By Michael Ketterhagen, PhD
“Belief in the existence of God indicates that one is searching for the Truth.
The Truth is that which remains unchanged in the past, present, and future.
To know the Truth, one needs to purify one’s thoughts, speech, and actions.”
-Swami Rama of the Himalayas, A Call To Humanity
During these next 40 days of The Center’s Lenten Earth program, I will be reflecting on how different religious and spiritual traditions understand and relate to our physical creation, our Mother Earth.
Most people know and believe that there is a source to physical creation. Most English-speaking people call that Source “God.” The Yoga Tradition calls that Source of Life “Brahman” or “Universal Creative Consciousness.” Yogis and yoginis often relate to that “Consciousness” as a person, just like Christians relate to the Creator of the Universe as “Father.”
Yoga, which has its roots in another tradition, called the Vedic Tradition, is thought to be over 6,000 years old, the oldest spiritual tradition in the current historical understanding of humanity. That ancient Vedic tradition, which has numerous saints and sages, is what my yoga teachers call the Himalayan Tradition.
One of those sages was Dattatreya (dut-tuh-tray-yah). When he was a young boy he talked about how creation was his guru (teacher) and that he had 24 specific teachers. A “guru,” as I mentioned before, is one who “disperses (ru) the darkness (gu).” A guru enlightens a person’s understanding of reality, especially spiritual reality that leads us to the Truth, leads us to God. People were always wondering why Dattratreya was so wise at such a young age. They used to come to him for advice.
One king of the region asked him what his first guru was. “Mother Earth,” he said. “She taught me to hold those who trample me, scratch me, and hurt me lovingly in my heart, just as she does. She taught me to give them my best, remembering that their acts are normal and natural from their standpoint.”
When asked what his second guru was, Dattatreya responded: “Water. It is a force that contains life and purity. It cleanses whatever it touches and provides life to whomever drinks it. Water flows unceasingly. If it stops, it become stagnant. Keep moving, keep moving is the lesson I learned from water.”
Dattatreya said that his next three gurus were the other three elements of nature—fire, wind (air), and space. From fire, he learned that it “transforms everything into flame” or light, teaching him “how to absorb everything that life brings and how to turn it into light that enlightens his life and helps others to walk safely.”
The wind (or air) was his fourth guru. Wind moves unceasingly over flowers and thorns, his friends and his enemies. This taught him to “not prefer flowers over thorns, or friends over enemies, … but to provide freshness to all without becoming attached.”
His fifth teacher was “all-pervading and all-embracing space” which has room for everything else in creation and, yet, “remains untouched and unconfined.” This taught me that “I, too, must have room for all the diversities and still remain unaffected by what I contain,” he said. “All visible and invisible objects may have their rightful place within me, but they have no power to confine my consciousness.”
After reading and reflecting on Dattatreya’s first five gurus, I realized that Mother Earth has incredible spiritual lessons for me and all of us. If we considered Mother Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Space as teachers in our lives, we would undoubtedly change our attitude toward creation and might also change our behavior.