The 24 Gurus referred to in Srimad Bhagavatham.

                                         Ohm Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.
The 24 Gurus referred to in Srimad BhagavatHam.
(M. P. R. Nair)
The present day life calls upon us to have an unusual degree of courage, awareness, growth, happiness, and prosperity. But, it is not an easy joke. Loads of difficulties are increasing day by day in our life, in spite of all our efforts. Life has series of problems such as poverty, disease, broken relationships, unhappy marriages, loneliness, depression, and prosecution and so on and so forth, besides, global suffering and natural disasters like earth quakes, floods, famines and tsunamis and the like. Some of them are very difficult to solve. It may not be so easy to get a right Spiritual Master for all to show the right path, either. Here comes Srimad Bhagavatham to help us to a great extent amidst many other things, with the story of 24 Gurus from the open nature, whom we can keenly observe and learn from them many helpful hints to solve many of our problems. The process of solving problems may perhaps be augmented if we keep up some of the basic requirements such as our unconditional love towards God with the ultimate aim of attaining Brahma Gignasa through Dharma Gignasa, and then selecting the righteous path of Pravarthy Marga, through the proper Nivarthy Marga. Dharma Gignasa involves righteous living and Brahma Gignasa enables us towards achieving Self-Realization. Nivarthy Margas are like taking wise decisions after Sravanam, Keerthanam, Mananam, Nitidhyasam and Dhyanam etc., and Pravarthy Marga is in executing things in the most systematic, righteous and perfect way, without prejudice to anyone.
Canto 11in Srimad Bhagavatham teaches us about whatever we want in our lives. One of the reasons for the eleventh Canto to be known as the crown of Bhagavatam, is because it contains innumerable discourses and Upakhyanas, with simple illustrations as to how we could live a fearless life. Swami Vallabacharya beautifully expounds the uniqueness of this Canto since it talks about liberation to both the Lord and the common people or jivas. The Lord became Srimad Bhagavatham to play in the hands of normal mortals like us, and in due course liberate the jivas. This canto deals with Bhagavatha Dharma for a common man. It is Sage Shuka elaborating on Bhagavata Dharma.
Amidst them comes the beautiful story of 24 Gurus. It is in Chapters 7, 8 and 9 in Canto11. (Nearly 109 Slokas). The scene is just before Swargarohana of Lord Krishna. Udhava’s all efforts to retain Lord Krishna here in Bhooloka, during Kali Yuga, failed miserably. He was also in utter disappointment when he heard from Krishna that he was not taking him to Vaikuntam, either. He appeared for one moment as ignorant of the fact that Krishna is always there and that Bhagavan has just finished only His duties of one of His many Avatars. We know the truth, aswell as Udhava, that there is nothing as wonderful and sweet as Krishna’s name in this whole world. Udhava is a typical example of a common man though he is Krishna’s cousin and a Sishya of Great Brhaspati. So many instances are there in Srimad Bhagavatham, wherein he puts doubts regarding so many silly things to Krishna. I think Vyasa Bhagavan intends him as a representative of us. Every time you can see Krishna patiently describing to him the situation and clearing his doubt as if to a very close and intimate friend. If we closely watch, we can see that every time he is asking Krishna for a short cut also, as some of us do to our elders. However, finally Krishna advised Udhava to do ‘Sarvasangaparithyaga’ through ‘Sannyasa’. Spontaneously, as usual, he told Krishna, that he was ignorant and that he was always indulged in thinking about his body, created by Krishna’s Yogamaya, and all things related to the body such as his relations and his possessions. He added that his consciousness was merged with his body. So, he asked Krishna to kindly teach him the easiest method by which he could attain the Sarvasangaparithyaga through Sannyasa as He advised.
Bhagavan told him: “Those who do Tatwa Vichara to find out truth, by self and deep deliberations, gradually and eventually lift or raise his atma by his atma itself, from external sensory pleasures or mere worldly pleasures. Bhagavan exhorted him to liberate his soul from worldly pleasures or mere sensual pleasures.”
Gita puts this more nicely, like:
“Udharedatmanaatmanam, natmanamava sadhayel,
Atmaiva hyatmano bandhu , ratmaiva ripuratmana”, (Gita 6-5)
Let one raise the self by the self, and not let the self go down, for the self is the friend of the self and the self is the foe of the self.
Bhagavatham continues,
Guru of atma is atma itself, especially for man, he is his Guru, because by seeing, by observing and by inference, he clears his doubts and attains prosperity gradually. Those bold and brave ones, specialized in Samkhya and Yoga, recognize and distinguish, the omnipotent atma or soul, distinctly. Somany bodies are created here, with one to many legs and without legs, of which I like best, the body of man. Here Bhagavan makes the reference of the conversation, regarding 24 Gurus, between the Maha Tejaswi Dattathreya, Paramgnani Avadhootha , a wise, handsome and brilliant young Brahmin, wandering fearlessly, throughout the length and breadth of the world and the Dharma Tatwa Gnani King Yadu, son of Yayati, the forerunner of Krishna. When asked where did he get the extra ordinary intelligence and power , though he is wandering like a mad boy and doing nothing, the Brahmin said to Yadu, that he had many Gurus accepted by his own intelligence and they made him such a ‘jeevanmuktha’. He began to narrate the details of those Gurus and the lessons he learned from each of them.
The details of the 24 Gurus (Spiritual Masters) and the lessons learned from them as told by the Paramgnani Brahmin to King Yadu can be summarized as follows:
1.The Earth: (We feel smell because of the Earth; there is no smell, if there is no Earth)
From the earth I learned a sober person should never be distracted from progress on his own path even if he is harassed by other living beings, because they are acting helplessly under the control of God. He should consider it as his fate. He should be as steady as the earth. The earth teaches us ‘sahana shakthi’, (power of endurance). So the earth is called ‘sarvam saha:’ We should pardon others as Earth pardons. This is why it is called Bhoomimata, the mother earth. We have to learn ultimate ‘Kshama’ (patience) from Bhoomi. Like the mountain and the tree, he should dedicate himself to the service of others. We learn lessons by observing the way material nature, with its living and non-living components, functions.
2.The Air: ( We feel the sense of touch or ‘’sparsha’, because of the Air )
‘Pranavayu’(Breathing air) sustains our gnana, mind and words and so we must eat only that much required to sustain our pranavayu. A yogi or a transcendentalist may be surrounded by innumerable material objects possessing good and bad qualities. But like the wind he should never be entangled by them. When the wind carries different aromas, it never mixes with them. It is functioning only as a career and it is independent.
3.The Sky :(We hear because of the sky; if there is no sky, we will never hear any sound)
Though the sky extends everywhere and everything rests within it, it does not mix with anything. The soul and Supersoul have the same quality. The sky is never implicated or affected by the blowing action of the wind. In the same way the living entity or the Brahman in a Muni, is wide spread, indivisible, is never affected like the sky, though it may enter a body of material elements. Like the sky is not affected by clouds and wind, the atma or the soul, is not affected by the body, made of the ‘Panchabhoothas’ or the five elements like Prithuvi, Ap (water), Tejas, (fire) Vayu and the Sky.
4.The Water: (We feel taste or Rasam, because of water) It is a fact that one cannot live without Air and Water. 75% of the Earth is covered by water. Living being contains 70% of water. Since we cannot live without water, water is also known by the name ‘Jeevanm’.
The saintly person is like water , the most powerful detergent or cleaning liquid in the world, because he is free from all contamination, gentle by nature and when speaking creates a beautiful vibration like the flowing of water. By seeing, touching or hearing such a saintly person, the living entity is cleansed as if coming in contact with pure Ganga water
5.The Fire: (It is said that we feel the shape or form of things because of the presence of Fire.)
Even if a saintly person eats contaminated food by chance he is not affected, like the fire that burns up contaminated substances that are offered to it. Like fire, he is sometimes concealed and sometimes revealed. As the spiritual master, he burns up the past and future reactions of his disciples. The Supreme Soul is like fire in that He enters different bodies as fire manifests differently in various pieces of wood. Like the flickering fire, the waves of time flow constantly and imperceptibly bring with them birth, growth and death. But just as nobody can follow the changing pattern of a flame, no one can see the changes wrought by time upon them.
The Atma, with the help of maya created by itself, enters into different forms like devas and animals, and as if fire enters into different types of wood, it appears to simulate their ‘dharmas.’
6. The Moon:
Though the Moon waxes and wanes, it is not affected by this “change.” Similarly the living entity or atma, is not affected by the invincible changes of the body brought to it from the time of birth to the time of death.
7.The Sun:
A saintly person can accept a material thing with his senses and at the appropriate time he gives that thing to the proper person. So also the Sun evaporates water and returns it to earth as rain. Sun and saint are never entangled by this. A yogi accepting the sense objects renounces them at the right time. The sun is reflected in many objects but is never divided. Also the soul is reflected into various bodies but is always one and the same.
8.The Pigeon:
A certain pigeon once in the forest built its nest in a tree. He dwelt there for some years with a female companion and their children. As attached partners in their household they were with their hearts full of affection tied together. One day seeing his wife and children captured, by a hunter and thinking that without them life was not worth living, out of excessive attachment, the ‘madappura’ chose to be captured by the hunter. This teaches us that one should never lose oneself in excessive affection or deep and close association with anyone, because one thus indulging will have to suffer great distress. Man is not aware of the rarest human birth, by which one can liberate easily.
9.The Python:
He does not make arrangements for food, and he will not go in search of food either, but waits for food to come to him. It eats the food, without even looking for the quantity, quality or taste. A sadhaka should eat what he gets, sumptuously like this. He must be ready to starve for many days if such a situation comes, considering it as his ‘prarabdha karma phala’. People say that once the python takes its food, it can remain without food for six months. This exemplifies peacefulness and patience
10. The Sea:
Just like a tranquil sea, the saintly person, being full of knowledge, is never disturbed. He should be happy and pleasing in his external behavior. Internally he should be most grave and thoughtful, because his knowledge is immeasurable and unlimited. In all respects he is like the tranquil waters of the unfathomable and unsurpassable ocean. The sea has no change when rivers or streams come and join it. Similarly a saintly person should be calm and quiet, in pleasures and pain. Always ‘Shantham’.
11 . The Moth:
A silly man is captivated by a woman’s charm, gold, jewels etc., just like a moth is captivated by a flame and burns in it. It ends its life in the flame. A saintly person should realize that a woman is a ‘Deva maya’.
12. The Honeybee:
A renounced person who begs a little food from different houses is like a ‘madhukari’, or honeybee, or ‘Bhramaram’ (vandu). Also a honeybee takes nectar from different flowers, little by little. It is not greedy. So also an intelligent human being takes the essence of different scriptures. But a saintly person should not become greedy and collect too much of anything edible or food for future. In the same way, a saintly person should collect wisdom also little by little from various Scriptures. But, at the same time we should not hoard money in excess like the honeybee collects honey in excess, which is totally taken by other people later.
13. The Elephant:
A saintly person should remember how the great bull elephant is captured by the she-elephant; therefore he should never desire to touch the body of a young girl(with any bad intentin) even if it is made of wood. We should remember the story in Mahabharata, of Rishysringan, Son of Hirani, once happened to be in the track of women.
14. The Honey-thief:
When honey is stored in excess by the bees in honey combs, honey thieves take away them, killing all the bees inside. In the same way, when misers hoard money, robbers steal them, sometimes even killing them. A saintly person should never hoard money and go into danger. But, at the same time we must be austere and prudent also.
15. The Deer:
They are bewildered by the sound of a hunter’s horn, and thus are caught and killed. A renounced person should never become attracted by mundane sounds like sensuous music, especially the sweet singing and dancing of beautiful women. The deer is so beautiful. Really speaking seeing one such a beautiful deer itself is a most pleasant experience. One, who loves God, should love His creations also, not to speak of such an exquisitely beautiful deer.
So many things we can observe and study from the poor helpless animals, instead of killing and eating them. It is really a horrible herbicide (Killing of Guru).
16. The Fish:
They are caught on the hook by their uncontrollable tongues. A learned man should control all his senses by first controlling the tongue, which is the most powerful sense of all. If you win your tongue, you can succeed almost everywhere.
17. Pingala:
Once there was a prostitute lady in the Kingdom of Videha. She gave up her plans for earning money the bad way, out of frustration. Feeling satisfaction from her abandonment of material desires, she could remember Krishna and became peaceful forever.
18. The Kurara Bird:
One day a small hawk was holding some meat. A group of large hawks, who were unable to find any prey, attacked the small hawk. At that time, being in danger and out of fear for his life, the little hawk gave up his meat and experienced actual happiness. In the same way, a ‘Bhikshu’ should not also hesitate to give away, if one desires what he possesses, if the situation so warrants.
19. The Child:
A small child is happy due to ignorance, and a saintly person is happy due to having surrendered all to Krishna, without any attachment to anything.
20. The Young Girl:
Receiving a prospective bridegroom and his party, on a day when her parents were away from home, she went into the kitchen to prepare food for them. While beating rice, her bracelets jangled, and she was afraid that the young man would think her family was poor because she was doing all the work in the home. She broke all the bracelets except two on each arm, but these also jangled. She then removed one from each arm, leaving only one on each arm. Thereafter she worked in silence. All went well. So too, when many people live together, there will be clashing of interests and fighting. It is better to live alone. The Avadhoota studied this fact from that Kanya.
21. The Arrow-maker:
The devotee should be so absorbed in the Lord that he does not see duality, just as the arrow maker was so absorbed in his work of making a straight arrow that he did not notice the king passing by.
22. The Snake:
He makes no home for himself, but takes over the homes of others, having eaten them. A sage should similarly make no endeavors for his own shelter. He should be like a wanderer. You know, whatever you study, how much you learn from Scriptures or anywhere, it will never be as equivalent to getting knowledge by travelling and seeing the lives of people , all over the world. It will be the greatest experience in the world, because you are seeing and learning life in flesh and blood.
23. The Spider: (Oonanabhi)
God is like the spider because He creates the whole network of the cosmos from his own potency, and then withdraws the whole into Himself. This reminds me a small story. Robert Bruce was a King. He was defeated by his enemies many times. At last he ran away and hid in a cave. While in the cave, he watched a small spider repeatedly jumping to tie one end of the web at a point to make its nest. Really it was tired, but collecting all the remaining strength and power, it jumped again, this time tying the end of the web, at a point. It then made the net work complete. This opened the eyes of Robert Bruce and gathering all his forces he attacked his enemies and win the war in the end. The spider was his Guru..
24. The Wasp:
The wasp trapped a caterpillar in his hive. Inside the hive, out of fear and ‘vairagya’, the worm, in course of time took on the mentality of a wasp, and thus became a wasp in the end. This illustrates how one attains, what one’s mind is fixed upon.
The Avadhoota said to the Yadu King that from studying the life activities of the various animates and inanimates as narrated above, I have learned everything about the Self. The nature is an open book, who keenly observes it with providence. Let us not ignore anything in the nature as unimportant. The grass we tread mercilessly may perhaps contain the plants, ‘Mrtasanjeevani’, that can sometimes give back our life. Our culture is to see some ‘amsa’ of divinity in anything and everything