 9 Ch 19) Druhyu ruled over the southeastern direction, Yadu over the southern side, Turvasu over the western part and Anu over the north.  Over the years, the Yadu clans inherited the territories to the south-west of the Gangetic plains, between the Chambal River, Betwa and Ken, which correspond to the border areas of the present Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

King Yadu, observing a young Brahmin mendicant wandering around fearlessly, asked him why when everyone else was striving hard for wealth, health, success, knowledge, spiritual gains  etc. he was moving about like a child even though he appeared to be capable, learned, experienced, handsome and eloquent instead of doing any work.  He requested the Brahmin the cause of the inner happiness in spite of his being all alone.

The Brahmin replied that he had learnt this art from many spiritual masters who were 24 in number. These were: The earth, the air, the sky, the water, the fire, the moon; the sun, the pigeon, the python, the sea, the moth, the honeybee; the elephant, the honeythief, the deer, the fish, the prostitute (Pingala), the osprey (raven); the child, the girl, the arrow-maker, the serpent, the spider and the wasp.  He then explained what he learnt from each which is summarised below:

1. Earth:  I learnt patience and doing good to others.

2. Water: I learnt the quality of purity.

3. Air: I learnt to be without attachment though moving among people.

4. Fire: I learnt to glow with the splendour of Self-knowledge and austerity.

5. Sky: I learnt that the Self is all-pervading and yet without contact with any object.

6. Moon: I learnt changes belong to the material body but not to the Self which is is always perfect.

7. Sun: I learnt that like Sun reflected in many pots of water appears to be many, so also Brahman appears different in different bodies caused by the reflection through the mind. 

8. Pigeon:  Once I saw mother pigeon rushing into a hunter's net out of attachment to her children who were already in the net. From this I have learnt that attachment is the root cause of earthly bondage.

9. Python: who eats only what comes to it without going out in search of food, I learnt to be content with whatever I get to eat.

10. Ocean: who remains unmoved, even though hundreds of rivers flow into it, so also a wise man should remain unmoved among all the various sorts of temptations, difficulties and troubles.

11. Moth: I learnt to control the sense of sight and to fix the mind on the Self.

12. Honey-Bee: which gathers honey from various flowers I learnt to beg for alms from many houses so that I am not a burden to any single householder. 

13. Honey-gatherer:  A honey-gathereer easily takes away all the honey stored by a bee after hard work.  From this I learnt that it is useless to hoard things.

14. Elephant: I learnt that one should destroy lust otherwise, blinded by lust even at the sight of a female elephant, one falls into a grass-covered pit trap. 

15. Deer:  The deer is enticed and trapped by the hunter through its love of music. Therefore, one should never be distracted by sense pleasures which can distract a seeker from his spiritual path.

16. Fish:  From the fish who is easily caught by the bait of food I learnt not to be greedy for food lest I get ruined by losing my independence.

17. Pingala the prostitute:  I noticed that a prostitute by name Pingala who became hopeless after vainly waiting for customers, made herself feel satisfied with whatever she had earned that day and retired to a sound sleep. I learnt from this fallen woman the lesson that the abandonment of hope leads to contentment.

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

19. Child: I learnt the virtue of cheerfulness from the child who who sucks his milk free from all cares, worries and anxieties, and is always cheerful.

20. Maiden:  The maiden was husking paddy. Her bangles made much noise which attracted attention of visitors from the house. To silence the bangles, she removed the bangles one by one. Even when just two bangles were left, they produced some noise. When she removed one and only one remained, it did not make any noise and she was happy. I learnt from the maiden that living among many would create discord, disturbance, dispute and quarrel. Even among two there might be unnecessary words or strife. The ascetic or the Sanyasin should remain alone in solitude.

21. Serpent: A serpent does not build its own hole. It dwells in the holes dug out by others. Similarly, an ascetic should not build a home for himself. He should live in a temple or a cave built by others.

22. Arrow-maker: I learnt from the arrow-maker the quality of intense concentration of mind.

23. Spider:  The spider weaves long threads taken out of his mouth into cobwebs and then gets itself entangled in the net of its own making. Similarly, man makes a net of his own ideas and gets entangled in it. The wise man should, therefore abandon all worldly thoughts and think of Brahman only.

24. Beetle: The beetle catches hold of a worm, puts it in its nest and gives it a sting. The poor worm, always fearing the return of the beetle and sting and thinking constantly of the beetle, itself becomes a beetle. I learnt from the beetle and the worm to turn myself into the Self by contemplating constantly on It (Brahman); thus I gave up all attachment to the body and attained liberation.

This story of Yadu meeting an Avadhuta is given in Bhagwat Purana Canto 11. It starts at verse 24 of Ch 7 and goes upto the end of Ch 9.  At the end of Ch 9 it has been mentioned based on the verse 4 in Ch 7 of Canto 2 that the avadhuta was Dattatreya. 

The king Yadu was highly impressed by listening to these enlightening words of Lord Dattatreya and practised constant meditation on the Self.


Now we shall discuss the advice given by Shri Dattatreya to Sahasrarjuna, Alarka and Parshurama.  We shall start with the Haihaya king Kartavirya Arjuna also known as Sahasrarjuna.

Arjuna was the son of Kritavirya of Haihaya lineage in the Yadu line of the Lunar branch. He was Alarka's contemporary. He was a powerful king ruling from Mahishmati (Mahabharata: Anushasan Parva Ch 151-156). It is now known as Maheshwar; it is a town in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh state in central India, on the north bank of the Narmada River.   The following is based upon the account in Mahabharata.

Once Shri Dattatreya (He is mentioned as Rishi Dattatreya here) visited Kartavirya Arjuna.  To welcome sages being the dharma of Kshatriyas he humbly offered all his wealth at his feet. Dattatreya was pleased and instructed him to ask for three boons for anything he wanted. Kartavirya asked for the following three boons: (i) “During war I should have one thousand arms and the warriors should see these thousand arms, (ii) during normal life only the usual two hands should be seen.  (iii) I should conquer all earth by my bravery and should rule it carefully and righteously.”  He also requested for a fourth boon: When I deviate from the righteous path I who am blessed by you, should be guided by saints. Dattatreya said “So be it!” and left. Because of these boons he was known as Sahasrarjuna.

Markandeya Purana gives a slightly different story. After king Kritavirya’s death, his ministers and priests decided to crown his son Kartavirya Arjuna as their new king. But Kartavirya insisted that he would not become the king unless and until he had attained the status of a yogi. Sage Garga then advised Arjuna to worship Dattatreya who had helped the deities to reunite after they had defeated the demons. Arjuna then went to Dattatreya's hermitage and began to worship and serve him. Pleased by his penance and service, Dattatreya asked Arjuna to seek a boon. Kartavirya asked for such a power as would enable him to perform his duties as a king in a just manner; that nobody should match him in war and that he should have one thousand arms. Also that he should get killed only by such a person who is more virtuous than himself, that he should guide the people towards the right path and may his devotion for him (Shri Dattatreya) be eternal. Dattatreya agreed and then crowned Kartavirya Arjuna (who now began to be known also Sahasrarjuna) as the king. He also received certain siddhis from Shri Dattatreya.

The power he had gained from the boons made Sahasrarjuna proud. Soon after becoming the king, Sahasrarjuna ordered that nobody in his kingdom should wield a weapon except him. He boasted that nobody could equal him. Just then there was a divine utterance that “You do not know the power of Brahmins who are superior to you. When a Kshatriya protects his people he does it with the help of Brahmins”. But Sahasrarjuna said that a Brahmin was in no way superior to him who was a Kshatriya. Brahmins live by teaching and priesthood under the protection of Kshatriyas. He also said that he would see to it that these proud Brahmins are kept under control and made a living by begging. However when Vayu warned him against this behaviour, he promised to treat Brahmins properly and protect them.

Sahasrarjuna started enjoying life.  One day when he had gone for hunting he came across the ashrama of Rishi Jamadagni who welcomed the king and treated him and his army well.  Sahasrarjuna noted that realized Jamadagni could do all this on the strength of the Kamadhenu (wish-cow) who provided whatever the Rishi wished. He developed a strong desire to possess this cow and took the cow forcibly to Mahishmati with the help of his men. When Jamadagni’s son Parashurama came to know of this atrocity he picked up his Parashu (axe) and went after Sahasrarjuna. After defeating his army single handedly with his Parashu he killed Sahasrarjuna chopping all his hands and head. His sons fled.  Parashurama then brought the Kamadhenu to Jamadagni and told him what he had done.

Jamadagni however reproached Parashurama and told him that he had committed a sin of killing a king who protects people.  Brahmins have achieved a position of respect with their forgiveness. He advised Parashurama to wash his sins by pilgrimage to holy places.  Accordingly Parashurama travelled for a year on pilgrimage.

Thus ended Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna who though taught and blessed by Shri Dattatreya forgot his teachings and as a result died a defeated person.


Alarka belongs to the lineage of Ayu’s son Kshatravriddha.  He stands 25th from Manu Vaivaswat.  He was the son of Ritudhwaja (Divodasa according to Bhagawat Purana) and mother Madalasa, daughter of Vishwavasu, the king of Gandharvas. Ritudhwaja had rescued Madalasa from the demon Patalketu after killing him. Patalketu’s brother, in order to take revenge of his brother’s death, once falsely told Madalasa that Ritudhwaja died during a battle. Believing this Madalasa gave up her life.  The Naga king Ashwatar had two sons who were close friends of Ritudhwaja and loved him very much. On their entreaty Ashwatar did a penance and received a boon from Devi Saraswati as a result of which Madalasa was reborn as his daughter. When she grew up, he gave her in marriage to Ritudhwaja who subsequently succeeded his father to the throne.

 Madalasa gave birth to four sons: Vikrant, Subahu and Shatrumardan and Alarka. The first three became ascetics having been taught metaphysical knowledge by their mother. Ritudhwaja prevented Madalasa from giving metaphysical knowledge to Alarka so that he could suceed him to the throne. Madalasa therefore instructed Alarka on morals and the art of ruling the kingdom. When Alarka married she presented him a ring containing a note on how a king should administer the kingdom. When Alarka was crowned a king Madalasa left with her husband to the forest.

Alarka ruled justly but always felt that he lacked the experience of real bliss and that something was missing in his life. Very soon, his brother Subahu learnt about his brother Alarka’s progress.  He felt jealous and prevailed upon the king of Kashi to send an envoy to Alarka with a message that he should hand over the kingdom to Subahu. Alarka refused and Subahu, with the help of the king of Kashi, defeated Alarka and conquered the kingdom.

Alarka remembered the ring presented by his mother. He opened the ring and found a message: 'When everything is lost, abandon your present advisors and seek company of learned sages.'  Heeding this message, Alarka went and met Shri Dattatreya who assured him of removing his miseries at once. Then he asked for the reasons for his miseries.  Alarka said that he was not bothered about material pleasures but his elder brother Subahu had grabbed his kingdom. He was feeling disenchanted but now being unattached felt neither sorrow nor joy.  Dattatreya made Alarka aware of the fact that it was because of the knowledge he had imparted to him that the 'mist of attachment' had disappeared from his mind.

Dattatreya’s teachings to Alarka (Re: Markanda Purana):

“Even a little ego develops into a huge tree of ignorance.  Affection is its trunk; home and family are its branches and wife and children are its leaves. Wealth and cereals are its flowers and happiness and sorrow are its fruits. Relation that emerges out of affection is its canopy. This tree continues growing and obscures the path of liberation. The tree is full of desires and those who sit under its shelter can never attain salvation. Felling of this tree is therefore of foremost importance for a person desirous of attaining 'Brahmajitva.'

“Getting rid of attachment is the first step towards liberation (Moksha). Once this step is achieved he will be free from sorrows and then unite with the Supreme. This unification is called yoga. It is essential for a seeker of moksha that he should renounce attachment for the worldly objects including close relations.

“Knowledge and renunciation are two sides of the same coin and one is necessary to give rise to the other. Just as home shelters the body and food gives energy to sustain it, knowledge helps to attain salvation. Opposite of knowledge is ignorance which is an impediment in the path of salvation.  Every living being receives fruits of his actions, good or bad, and these fruits bind him to the birth and death cycles, preventing salvation. Only carrying out one’s duties without bothering for the fruits thereof can prevent this binding. Only after the fruits of action in the earlier births that have caused his rebirth are “burnt out” can a living being become liberated from the cycles.

“When yogis achieve yoga (i.e. the state of union with the Brahman), they live in Brahman. Attainment of this yoga state is difficult. One has to conquer his soul first. For this one has to practice breath control (Pranayama) for controlling of physical impurities, determination to control sins, self-restrains to control lust and contemplation on God. 

“During this process a yogi faces many impediments that can divert a yogi’s mind from his goal.  The yogi should therefore keep his mind occupied in the worship and continuous contemplation on God and seek solace in Him. He should control his senses and eat and sleep less. Once his physical and mental faults are removed and he attains unification with the Brahman through contemplation, then he never separates from the Supreme Being.”

To Alarka’s query about the daily routine of a yogi Shri Dattatreya tells him to observe the followingthe following:

Purity:  “Respect and insult cause the feelings of love and hatred. Yogis understand insult as respect and vice versa. A yogi should therefore never attend social functions like shraaddha and marriage. He should not accept the hospitality of others and should avoid unnecessary journeys. A yogi should seek alms only after the householder and his family has eaten and only from those households whose inmates are gentle, religious and free from blemishes.  He should only accept things like whey, milk, fruits, edible roots, gram flour etc. Before taking his meal, a yogi should offer his food to the five Prana deities in his body reciting the following mantras and making the offering after each mantra - Pranaya Swaha, Aapanaya Swaha, Samanaya Swaha, Udanaya Swaha, Vyanaya Swaha!

Yama-Niyama: “Control of senses and greed, celibacy, renunciation and non-violence are the five resolutions (Yama) of a yogi. Control of anger, service to the Guru, sanctity, eating less and studying Vedas regularly are the five norms (Niyama) for a yogi. A yogi must practice meditation at a desolate place, forest, cave or peak of a mountain. A true celibate has full control over his speech, mind and action. He looks at iron and gold with the same indifference; he neither loves nor hates anybody.

Omkar:  “Yogis who follow sincerely the Yama and Niyama restrictions never lose their supreme position. While contemplating on the Supreme they recite AUM which comprises of the three syllables 'A', 'U' and 'M' representing the three attributes (Gunas) Sattva, Tama and Raja respectively. But even then a yogi must guard against some disastrous traps that can make his entire penance useless.

Brahman:   “Only when a yogi experiences extreme joy during meditation that he can experience Brahman; a true yogi does not mourn over the loss of physical body because he is immune to both sorrow and affection. But this is difficult to achieve.”

Alarka thanked Dattatreya and taking his permission, went back to the king of Kashi and told him to take the kingdom or hand it over to Subahu. The king asked why he, a Kshatriya, was renouncing the kingdom without fighting and Alarka replied that only Brahman is truth, everything else is false. He added that he was going to control his senses and gain perfection in yoga.

Subahu then told the Alarka that he had played a drama with the help of the king of Kashi in order to bring Alarka, who was leading a luxurious life but was not really happy with it, towards the path of salvation without any war or bloodshed. He would not have turned towards the path of salvation unless he was pushed to misery. Now that he had achieved this he was also leaving renouncing everything. Subahu then, on king’s request, advised him the importance of achieving the four duties of a man: Dharma (righteous living), Artha (earning livelihood), Kama (keeping the wife satisfied with sex) and Moksha (liberation). The king of Kashi returned the kingdom to Alarka who crowned his eldest son and retired to the forest where he practiced the teachings of his Guru Dattatreya and attained salvation.

It is clear that these teachings are rooted in Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras which though written in second century BC have material which dates much earlier since it has been mentioned in the Bhagvad-Gita as well as in the Shantiparva of the Mahabharata. It has been claimed that Patanjali himself receied the nowledge from Shri Dattatreya.  We are not in a position to comment on this.


Parashurama's story is historically linked to that of Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna as would be clear from the story of the latter described earlier.

The feud between the Haihayas and the Jamadagni family did not stop after Parashurama killed Sahasrarjuna. Sahasrarjuna’s sons took revenge of the death of their father by attacking Jamadagni’s ashram when Parashurama was away.  In spite of the entreaties of Renuka (Parashurama’s mother) they killed Jamadagni while he was in the state of meditation. Parashurama learnt of this when he returned and vowed to decimate the Kshatriyas who had killed a Brahmin. Parashurama took his father’s corpse on one shoulder and mother Renuka on the other and set to go to the Ganges ((actually this must be Saraswati) to perform death rites. While passing through a forest he met Dattatreya in the form of an Avadhuta. Seeing Renuka he stopped Parashurama. Addressing Renuka as Shakti incarnate (Goddess Durga) he worshipped her. She blessed him and told him of her resolve to end her life. She also advised Parashurama to look up to Dattatreya for help when needed.

Later, after he had decimated the Kshatriyas twenty-one times he met Shri Rama who defeated and humbled him. But Shri Rama let him go because Parashurama was a Brahmin. Parashurama was dejected. Unexpectedly he met an Avadhuta whose name was Samvarta. He was Brihaspati’s brother and used move around looking like a madman. When Parashurama asked him about the secret of his state he gave an explanation which Parashurama did not understand and when he requested for it again he directed him to Shri Dattatreya.   Parashurama went in search of Dattatreya whom he finally found in the Gandhamadan Mountains.

The dialogue that followed is known as “Datta-Bhargava Samvad” (dialogue between Dattatreya and Bhargava i.e. Parashurama). In this dialogue, Shri Dattatreya explains to Parashurama the theory and practice of spiritual pursuit illustrating his statements by certain allegorical stories. It is a most complete guide to the spiritual path.

Parashurama, on meeting Dattatreya, prostrated before him.  Shri Dattatreya narrated to him the greatness (Mahatmya) of Devi Tripura (the transcendental consciousness shining as the unique mirror of the wonderful universe). Parashurama became abstracted in devotion, his mind becoming still and purer. His eyes glowed in rapture and his hair stood on end and he could not hide his ecstasy. He then fell to the ground before his master Shri Dattatreya and expressed his gratitude requesting guidance about how to worship Devi Tripura. Having satisfied himself as to the fitness of Parashurama, whose zeal for and devotion to Tripura worship were intense he duly initiated him into the method of Her worship. He then permitted Parashurama to go to the Mahendra Hill to practice the sacred worship.

Parashurama practiced the worship of Devi Tripura for twelve years. One day he remembered his dialogue with Samvarta during which he was asked to obtain the explanation of what Samvarta had said from Shri Dattatreya. He pondered over and realized that he did not know anything about the workings of the universe, how is it created and how it would end and why it is transient though appearing to be permanent.  He turned over in his mind his life from childhood to the present and realized that throughout his life he had strived to achieve his goals which changed from time to time; but in the end he had not really achieved anything worthwhile.

He thought, "The feeling that I should work hard and succeed for gaining happiness is really a misery. The feeling never goes and so does the misery. But in spite of this people, from a beggar in the street to a mighty emperor, continue to strive for apparent gains and continue to be miserable. On the other hand those who need not keep themselves busy in work and who are perfectly content and self-contained are happy. This is rather confusing."  Being thus confused he decided to return to his Guru Shri Dattatreya and seek his advice.

Quickly reaching the Gandhmadan Mountain, he met his Guru and prostrated before him keeping his head on his feet.  The Guru was happy to see Parashurama who then asked his permission to present certain doubts he had in mind. Shri Dattatreya gladly consented to remove the doubts.


Parshurama recounted to his Guru his past actions about destroying all the Kshatriyas and being defeated by Shri Rama.  He had felt mortified by the fact that Shri Rama had let him go because of his being of Brahmin birth.  He had then met Samvarta, a wandering Avadhuta who was very effulgent but apparently deranged.  Just being near him was refreshing and pleasant. He had asked Samvarta about the state he was living in and he had given his an explanation which he had not been able to understand.  When asked to clarify, Samvarta had advised him to meet him (i.e. Shri Dattatreya) for explanation. 

Samvarta had belittled both the path of actions (Karma) and the path of devotion. He had said that whatever he had gained after pleasing Indra the king of gods through actions like performance of the various rites and ceremonies was very trivial as far as happiness was concerned.  This happiness was not really happiness but a lesser misery. Besides, nothing can mitigate the fear of death that results through one's actions.  (N.B. The Karmas implied here are rituals like yajnas to please gods and not day to day actions.)

Devotion was just as imperfect as Karma. Transient devotional states cannot lead to intransient high Truth. Devotional practices are continuous and there seems to be no end to the obligatory duties enforced by devotion.

In spite of these strange atitudes, he had found Samvarta to be quite happy and completely free from any sense of obligation to act and thereby face disastrous results. He seemed to laugh at the ways of the world, How did he gain that state? And what did he tell me that I did not understand?  Parshurama then prayed to Shri Dattatreya to kindly explain these points and rescue him from the jaws of Karma.

Dattatreya tells Parshuram that people are in the habit of engaging in work under the sense of obligation. It is very much necessary to first investigate, then deliberate and finally use discrimination before undertaking any action. For example Shri Rama, suffered because he did not discrimination and judgment before attempting to capture the golden deer but later with due deliberation he crossed over to Lanka and conquered it.

Common people are confused and influenced by the sense of action. But as long as ignorance lasts there cannot be discernment.  The Supreme Tripura Devi the Supreme Force, the Being of all beings, the one consciousness of Shiva, who abides as the Self of self, is the one who controls your thoughts and shines the Vichara (meaning the discrimination, investigation, deliberation and judgment) in the mind and therefore should be worshipped sincerely, exactly as taught by the Guru.

A pre-requisite for such worship is devotion and earnestness. A man without discrimination thinks that to have dispassion (vairagya) means to be miserable (duhkha) and that the pleasures of the body are the same as bliss (sukha). This ignorance leads to his suffering in the cycle of births and deaths. He commends Parashurama for having having transcended misery by becoming discriminating. Association with the wise helps to avoid misery and obtain salvation as could be seen from the fact that Parashurama himself had reached this stage of spiritual progresss only by his association with Samvarta.  He then illustrates this point through the story of Prince Hemachuda and Hemlekha.

Prince Hemachuda who had gone for hunting in the forest is caught in a storm and has to take shelter in the hermitage of Rishi Vyaghrapada where the rishi being away his foster daughter Hemalekha, a beautiful maiden welcomes him. Hemachuda falls in love with Hemalekha. Vyagrapada on his return realizes this and gives her in marriage to Hemachuda.

Hemachuda and Hemlekha

Hemachuda does not know that under the tutelage of Vyaghrapada, Hemalekha herself has reached the spiritual level of a sage.  He finds during their honeymoon that Hemalekha was not much interested in physical pleasures. When questioned she explains that physical pleasures are only of a temporary transient nature and desire for them can never be satisfied. The real happiness comes not by being slave to bodily pleasures but through realization of the Self (i.e. the soul).  She teaches Hemachuda about meditation, control of mind and how one can lead a normal life and enjoy the physical pleasures without being a slave to them by becoming dispassionate. Thus, Hemachuda, and later the whole family as well as other citizens are initiated into Self-realization.

Hemachuda being used to the physical pleasures over the years however misses them and feels guilty when he indulges in them. Hemalekha realizes his dilemma and gives him a discourse on the nature of an individual who is caught in the cycle of birth and death because he becomes a slave to sensory pleasures.

I-am-the body ignorance    Out of the ignorance an individual identifies himself with his body not realizing that he is not the body but really the immortal soul that resides in the perishable body. The body dies at some stage and the individual is reborn again in another body but the individual is not aware of it. He likes to enjoy the sense pleasures i.e. the pleasures obtained through the five senses (touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell). The desires for these are created in the mind which has basically a fickle nature. His desire for these pleasures and means like wealth to get to them is never satisfied; as soon as a desire is satisfied he seeks more pleasures of the same or diverse kinds, thus becoming a slave to them. He becomes prey to greeed, anger, jealousy and arrogance. Actions done to satisfy these earthly desires finally bind him to the cycle of birth and death because of which he has to go through thousands of rebirths. He can come out of it only when in some birth, out of the grace of the Almighty, he develops discrimination to control his mind and becomes dispassionate i.e. free from the clutches of earthly desires. Then by making his mind steady and free of thoughts he realizes the Self i.e. the experience that he is really the soul and not the body. This realization is the key to his final liberation from birth and death cycles (Moksha).

To obtain Self realization an aspirant must find the company of a sage in whom he should have complete faith and whose words he should never doubt because the world runs on faith. Also one should not waste time on empty arguments while deliberating on his teachings.

Surrender to the Creator      I-am-the body delusion or Maya that leads to desires for transient things like wealth, family etc. and leads to misery can be overcome only through the worship of God who is the Primal Cause or Creator of this universe. He cannot be realized by sensory means.

Judging from the magnitude of the creation, His power must be immeasurable. The Creator is perfect in Himself and creates the whole universe without any external aid and is able to protect and elevate His own creatures. One must therefore surrender to Him without reservation. If the Lord of the world be pleased, nothing will be withheld from the devotee. One can approach God for many reasons: for personal problems, to gain wealth etc., or one may simply dedicate oneself to Him.

In the case of the first type of devotees, God has to consider the course of destiny which was only ordained by Him. But for the selfless devotee, God is the sole Refuge and therefore He takes care of him without reference to the devotee's predestiny. The notion that one cannot escape one's destiny is applicable only to the weak-minded. Destiny is part of the natural framework of enforcing God’s will; it cannot be prevented however its edge can be blunted by devotion to Him. This devotion is the first step towards the Divine Bliss.

God is formless    God witnesses everything. It is He who generates, permeates, sustains and destroys the universe. He is Shiva, He is Vishnu, He is Brahman, the Sun, the Moon, etc. He is the One whom the different sects call their own; but He is not Shiva, nor Vishnu, nor Brahma nor any other exclusively. To assign the creator with a name like say Shiva and assign him a body would make the Creator an ordinary potter making pots endowed with a body and brain. The body is only a tool for a purpose and works through intelligence. Fools like to assign a body to the formless transcendental Being and worship it. But even then He shows them Grace, assuming such a body, for He is unique and fulfils the desires of His devotees.

Purity of intellect    The universe manifests in all its variety in Devi Tripura, as if reflected in a self-luminous mirror. The reflection cannot be apart from the mirror and is therefore one with it.  Shiva, Vishnu etc, conceptualized as bodies cannot be considered as one superior to the other since such concepts are applicable only to lower order of beings. Regarding mother Tripura Devi, one can know the mother only if one knows the Self. This self is within you but it is neither visible nor can be described. It can be realized with the help of pure intellect. Therefore first the intellect must be made pure and then only nature of the Self should be investigated.

Self remains realized at all times     An aspirant does not realize that the Self remains realized at all times.  When thoughts are controlled a blank darkness becomes visible. In the short interval of time between the two, i.e. the control of mind and appearance of darkness there remains a state free from the effort to control and the perception of darkness. That is the state of perfect and transcendental happiness. All are deceived in that state because their minds are accustomed to be turned outward and therefore do not manage to remain in that holy state.  Realization is attained only by staying still not by intellect but by cessation of thought. Any effort will always make it recede. People who have not achieved Self-realization are unaware of this Truth and inherit sorrow.

Certain Preconceived notions stand as obstacles in the path of Self-Realization. Some of them are: (i) Identification of the body with the Self resulting ultimately into birth-death cycles. (ii) Considering the world to be different from the Self which really is Consciousness and the mirror on which the phenomena are simply reflected. (iii) Considering other beings to be mutually different and different from the universal Self. Man is not finally redeemed until he has extricated himself from these numberless notions of ignorance. 

Hemalekha teaches Hemachuda to remain in the state of Sahajasamadhi in which he is perpetually in the state of Samadhi at the same time performing his normal duties.  

Concluding this story Shri Dattatreya again reiterates the point made earlier that the primary cause of emancipation was association with the wise and therefore he should follow that advice immediately.

Parashurama’s doubts (1)    Parashurama however is not convinced that the objective universe can merely be the consciousness which is not seen but only inferred, and asks his Guru to elaborate on the issue. Continuing with his discourse Shri Dattatreya says,

Projection on the screen of Consciousness    “All that is seen must have newly appeared at some time and therefore there must be an antecedent cause for it.  The world changes every moment and therefore must be getting born every moment. There different theories about the nature of the universe but all agree that universe has an origin though Charvakas think that it is accidental in origin. But universe cannot be an accident because without cause and effect relationship there cannot a harmony in nature. The cause may be obvious or may have to be inferred every event being a product of a certain condition or conditions.”  (Shri Dattatreya now goes into intricate discussion about some theories of the creation of the universe none of which can satisfactorily account for creation.)

Shri Dattatreya then stresses that the universe must have a Creator, and He must be an intelligent principle, but He cannot be of any known type because of the vastness of the creation. His power is past understanding and is dealt with in the Scriptures, whose authority is incontrovertible. However one cannot confuse the creation with the Creator, the unbounded consciousness. The creation must be considered merely as a picture drawn by him on Self. There is no place beyond consciousness and Consciousness is inescapable.

Universe cannot be conceived without consciousness which covers in entirely. The Supreme God is thus the embodiment of pure Consciousness. This whole universe consisting of the mobile and the immobile, arises from, abides in, and resolves into Him. This is the final and well-known conclusion of the Scriptures. The creation is not an object apart; it is a picture drawn on the canvas of supreme consciousness, for there cannot possibly be anything beyond Perfection. Imagination on the contrary, is impractical. The universe has thus originated only as an image on the surface of the mirror of the Absolute. This conclusion is in harmony with all facts. Just as castles in the air are mental figments of men so also is this creation a mental figment of Shiva. Shiva is absolute Awareness, without any form. Shri Tripura is Shakti (energy) and Witness of the whole. That Being is perfect all round and remains undivided.

Time and space are the factors of division in the world; of these, space refers to the location of objects and time to the sequence of events. Time and space are themselves projected from consciousness.

Consciousness the illuminator   The fact of the existence of things is only illumination of them, and nothing more. Such illumination pertains to Consciousness alone. The things of the world have no substance in them outside of the cognising factor, viz., Intelligence.

Note that objects are clearly pictured in the mind even when those objects are unreal. How does it happen? The place of objects is taken up by the peculiar imaginative quality of the mind. When such imagination is deep, it takes shape as creation; thus you see that consciousness was absolute and pure before creation and its peculiar quality or will brought about this image of the world in it.

So the world is nothing but an image drawn on the screen of consciousness; it differs from a mental picture in its long duration; that is again due to the strength of will producing the phenomenon.

The universe appears practical, material and perfect because the will determining its creation is perfect and independent; whereas the human conceptions are more or less transitory according to the strength or the weakness of the will behind them. A magician's creations are only transitory; a yogi's creations may be permanent; both are external to the creator, whereas the divine creation cannot be apart from the omnipresent Lord. Because the Lord of consciousness is infinite, the creation can remain only within Him and the contrary is pure fancy. Since the Universe is only a projection from and in the mirror of consciousness, its unreal nature can become clear only on investigation, and not otherwise. Distinguish between the changeless truth and the changeful untruth and scrutinize the world comprised of these two factors, changeful phenomena and changeless subjective consciousness, like the unchanging light of the mirror and the changing images in it.

The world cannot stand investigation because of its changing unreal nature. The world appears real in the light of ignorance and disappears before right analysis. Long intervals of space reflected in the mirror are themselves in it and yet unreal. "Thus the universe is only the Self - the One and one only."

Parashurama then asks how the universe appears to be real to him as well as to others.  Shri Dattatreya now explains the the cause of the illusion which makes one believe the world to be real. He says,

“Even the gross body becomes mistaken for crystal-clear consciousness by mere force of habit. Similarly, the universe has repeatedly been taken to be real so that it now looks as if it were actually real. The remedy lies in a change of outlook. He then tells the story of prince Mahasena and the yogi son of the Yogi Tangana.


Prince Mahasena and the Yogi

King Susena of Vanga decides to perform a horse sacrifice (Ashwamedha) and as is the custom, sends the sacrificial horse to roam around under the protection of his princes leading a detachment of army. Anybody courageous enough to capture the horse has to fight the army and become the king’s subject if defeated. When the entourage reaches the banks of River Irawati, they pass the hermitage of Rishi Tangana who is in the state of samadhi. His son (who is also a great yogi) however notices that the entourage has passed by without showing any respect for his father. He becomes angry and captures the horse. When he is attacked by the army, he enters the nearby hill with the horse and disappears. When the army attacks the hill the son comes out with a huge army and destroys Susena’s army taking many including the princes as prisoners. When king Susena learns about this he deputes his brother Mahasena to meet the Rishi, gain his pleasure and liberate the horse the princes.  

Mahasena sets forth to the Hermitage of Rishi Tangana where he prostrates before the Rishi. The rishi however is in deep meditation and does not reply. The prince waits for three days at the end of which the Rishi’s son who was watching him all the feels pleased at the reverence shown by the prince towards his father and offers to fulfill his wishes since his father was in the state of samadhi to last for twelve years of which seven still remained. Mahasena expresses his desire to speak to his father and having given the promise the son himself goes into samadhi and communicates with his father. The Rishi comes out of the samadhi and chides his son for being influenced by anger which had caused disruption of an important ritual like a horse sacrifice. He tells him that penance was possible only because a king protects the yogis against obstruction and instructs his son to release the horse and the princes immediately. 

Mahasena sends the princes and the horse away but himself remains in the hermitage to satisfy his curiosity about the miraculous events he had noticed. He expresses his desire to the sage to learn about how the horse and the princes were concealed in the hill.  The sage informs him that he himself used to be an emperor but had abdicated his throne in favour of his sons to go to forest for penance.  This son was born unto him from his wife who had accompanied him to the forest.  He had initiated him in yoga and with the powers thus gained he was able by the force of his will to create a world of his own inside this hill which he is now ruling. The horse and princes were kept there. On Mahasena’s request the sage asks his son to show him his world inside the hill and then returns to the state of samadhi.

The son takes Mahasena to the hill which he himself can enter easily by his yogic powers but Mahasena cannot. Using his powers he makes Mahasena leave his body, which he hides in a hole in the ground and takes him inside the hill.

World inside the hill    Mahasena sees inside a world similar to the outside world including the various lokas like Satyaloka, Vaikuntha and Kailas in this world.  After staying thee for one day they return to the outside of the hill where Mahasena to his surprise sees there is a complete change in the environment.  The people, the river courses, the trees, the tanks, etc., are all different. The son explains that one day that they had spent in his world inside the hill was equivalent to 12000 years of the outside world. The changes he was seeing were the changes that have occurred during the 12000 years and none of his family was alive. His country Vanga is now a jungle infested with wild animals. His brother’s descendant is reigning in Malwa and his own descendant is reigning in the Dravida country on the banks of the Tamraparni.

Mahasena is overcome by grief at the loss of his family but is comforted by the yogi’s son who tells him that this grief was useless because his forefathers were also dead and he had never mourned for them. He urges Mahasena to ponder over the question as to who he really was.  Is he the body or something else? The body is merely a conglomerate of different substances and there is no moment in which each of the components is not changing. The people whom you call your family are mere bodies; the bodies are composed of earth; when lost, they return to earth; and earth resolves ultimately into energy. So there is really no loss. When you say “my” body how can you be the body? In fact you are not the body which you discard on death just like a garment.  Mahasena thinks over this and surrenders to the Rishi’s son to become his disciple.

Consequently the Rishi’s son explains to him that events in a dream are real while the dream lasts but appear false on awakening. However events in wakeful state are also real while it lasts and become an illusion during the dream state. The appearance of the hills, the seas and the earth itself is constantly changing and therefore they cannot be classed as permanent. There is no unbroken continuity in any object because every new appearance implies a later disappearance. But continuity cannot be denied in the fundamentals underlying the objects. Similarly, dream and wakefulness resemble each other in their discontinuous harmony. This discontinuity defines it as an illusion because it does not last.

World created by steady Will     He tells that this world is the result of Brahma's desire. It looks real and permanent because the original desire is so powerful. If Mahasena wishes to create a world that would endure then he must practice focusing of thought which has to be forceful. In addition he must not be aware of the thought because that will disturb the focusing.

Referring to the universe inside the hill he had created, he explains how such a vast world could fit in a small hill and how the time scales could be so different. The relation between space and objects and between time and events is created by the senses; there is no intrinsic relationship between them. There is nothing outside the domain of the senses. He asserts that his world is also real but it would disappear instantly if he stops contemplating it. He further tells that just as the dream creations are pictures moving on the mind screens, so also this earth world including him is the frontage of the picture depicted by pure intelligence and it is nothing more than an image in a mirror. He then advises Mahasena to realize that the Self is the self-contained mirror projecting and manifesting this world. The Self is pure unblemished consciousness and that he should quickly realize it and gain transcendental happiness.

The world cannot be demonstrably ascertained. Space is simply void serving for the location of materials. The universe is, always and all-through, a phenomenon in the Self. The question then arises how consciousness, being void, is dense at the same time. Just as a mirror, though, dense and impenetrable, contains the image, so also pure consciousness is dense and impenetrable and yet displays the universe by virtue of its self-sufficiency. Though consciousness is all-pervading, dense and single, it still holds the mobile and immobile creation within it, wonderful in its variety, with no immediate or ultimate cause for it. And like the mirror it remains unaffected by the passage of different images and yet continues to reflect as clearly as before, so also the one consciousness illumines the waking and dream states which can be verified by proper meditation.  The absolute consciousness being self-sufficient manifests within itself what looks 'exterior', just like a mirror reflecting space as external to itself.

Prakriti and Chitta       The anamnesis (memory of karmas in previous lifetimes) goes by the name of Prakriti in dreamless slumber, and Chitta in the other states. It is always comprised of the insentient phase of the tendencies of the mind and the sentient phase of intelligence. Therefore the mind (chitta) is purusha (the individual) when the sentient phase is assertive, and the same is avyakta (unmanifest) when prakriti (nature), the insentient phase, is assertive. That chitta is tripartite according to its functions, namely, ego, intellect and mind. The diversities in creation are solely due to qualifications limiting the consciousness; these qualifications (i.e., body, limiting of age) are the mental imagery of the creator (consistent with the individual's past merits); when the creative will-force wears away there is dissolution and complete undifferentiation results.

Parashurama’s doubts (2)   Parshurama however has some new doubts: (1) How can this intelligence (Consciousness) which always remains as pure knowledge itself and is therefore beyond cognition. Then how can it be realized? (2) What is the nature of liberation, the goal of an aspirant? If one can be liberated while alive, how is the course of his emancipated life regulated? (3) How can sages engage in action while they live all the time in absolute consciousness? (4) How does one explain the differences noticed in the lives of the jnanis? Some of them are active; some teach scriptures; some worship deities; some abstract themselves into samadhi; some lead an austere life and emaciate themselves etc. How can there be such differences in their lives when there can be no difference in the state of liberation common to all? Or are there grades in knowledge and liberation?

Thus requested, Shri Dattatreya is pleased with the questions and commended him for being on the right path of investigation ascribing it to the Grace of God. He remarked that Parashurama has rightly understood the nature of consciousness but has not realized it and that without experience knowledge of a thing is no knowledge at all.  To corroborate this last statement he narrates a third story about the sage Ashtavakra and King Janaka of Videha.



Story of Ashtavakra

Varuna, the God of the waters, wants to perform a sacrifice to propitiate Goddess Tripura when king Janaka was also performing a similar sacrifice. Brahmins, learned people, hermits, those well-versed in the Vedas and yajnas who were attending King Janaka’s sacrifice ceremony refuse to attend Varuna’s ceremony. This enrages Varuna’s son Varuni who thinks of a stratagem to lure them away from King Janaka. He comes to King Janaka’s gathering and challenges the attending sages to a debate laying the condition that he would debate one sage at a time and if he defeats the opponent then he will throw him in the sea which of course is Varuna’s kingdom. This is agreed upon. Varuni defeats the sages one by one through fallacious logic and consigns them all to the sea where they are made to attend Varuna’s yajna. That includes the sage Kahola who has a learned son named Ashtavakra. As soon as Ashtavakra hears about his father’s defeat he hastens to Janaka's court, challenges Varuni, defeats him and insists that he be sunk in the sea. This exposes Varuni who restores back all the men formerly drowned in the sea.  The sages praise Ashtavakra who gets puffed up with pride and starts behaving offensively before the assembled court. The sages are helpless.

Just then, a female ascetic in hermit’s clothes and with matted hair comes there and is highly honoured by the king. The offended assembly looks to her for help. She then speaks to Ashtavakra in sweet and yet firm tones.

She charges Ashtavakra of speaking only book knowledge and not the one he has experienced. Ashtavakra is defeated in the debate with her and surrenders to her.

Knowing Reality    She then explains to him that there was no one in the assembly who had experienced Reality (Self or Brahman) except the king Janaka and herself.  Experiencing Reality was not a subject for discussion because even the most brilliant logic can only approach it but never attain it. It can however be realized by service to one's Guru and the grace of God. No one can know his own self through teaching of others. He has to realize it for himself which can be done only if his mind is turned inwards. A lamp does not require to be illuminated by other lights in order to be seen. It is the same with the Self. She adds,

“That Self or Consciousness (which is knowable as well as unknowable) is absolute and transcends the three states (wakefulness, dream and slumber) and comprises the entire universe making it manifest. Nothing can be apprehended without its light. Nothing can be apparent to a person if there be no consciousness. Even the awareness of your unawareness (in sleep) requires the light of Consciousness. However learned and proficient a person may be the Self cannot be realized as long as thoughts crop up and the mind is not inward. Mind cannot turn inwards unless there is an absence of desire. After the state of dispassion has been reached one can reach the stage of existing as the Self spontaneously without effort. That stage is realized after thoughts are eliminated and investigation ceases. After that you will know all and understand the significance of its being knowable and unknowable at the same time. Thus realizing the unknowable, one abides in immortality for ever and ever.

She bids good-bye saying that his doubts will be answered by king Janaka.  Ashtavakra then has discussions with King Janaka who reiterates that Self is neither unknowable nor remains unknown at any moment.

What is Perception    Abstract Intelligence being the Self of the seeker, is not cognizable because there is no other agent to know the Self or the light by which to know it.  On the other hand all objects are seen by the illumination of the Consciousness who is the illuminator. Though we think that body perceives objects through its sense organs, in reality it is the Self or abstract intelligence that perceives the objects though a person thinks that he or she does. Perception of an object implies the assumption of its shape by the intellect.

Ashtavakra remarks that since in sleep there are no thoughts it should bring Self-Realization. The king replies that in sleep the mind is abstracted but it is veiled by the darkness of sleep and rendered unfit for illumining thoughts.

Abstract Intelligence    The three states, namely, Samadhi, sleep and the momentary instant of cognition of objects, are characterized by absence of disturbance. Absolute Reality is manifest in Samadhi; a void or unmanifest condition distinguishes sleep and diversity is the characteristic of cognition in wakefulness. The illuminant is however the same all through and is always unblemished. Therefore it is said to be abstract intelligence.

In Samadhi and sleep states their experience persists unbroken for some appreciable period and can be recapitulated after waking up. The experience of cognition because of its fleeting nature goes unrecognized. But samadhi and sleep also cannot be recognized when they are only fleeting.

Distinction between sleep and Samadhi   There are two states of mind: (1) Illumination and (2) Consideration. Illumination is association of the mind with external objects and is unqualified by the limitations of objects. Consideration is deliberation on the object seen and the deliberation is qualified by the limitations pertaining to the objects seen; the objects are clearly identified or defined only after the deliberation. Deliberation is again of two kinds: the one is the actual experience and is said to be fresh, whereas the other is cogitation over the former and is called memory. The mind always functions in these two ways.

Dreamless slumber (Sushupti) is characterized by the illumination of sleep alone and is ignorance and the experience continues unbroken for a time; whereas the wakeful state is characterized by deliberation repeatedly broken up by thoughts and therefore it is said not to be ignorance. Sleep is a state of nescience though it consists of illumination alone yet it is said to be ignorance for the same reason as a light though luminous is said to be insentient.

Samadhi is simply absence of thoughts. Such a state prevails in sleep and at odd moments of wakefulness. Yet, it is not called Samadhi proper, because all the tendencies of the mind are still there in a latent state, ready to manifest the next instant. The infinitesimal moment of seeing an object is not tainted by deliberation on its qualities and is exactly like Samadhi.

Fleeting Samadhi is indeed being experienced by all, even in their busy moments; but it passes unnoticed by them, for want of familiarity with it.  Every instant free from thoughts and musings in the wakeful state is the condition of Samadhi.

But in Samadhi, Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness, is continuously glowing. She is the one that engulfs time and space, is the destroyer of void, and the pure being - How can She be the ignorance of sleep? Therefore sleep is not the end-all and the be-all."

The cycle of births and deaths is caused by ignorance which displays itself as pleasure and pain and yet is only a dream and unreal. Being so, the wise say that it can be ended by knowledge i.e. the wisdom born of realization: viz., "I am That".

Only Savikalpa Samadhi can eradicate ignorance.  Nirvikalpa Samadhi can never do it because Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the mere experience of that which is an unqualified expanse of intelligence which is in harmony with everything (including ignorance). It is like the canvas used in painting; the canvas remains the same whatever picture may be painted on it. Unqualified knowledge is simple light; the objects are manifest by and in it.

But in Savikalpa state there is a contamination of thoughts but that state itself is not ignorance or delusion.  Pure intelligence (God) in His insentient aspect functions as Maya projecting ignorance as creation. The original cause lies in the knowledge of perfection in the Self.

Why fall into Nirvikalpa Samadhi, without gaining the fruit of its wisdom! Even if he should experience it a hundred times it will not liberate the individual. Therefore momentary Samadhis in the state of wakefulness are fruitless.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi is characterized by the experience of the true Self alone, namely, Pure Intelligence. Though eternal and resplendent even ordinarily, this Abstract Intelligence is as if it did not exist. Abstract Intelligence is the background on which the phenomena are displayed, and it must certainly manifest itself in all its purity, in they absence, although its appearance may look new at first. It remains unrecognized because it is not distinguished from the phenomena displayed by it. On their being eliminated it becomes apparent. This in short is the method of Self-Realization.

Desire for liberation      God inherent as the self is pleased by meritorious actions which if continued through several births (even millions) the desire for liberation dawns. To be born a sentient being requires good luck; even so to acquire a human body requires considerable merit; while it is out of the ordinary for human beings to be endowed with both virtuous tendencies and sharp intellect. Note that human beings form but a small fraction of the animate world, while most human beings are little more than animals, being ignorant of good and bad, and of right and wrong. A few learned people long for heaven after death. Of the remaining few, most of them have their intellects bedimmed by Maya and cannot comprehend the oneness of all (the Creator and creation). Some people go beyond this but many know only the theory and waste their time in fallacious logic. Only those who transcend Maya and please the Goddess of the Self with their devotion can discern well and happily. They then become established in transcendental Oneness and become absorbed.

Janaka then told him the scheme of liberation which is essentially the same as what has been stataed in the beginning (see the First Story).

Different classes of Jnanis   Dattatreya further explains why different jnanis behave differently.  Dividing jnanis into three classes: (1) the best, (2) middle class and (3) the lowest he explains that:

The lowest class of jnanis, though they have achieved Self-realization yet they are influenced by the pleasures and pains accruing to them according to their prarabdha (past karma).

Jnanis of the the middle class however even while reaping the fruits of their past karma are firmer in their internal happiness like men inebriated with drink.

Jnanis of the highest order are never detached from the enjoyment of their bliss even if confronted with a million times more prarabdha; they are not surprised at the most unnatural and miraculous happenings; they are not elated by the greatest pleasures, nor depressed by the worst miseries. They are always peaceful and calm within, although they appear to act like common folk.

These differences are due to the differences in their intellects and to the degrees of development of Jnana (wisdom). Their activities depend on their predispositions as determined by their past karma. But all their actions are like those of a drunken man.

There are differences in states of jnana characterized by the aspects and attitudes of intellect and the varieties in its activities" Such differences are quite obvious in Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Preserver) and Siva (the Destroyer) who are jnanis by nature. That does not mean that jnana (realization) admits of variety. These attitudes depend on their vasanas (dispositions) and environments. They are Lords of the universe and all-knowing. Their jnana is pure and uncontaminated by what they do. Whether a jnani is fair or dark in complexion, his jnana neither shares these qualities nor the qualities of the mind. As an example we have atri and his sons, Vasishta, Sanak, Sananadan, Sanatkumar, Sanatsujata, Nartada, Ushanas Shukra, Brihaspati, Vyasa, king Janaka and so on who are jnanis with differing temperaments.


Three types of vasanas    There are three types of predispositions or vasanas:  (1) Aparadha (fault) is the disposition to doubt the teachings of the Guru and the holy books, (2) Karma (action)    disposition to be unable to enter the stage of contemplation necessary for annihilating the vasanas. However well-taught they cannot grasp the teachings because their minds are cramped with predispositions, and (3) Kama (desire). This third group is the most common, consisting of the victims of desire who are always obsessed with the sense of duty leading to a desire to work for some end.

Of the three typical vasanas mentioned above the vasana of action is the most potent and is said to be same as ignorance. He whose mind clings to the ignorance of the necessity of work cannot hope for realization even if Shiva offers to instruct him. Similarly also the person who has the fault of marked indifference to or misunderstanding of the teachings cannot attain realisation. (NB: This discussion applies to jnanis and not aspirants.)

The vasana due to desire is not a very serious obstruction to realization, and if one is free from the fault of mistrust of the Master’s teachings (Apraadha), is destroyed by the practice of contemplation. Dispassion need not be very marked in this case. Such people need not repeatedly engage in the study of Scriptures or the receiving of instructions from the Master, but straightaway pass into meditation and fall into samadhi, the consummation of the highest good. They live evermore as Jivanmuktas (emancipated even while alive).

Those who are free from all vasanas and particularly from the least trace of action-vasana are the best of the jnanis. They are sages with subtle and clear intellect have not considered it worth while to eradicate their desire etc., by forcing other thoughts to take their place because desires do not obstruct realisation. Therefore their desires continue to manifest even after realization as before it. Neither are they tainted by such vasanas. They are said to be emancipated and diverse-minded.

On the other hand, a man only slightly affected by these two vasanas, and much more so by desires or ambitions will, by repeated hearing of the holy truth, discussion of the same and contemplation on it surely reach the goal though only with considerable difficulty and after a long lapse of time. Such a sage's activities will be small because he is entirely engrossed in his efforts for realisation. (Note. - His activities will be confined to the indispensable necessities of life.)  A sage of this class has by his long practice and rigorous discipline controlled his mind so well that predispositions are totally eradicated and the mind is as if dead. He belongs to the middle class in the scheme of classification of sages and is said to be a sage without mind. Therefore he is not affescted by Prarabdha (past karma).

"The last class and the least among the sages are those whose practice and discipline are not perfect enough to destroy mental predispositions. Their minds are still active and the sages are said to be associated with their minds. They are barely jnanis and not jivanmuktas as are the other two classes. They appear to share the pleasures and pains of life like any other man and will continue to do so till the end of their lives. They will be emancipated after death.

The prarabdha of jnanis is still active and sprouts in the mind but only to be burnt up by the steady flame of jnana and since these are scorched at their source there is neither pain nor pleasure. 

"Jnanis of the highest order however, are seen to be active because they voluntarily bring out the vasanas from the depth of the mind and allow them to run out. Their action is similar to that of a father sporting with his child, moving its dolls, laughing at the imagined success of one doll over another, and appearing to grieve over the injury to another and so on. The vasanas not inimical to realization are not weeded out by the best class of jnanis because they cannot seek new ones to crowd the old out. Therefore the old ones continue until they are exhausted.  Thus you find among them some highly irritable, some lustful and others pious and dutiful, and so on.

"Now, the lowest order of jnanis still under the influence of their minds know that there is no truth in the objective universe. Their samadhi is not different from that of the rest.

Samadhi is being aware of the Self, and nothing else.  It should not be confounded with the Nirvikalpa (undifferentiated) state, for this state is very common and frequent as has been pointed out in the case of momentary samadhis.  Every one is experiencing the Nirvikalpa state, though unknowingly. But such unrecognized samadhis are of no use. This experience alone does not confer any lasting benefit. But one may apply the experience to reach Sahaja-samadhi state (which is perpetual) and conduct the practical affairs of life .

About Hathayogis     A similar state of unrecognized Samadhi becomes possible to the hatha yogis also but they cannot remain in such a state. In the jnani's samadhi, both the veil of ignorance and perturbation of thoughts are removed. In the hatha yogi's samadhi, though the Self is naturally free from the two obstacles, yet it remains hidden by the veil of ignorance. The same is torn off by the jnani in the process of his contemplation. For a jnani, the Self shines in its full effulgence like the Sun unobstructed in the heavens whereas for a hathayogi the mind being associated with sattva (quality of brightness) acts in samadhi as a thin veil (like light mist) for the self-effulgent principle which differs from sleep only in that in sleep it is like the sun of self covered by dark dense clouds.

This is how the sages describe samadhi. “Samadhi is absolute knowledge uncontaminated by objects. Such is the state of the best jnanis even when they take part in the affairs of the world." Since the middle class of jnanis have already destroyed their minds, there are no objects for them. Their state is known as the supramental one. The mind is agitated when it assumes the shape of those objects which it mistakes for real and unagitated otherwise. Therefore the latter state alone is supramental.  Since a jnani of the highest order can engage in several actions at the same time and yet remain unaffected, he is always many-minded and yet remains in unbroken Samadhi (Sahajasamadhi). His is absolute knowledge free from objects.

(Tripura rahasya also contains chapters on Vidya Gita and a chapter which gives dialogue between Prince Hemangada and a Bramarakshasa. But the contents are not very different from what has been summarized earlier.)


We have seen that Dattatreya we worship today is in the image created by the Puranas through the myths of his birth stories.  The earliest image of Dattatreya presented in Mahabharata as preceptor of Sahasrarjuna is that of a yogi sage and Siddha powerful enough to confer boons on the king.  Between these two images lies the image of Dattatreya as a Tantric guru or deity as suggested by stories of his appearance with woman indulging in amorous activuties and eating meat.

It appears that Dattatreya worship was adopted by Natha sect which was an offshoot of Sahajayana sect which itself is rooted in the Buddhist sects. Thus it is not surprising that Dattatreya recommends worship of Devi in the form of Tripura Devi and assigns Her highest attaributes even identifying her as Brahman as Consciousness and creator of the universe as can be seen from the following statements in Tripura Rahasya:

Ch I (19-22). Being thus requested, Datta Guru satisfied himself as to the fitness of Parasurama, whose zeal for and devotion to Tripura worship were intense; and he duly initiated him into the method of Her worship.

Ch  I  (71-72)    Therefore that Tripura, the Supreme Force, the Being of all beings, the one consciousness of Siva, who abides as the Self of self, should be worshipped sincerely, exactly as taught by the Guru. The fore-runner of such worship is devotion and praiseworthy earnestness. That is why mahatmya of Devi Tripura was explained to you so that you are endowed with Vichara which is the only way to attain the highest Good when it takes root.

Ch VII  ( 79-93)  The universe manifests in all its variety in Devi Tripura, as if reflected in a self-luminous mirror. The reflection cannot be apart from the mirror and is therefore one with it.  Siva, Vishnu etc, conceptualized as bodies cannot be considered as one superior to the other since such concepts are applicable only to lower order of beings.

Ch IX  (Regarding mother Tripura Devi): One can know the mother only if one knows the Self. This self is within you but it is neither visible nor can be described. It can be realized with the help of pure intellect. Therefore first the intellect must be made pure and then only nature of the Self should be investigated. 

Ch XIV   (44-45)  Such illumination is Her Transcendental Majesty Tripura, the Supreme. She is called Brahma in the Vedas, Vishnu by the Vaishnavites, Siva by the Shaivaites, and Shakti by the Shaktas. There is indeed nothing but She (who is the illuminant and the universal Consciousness). Just as the image is part and parcel of the clear, smooth, compact and one mirror, so also the universe as part and parcel of the perfect, solid and unitary consciousness, namely the Self.

Ch  XVIII  (127-130)  Until these two blemishes are washed away by the holy waters of investigation into the Self, neither I, nor Brahma the Creator, nor Vishnu, nor Siva, nor even Sri Tripura the Goddess of Wisdom, can help that person to be emancipated. Therefore, surmount these two hurdles and remain eternally happy.

 Ch  XIX  (51-56)  Her transcendental Majesty, the absolute-Consciousness Tripura originally pictured the whole universe in Her being, like images in a mirror. She took up the individuality, named Hiranyagarbha the golden egg (the Creator) that contained the embryonic individuals. Considering the predispositions of the (the embryonic individuals enclosed in that egg, She unfolded the Scriptures - the reservoir of sublime truths - for the fulfillment of desires. Since the embryonic individuals were full of unfulfilled desires Hiranyagarbha began to think out the means of their fulfillment. He elaborated a scheme of cause and effect, of actions and fruits, and consequently subjecting the individuals born later on to revolve in that wheel of cause and effect. They take different shapes and are placed in different environments consistently with their predispositions. After passing through innumerable species, the individual evolves as a human being owing to the merit he has accumulated. At first he will take to selfish pursuits. …….

Thus we see that in Tripura Rahasya in contrast with other Datta-Tradition texts like Gurucharitra etc, where Lord Shiva is the preferred deity we have Devi as preferred deity.

Offered at the feet of my Guru Shri Shankar Maharaj.





Tripura Rahasya,  Trans by Swami Sri Ramanananda Saraswathi, pub by  Sri Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamalai. South India. (1994). URL: http://sss.vn.ua/tripura1.htm

Dattamahatmya   (in Marathi) by Shri Vasudevananada Saraswati  Pub by Nrisimha Saraswati Seva Mandal, Dombivli  pp 305

Markanda Purana URL: http://www.urday.in/markandeya.htm



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Uploaded first OCTOBER XX, 2009        Last update: 02.NOV.2010

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