A student recently asked me about finding a “teacher”. She was not referring to a yoga teacher or even a spiritual guide, but rather to a Living Master that could illuminate her way on the spiritual path. “What do I do in the mean time, while I even don’t have a teacher?” she asked. It was such great question from a really sincere heart space and so I contemplated the question. Here are some of my thoughts.
As I searched with the mind’s eye for some useful advice to counsel her, I thought to myself ‘how does one become enlightened without a Guru.’ It was then in a flash that I recalled the life and story of Dattatreya. Dattatreya was a rishi from yore who became enlightened through 24 Gurus of nature, none of which were traditional spiritual teachers. It was a great teaching for her to hear and maybe you too. Here’s the short version:
Once upon a time there was a great rishi named Dattatreya who lived in the forest. One day the King’s son Yadu was in the forest and encountered Dattatreya. Yadu was struck by the radiance and wisdom that emanated from Shri Dattatreya. And so Yadu asked the Rishi how to attain Self-Realization. The response that Dattatreya gave in reply was non-ordinary and quite useful to the young sadhaka.
Dattatreya explained that the spiritual Guru-teacher was not just a physical person, but rather a conscious force that awakens within the spiritual aspirant. Commonly some of the spiritual force of the master is transferred to the disciple thus awakening the consciousness within the sadhaka. However, in the case of Dattatreya the awakening unfolded differently. Dattatreya had 24 “Gurus” none of which were “enlightened beings” per se. Dattatreya had taken a different path. His Guru was the entire world in which we live. He learned from the elements: Earth, Air, Sky andFire. The Sun, Moon and Sea were his Gurus too, along with many different creatures such as the bee, the bird, the deer, the fish, the serpent and even the elephant. You see that while Dattatreya did not have a classical “Guru,” the different elements and animals became his teachers. The key lies in one’s own depth of sincerity, seeking and seeing. Once you begin to look for the Guru you will discover there is no where that consciousness is not offering you insight and an opportunity for growth.
Pipilika Marga: The Way of the Ant
There was one creature from the 24 Gurus of Dattatreya that I thought might be helpful for the student I mentioned: the Ant. Ant in sanskrit is pipilika. The Pipilika Marga is the Path of the Ant. It is a path of yoga that takes a very long time. The ant has many endearing qualities in which to teach us about spiritual life. Contemplate for a moment the qualities of an ant. Ants are grounded and yet they can walk anywhere, well, almost anywhere. They are communal which is a pretty fine requisite for serving humanity. Ants are certainly super strong, but most importantly, ants are determined. Think about how a single ant can carry a piece of fruit all the way from the top of the tree back to the ground. In relative human terms that would be a long day’s walk with a really heavy load. When was the last time you walked a whole day for a piece of food, only to give it over to someone else? But more than the beneficent qualities of the ant there is a really great nyaya, or yogic metaphor, that reveals the teaching of the ant.
Imagine for a moment there is a ripe mango fruit at the top of a tree and that there are three creatures all contemplating the fruit on the tree: a bird, a monkey and an ant. The bird jumps from the cliff, flies through the sky to land on the tree, and eats the fruit immediately. The monkey, on the other hand, jumps from tree to tree and then branch to branch, making its way to the mango and then eats. Finally, the ant climbs the trunk from the ground, back and forth, to and fro, and after a very long time arrives at the fruit. All three achieve the fruit, yet they each take different paths. On the spiritual path it is key to know your own nature in order to know which path to take. While most of us would like to think that we are the eagles, in practice we are more like monkeys. I mean that in the kindest way possible with no disrespect to the monkeys, of course. This is where the path of the Ant presents itself.
The Way of the Bird, known as the Vihangam Marga, represents the path of renunciation and is for those who are prepared to leap from the world into the sky. It is a path of complete surrender into the spiritual life that requires the aspirant to leave behind the material world and devote oneself completely to the Divine Life. The Path of the Monkey is called the Markat Marga. The monkey represents the mind. It represents the path of Raja Yoga, which works directly with the mind. Minds, like monkeys, are often very difficult to train and they both have a tendency to jump here and there (or rather from thought to thought). The Path of the Monkey has its own set of challenges, as meditation requires many long years of practice and perfection, not withstanding the time spent with the monkey-mind itself. And finally, the Pipilika Marga is the Path of Faith. The Path of Faith is Bhakti Yoga. In Bhakti Yoga all that is required is sincere devotion. The ant goes along its way with complete faith, knowing that it will achieve its goal: Liberation. The ant knows that the spiritual life is not a function of time, but rather a mode of being. That is the lesson of the ant. The ant is completely devoted to the path. Armed with the qualities of faith, devotion and selfless action, the ant achieves Self Realization. The Ant is grounded and patient. If you embody these qualities, you, like Dattatreya, will discover all of the Gurus and teachers that you have ever yearned for present themselves in all of their names and forms. This is the teaching of the Pipilika Marga, also know as the Path of the Ant.
May you be blessed with phala, the fruit of True Knowledge. Om Tat Sat.