Bhagavadgita Pages, Chapters 1 to 18
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Avadhuta = One who has shaken off from himself worldly feeling and obligation--Monier Williams.
Avadhuta is he who has divorced this world. Avadhuta takes what he needs to sustain life. He loves the Self in one and all and yet he neither hates nor loves any being or object. He drinks like a cloud and pours like a rain; he never hoards anything. He is like an ocean which does not swell when the rivers flow into it and does not dry when they stop.
These characterizations do not do justice to his role in this world. Find out for yourself.
Bhagavan Krishna, in his discourse, gives us an idea of what makes a Sannyasin or Avadhuta tick. The Uddhava Gita, Dialogue two and Book eleven of Srimad Bhagavata are the source of this piece. Krishna utters his wisdom by telling the story of an Avadhuta giving spiritual advice to the older king Yadu. These are the words of Krishna as told by Avadhuta.
I had twenty-four teachers: the earth, air, ether, water, fire, the moon, the sun, dove, python, sea, moth, honeybee and apiarist, elephant, deer, fish, prostitute Pingala, osprey, infant, maid, arrow smith, serpent, spider, insect, and wasp.
The Earth and Air
The earth, the most patient living entity in this world, unperturbed with all the abuses people and other things inflict on it, does not deviate from its path around the sun; in like manner I do not deviate from my path (of virtue).
The earth serves all its creatures without any complaint; similarly, I serve and care for others unselfishly and altruistically. My birth is for the service of others. I am not seeking any fame or name for myself; I do not own even a bowl; I do not hoard things; I use the palms of my hands as my bowl. Earth is my Guru and my preceptor. I learn from its majestic mountains, cascading waters, and upright trees that life should be a dedication for the good of fellowman. As a disciple of the tree, I subject myself to the will of others. I eat enough to sustain my body and my cognitive ability.
Air taught me to be a penurious ascetic and take what I need for that moment; anything more will only hurt my body, mind, soul, and health. Air taught me to be a Yogi. I move freely, touch things and yet do not stick to them. The odor that the air carries is not its own but what belonged to other particles. The odor is my body and the air is my soul; the odors come and go and the air remains the same. That is my vow of detachment (nonattachment). Air is simply breath going in and breath coming out without ever seeking reward or punishment. Yogi comes and goes (birth, death, and rebirth), sporting many bodies and yet remains tranquil. He is like the gentle breeze that carries fragrance from one place to the next. (Let me explain what fragrance means in this context besides the obvious. When we die, the Lingasarira or Kāranasarira (causal body) takes with it not only the soul-light and karma, but also the primary prāna, the senses, the manas, avidya, a suitcase of experiences, purvajnāna, vidyā (knowledge), and other vāsanās and samskaras (Impressions and imprints). Purvajnāna is wisdom of past lives; Vāsanā is fragrance from past karmas and impressions that cling to the subtle body from birth to birth.)
Space and Water
The space (Ether) showed me my real identity. I appear as an individual; so also other individuals and living creatures, moving and unmoving. There are no borders separating us. The Self pervades all of us like Ether pervades all, present in all things and places. (The Self runs like a thread in a garland of flowers.) The space remains pristine and untouched wherever it exists and takes the form of the container. The wind cannot blow it; the clouds cannot mar it; the fire cannot burn it; the earth cannot destroy it.
Water taught me to be transparent and sweet. All things touched by water become clean and pure. Likewise an ascetic purifies people by sight, touch and saying his name.
The Fire and the Moon
Fire taught me to burn (shine) brightly by practicing yoga. As Fire burns only what is offered, I consume what the stomach can hold and burn (digest) now. Fire taught me to accept what is given to me. Fire and heat of my Tapas would burn my impurities and sins and purify me.
Sometimes the fire is hidden and sometimes visible. The sage should also be sometimes hidden and sometimes visible to teach the disciple. Blessings of a Sage burn all sins.
Fire has no form of its own; it takes the form of the log it burns; so is the Self that takes the form it dwells in and thus, shows itself repeatedly (birth and rebirth).
Time leaves its imprint on the body; Time itself has no limiting imprints on either itself or the soul. Moon teaches me that it remains the same like the soul though it apparently waxes and wanes. Through the sovereignty of Time, death and birth follow each other; the Self does not change with the passage of Time. The witness does not see each flame in the fire taking birth, taking shape, dying and taking birth again.
The sun, the clouds, and the rain
The sun is my teacher from whom I learned Vairagya (nonattachment). The sun evaporates water gathering it in the form of clouds and returns it everywhere as rain. Yogi is like the sun accepting and experiencing all incoming experiences from the senses and parting with them as the occasion demands; he is neither elated nor deflated by either accepting or parting.
The Self is one like the sun, which appears as many on the rippling surface of water; the Self appears as many in beings. The sun taught me not to take the image for the Reality. There is one Self and many images.
The tragedy of the Dove family
Dove taught me all about misery that accompanies tenacious attachment to family. Pain, misery and anguish destroy the tranquility of the mind. A dove and her mate lived in a nest she built deep in the forest. They were in love, seeing eye to eye on all matters, living in perfect harmony, and taking care of each other. Like a family, they ate together, flew together, played together, and slept together. She did everything possible to please him. In due course of time, she was in the family way and laid her first clutch of eggs. After a while, willed by the inconceivable Self, the eggs hatched and fragile fledglings with delicate limbs and soft down broke through the shells. They were the pride and joy of the parents. At every cooing and chirping, enormous delight suffused the parents. They fed them, preened them and bedded them in the soft down mattress. Their first step, their first flapping of the wings and the first feeding were memorable times. They let them play under their watchful eyes. Their puerile coos and cries were melodious like a song; it was music for their ears. The soft touch of their down was very pleasing. The flapping of the wings became more coordinated and they even took off in the air for short distances. Blessed with youngsters, they felt very contented and happy; their world was complete. Euphoric in their illusion, little they thought of anything else; little they knew beyond their world. The fledglings were growing fast; they ate more and more food. The parents left the nest, looking for food for the ravenous youngsters. A fowler looking for prey happened to hear the cooing and singing of the youngsters, followed the birdsong and saw the youngsters at play near their nest. He cast the net and snared them all. The parents came with stomach and beak full of delectable food for the youngsters. The mother dove seeing the youngsters flapping and chirping frantically inside the net took a dive into the net to save them. The bonds of affection and the Maya of the Lord urged the mother bird to fly headlong into the net; unknowing to the bird was the fact that it would also be caught in the net, ending its freedom. This urge, this rush, this grief, and this maternal love born of illusion drove her right into the clutches of the net. The father noticed his partner and brood helplessly caught in the net and began crying. The father could not bear the sight of his wife and brood caught in the net and began thinking that the family, which is the source of his hope, expectation, virtue and fulfillment, has come to a ruin, and that it was his fault. He worried about living without his wife and children. He saw no purpose in living in misery in the empty nest for the rest of his life. Thus thinking he flew headlong into the net. The fowler happy at catching the whole family in his net, tied them up with their heads hanging upside down and took them home.
The dove was unable to see beyond his family; so much was his attachment to his family that he could not see beyond the duality of joy and sorrow. To be human is to look beyond the material world and reach for our real home, which is liberation from Samsara (cycle of birth and rebirth). The dove's story is a lesson in flying beyond the material to the spiritual world. The dove lived in the moment of desire and distress, not knowing what is beyond.
The deep sea and the Jnani
Pleasure and pain come to us sought and unsought and give us heaven and hell on this earth. The wise knows this and does not seek for either. A Jnani (wise one) is like a python; he does not eat unless the food comes to him; it does not matter to him it is more or less and sweet or sour; he may go hungry for days knowing and accepting that it is his kismet. He never goes out looking for food. He remains calm.
Some Avadutas go to the extent of urinating and defecating like a python laying down where they are. The prototypical Avaduta eulogized in puranas is Rsabha Muni, who gave up his kingdom and became an Avaduta. The stench created by the excreta turned into sweet smell wafting to the villages and towns in the neighborhood to the radius of eight miles. (Bhagavata Purana 5.5.32.) Rsabha Muni being the Yogi of yogis did not accept the unsought magical powers of remaining invisible, walking in the air, transmigrating into a dead body, seeing and hearing distant objects and sounds.
The deep sea does not swell though the rivers flow into it and the surface waves buffet it; it does not dry up when the rivers do not empty into it. He should remain deep and inscrutable like the deep sea, unperturbed by dualities like likes and dislikes. He keeps his senses under control, free from likes and dislikes.
A mendicant ascetic and male elephant in musth
When a man has no control over his senses, he sees Maya of the Lord in the form of a woman. He falls for her beguiling looks, body, clothes, jewelry and the rest and meets his destruction like a moth falling into the flame. A mendicant ascetic (Picchāndi) should not even accidentally touch with his foot a wooden figure of a woman lest he would be tied down as a male elephant in musth is tied down with a female elephant.
The honeybee and the Sannyasin
The sage should eat a little at a time taking food from one household at a time and not going back to the same household repeatedly. It is like the bee that goes to different flowers to gather the sap. Like the honeybee, the sage should gather wisdom from many scriptures. Unlike the bee, the sage should not hoard food beyond what his stomach can hold for that moment. He should not hoard food for the next meal lest somebody may steal it. Let him go to sleep on empty stomach thinking that Fate is provider of next meal. The apiarist takes honeybee’s hoard. There is always a thief of a thief of a thief.
The sage should be free from sexual indulgence and any other passion, which bind him like a rope, which binds a mighty elephant. Sex to a Sannyasin is like death to us. It is the end of path of Sadhana; it is like killing an elephant with powerful weapons. Just as the beekeeper takes hoarded honey, thieves take the hoarded wealth. As the honeybee gets its first serving and looses the rest to the beekeeper, the Sannyasin gets the first serving of the householder. The Sannyasin should not fall for the lure of music; he should know that the deer falls for the lure of hunter's mimicry, gallops towards the sound, and dies at the hands of the hunter.
A sages's son morphs into deer
A sage's son morphed into a deer, went searching for the source of music and fell a prey to a woman. In like manner, a foolish glutton with a gourmet tongue (palate) will savor death like a fish savoring a worm on the hook. The sense of taste for a sage is the most difficult to control. Though he might have controlled all his senses, not reining in the tongue and palate is a failure.
Pingala the prostitute and her search for a paramour
In the city of Mithila, there once was a prostitute, Pingala, who spent her days beautifying herself for the night. As the sun dipped down, the dusk whisked in and the night fell, the night walker ventured out to sell her services to the ogling paramours and dandies. As men walked the streets, no one came to use her services. She greeted, accosted and displayed her assets discreetly. She was waiting for a wealthy man (a sugardaddy) to come along and make her waiting and loitering worthwhile. She waited all night with no client in sight; she lost her sleep; she was tired and hungry; she did not make any money. She began to ruminate on her life. She was disgusted with her lifestyle. The pain she felt came down like a sword cutting asunder the attachment to material things. There were beginning signs of dispassion. She broke into a song which essentially said the following: "I am an ignorant fool. My pain springs from an unrestrained mind. I have been a fool thinking that happiness comes from my clients. I have been a fool while I ignored the immortal Self that lives in my heart, ready to give me happiness. The precious Self gives me true and eternal wealth. These base lechers bring me only pain and suffering, fears and phobia and fatuous passion. This prostitution did not bring me health, wealth or happiness. Selling my body to the amorists did not improve my lot. His body has nine gates constantly discharging waste. It has skin and bones and hair and nails and exudes foul smell. Who would consider it precious other than me? I expected Bliss from my prostitution not knowing that Self is the only Bliss. I surrender myself to the Great Self and live in Bliss in the company of the Supreme. Time is a greater devourer of men and gods. Can any woman depend on men and gods to pay off the inexorable Time? Paramatman smiled on me; in an instant, my despair vanished; my heart is detached from all that the world has to offer me. This unhappiness is a blessing in disguise and enables me to trounce my expectations and gain inner peace. With love and devotion, I accept this gift of Paramatman (the Supreme Self), shun worldly things and drop my pursuit of the ephemeral. My faith rests in the Supreme; I will lead a life of contentment with the Self as my soul guide. I will consider the Lord, who is my own Self, as my husband from now on and enjoy his company. Only the Supreme can save us when we are down and out, our senses lost their direction and Serpent Time engulfs us. When we see Time devouring everything in its path, we begin to realize what this world is made of; we renounce it knowing that the Supreme is the only savior." Pingla, walking the streets in such thoughts, knew what she wanted out of her remaining life, gave up her worldly hopes and expectations, and returned home. She rose above the expectations of the world and its people which caused her untold misery, let them go and retreated in peace.
Osprey and fish
The source of misery is obtaining what you desire most and hold dear. Happiness is Vairagya (desirelessness). An osprey was holding a fish in its beak, which it caught diving headlong into a lake. The fish was still squirming in its talons. A bigger fish hawk appeared suddenly in the horizon as the osprey was ripping the flesh off the fish. The fish hawk swooped down several times to steal the fish from the smaller osprey. Being harassed thus, it let the fish fall on the ground, which was soon snatched by the fish hawk. Now the osprey was free from harassment and enjoyed peace.
Avadhuta does not own a house, has no wife and children and cares very little for the comforts of the world. He does not even know where his next meal comes from. If he does not get it, he lives in peace with himself. He says, "I wander around this world without any burden; I feel like an innocent child; the ignorant, the guileless child and the one who transcended the three gunas are the three free from cares and anxieties. I only know the Self which transcends the three gunas."
The girl and her jingling shell bracelets
Once there was a nubile girl alone in the house. Her parents were expecting prospective bridegroom's family members visit them for bride-viewing and advance a marriage proposal. They came too early, while her parents were away. The girl received the guests and went ahead making meals and pounding rice. The shell bracelets around her waist and the wrists jingled loud enough that the guests heard it. Already embarrassed by having to greet the guests in the house without her parents, she felt squeamish about the jingling jewelry in the company of strangers. Faster she pounded in an attempt to hurry up, more jiggles, jangles and jingles emanated from her pounding. Being modest, she removed one jewelry after another until she had only two bracelets on each wrist. Still they jingled; so she decided to remove the two, one from each wrist, thus eliminating the jingle. She went ahead and completed the pounding and cooking without the incessant talking of the jingling bracelets. Avadhuta says, "I learned a lesson from the girl. I went around the world trying to understand people. Wherever there was an assembly of two persons and more, there were quarrels, chatter, bickering and fights. I learned that I should go alone through life in this world as a silent single bracelet on the girls' wrist. He advised, "Your Asana (posture) should be steady, your mind tranquil, and your breath controlled. When the mind is quiet and meditates on the Self, all waves of thought will subside; Rajas and Tamas will be stilled, when Sattva becomes dominant."
The Arrow Smith
The king was passing by ironworks, where an arrowsmith was busy making arrows. He was so engaged in his work that he did not notice the raucous pageantry of the king's retinue. An Avadhuta should concentrate his mind on the Self so much that he does not know what happens inside or outside. The Yogi should sit and meditate on the Self without any distraction from inner and outer activity. The sage should wander around the world without staying in one place more than a few days; if necessary, staying in caves; and not announcing that he is a Muni and letting his Mauna (silence) be his asset.
The snake and Avadhuta
Avadhuta would behave like a snake taking shelter in abandoned holes dug by other animals. Building a house by a man who has a perishable body is useless and attended with misery. . The body with nine gates (openings) is house with nine doors. The body as well as the house is perishable. At the end of the Yugas, Narayana devours all creations, universe, and the many, which came from One. Through the power of Time, which is the product of the Supreme, the gunas subside in the Absolute; what remains after that is the Supreme Being, the ancient, the eternal, the pure, the stainless, the transcendent, and the one without a second. After a latent period, a new creation cycle begins with the agitation of Maya made of three gunas and the will of Narayana. Gunas become active and unbalanced thus creating Mahatattvas and a variegated world through which the Self runs like a thread. The individual souls appear in the world sporting the Tattvas as their body. As the spider exudes the thread, builds the web, lives, eats in it, and swallows it, the Supreme Lord creates, maintains and destroys the universe.
Maxim of Wasp and Worm
You (embodied being) are made of your thoughts; what you think, you become: love, fear or hate. The body belongs to those who devour it in life or after death. Time is the great devourer. Avadhuta says knowing that his body, subject to birth, death, and rebirth, does not belong to him, he wanders renouncing all.
A lowly worm is in constant fear of the wasp and thus meditates on the wasp, not knowing when the dreaded fate of sting will strike it. The worm is so much possessed of the image of the wasp, that its consciousness is reposed only in the thought and form of wasp. The worm becomes a wasp in its mind's image. Similarly, an Avadhuta is constantly meditating on Brahman, not knowing when the blessed event of knowing and transforming himself to Brahman would take place. He thus becomes Brahman himself by dwelling in his mind on Brahman.
How do you find your way out of this morass?
We all work hard and endlessly to upkeep and maintain our body. Man works endlessly to make a living; have wife, children, and relatives; possess house, wealth, and cattle; cultivate friends and acquaintances; and employ servants. As a tree leaves seeds when cut down, so does a man leave his seeds for his next birth. (Here the seeds refer to seeds of Karma.) During his lifetime, his senses pull him in different directions. The tongue and the thirst pull him in different direction; so also the organ of generation, the touch, the stomach, the sense of smell, and the wandering eyes, and every organ in your body pull him in different directions. This is analogous to the man of the house being pulled and torn up by his many wives, senses and organs. The Lord created through his internal energy many living things, fauna and flora made of trees, reptiles, animals, birds, gadflies, fish and the like. His joy knew no bounds when he created man with reason, capable of realizing the Supreme. Man goes through many births and rebirths to attain realization of the Supreme and liberation. Enjoying sense pleasures can be had by all species, but attaining realization is the sole privilege of man. Avadhuta says that he wanders in this world of passions without attachment, passion, and ego, identifies himself with the Great Self, and acquires the Light of Supreme Knowledge. Truth is One; one needs many teachers to know the Truth, which is taught differently by different Rishis. Baghavan Krishna says, "Thus, having spoken to the king Yadu, the young Brahmin Avadhuta, Dattatreya, took leave of the king." The king divested himself of all his attachments and gained peace and tranquility of mind.