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Gītōpadēśa In Puranas – Part IV

Life poses interesting questions to humans during their journey in this plane. These questions could be introspective or retrospective, but mostly aimed at imparting some lessons that can’t be forgotten in a hurry. At times, owing to various factors ranging from misplaced self-assurance to ego, humans don’t learn these lessons quickly and efficiently.

One may be tempted to question the premise of these lessons i.e. why exactly should we learn? Why should we get vidya? Puranas and Shastras have multiple anecdotes explaining the significance of vidya in human journey.

In Isa / Isavasya Upanishad, verse 10 captures the significance of vidya and avidya in very precise manner.

अन्यदेवाहुर्विद्ययाऽन्यदाहुरविद्यया ।

इति शुश्रुम धीराणां ये नस्तद्विचचक्षिरे ॥ १०॥


iti śuśruma dhīrāṇāṁ yē nastadvicacakṣirē || 10 ||

They say that by vidya a distinct result is achieved. Similarly, a different & distinct result is also achieved by avidya; Thus we have heard the teaching of those wise men who explained that to us.

The interpretation and commentary for this shloka is consistent across various sampradāyas.

When one refers to Sri Madhvācārya bhāṣya, two aspects of mukti are discussed viz., Elimination of sorrow / ignorance & Realisation of bliss, with the latter being achieved by the right knowledge. In Sri Śaṅkarācārya bhāṣya, the focus is on the teachings of the wise men i.e. teachers who have provided the explanation, some of which is traditionally received.

During the challenges posed by life, the role of teachers i.e. Guru becomes quintessential and extremely crucial to deal with these situations. The word “Guru” translates to one who helps to remove the ignorance. The question then becomes who is my Guru? When do I meet him/her? How will I learn the secrets / teachings of my Guru?

In Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa, Bhagwan Sri Krishna explains this to his dear friend Uddhava. The discussion between Sri Krishna and Uddhava lead to two significant gītās named as Avadhūta Gītā and Ud’dhava Gītā.

In previous articles of this series, one specific gītā was discussed in detail. Avadhūta Gītā is quite expansive with extensive commentaries provided. In Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa, this topic is discussed over 3 chapters and hence, Avadhūta Gītā will be captured in 3 similar articles.

Sri Krishna & Uddhava

Before delving into Avadhūta Gītā, it is important to understand the premise of this discussion between Bhagwan and his bhaktha cum friend. This incident is narrated in Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa, skanda 11, chapters 7 – 9. The premise of this discourse is laid out in chapter 6 of the same skanda.

The incident occurs towards the fag end of the illustrious age of Dwapara. Brahma and other devatas visit Dwaraka to have darshan of Bhagwan in his Krishnaavatara and his cosmic illusion, Maya. All of them request him to return to Vaikunta as the purpose of his birth has been fulfilled and Yadava family was on the verge of self-destruction.

Krishna suggests everyone to move towards Prabhasa Tirtha recounting the story of Chandra who was cursed, which was cured by taking a bath in the holy tirtha

यत्र स्न‍ात्वा दक्षशापाद् गृहीतो यक्ष्मणोडुराट् ।
विमुक्त: किल्बिषात् सद्यो भेजे भूय: कलोदयम् ॥ ३६ ॥

yatra snātvā daka-śāpād ghīto yakmaodu-rā
kilbiāt sadyo bheje bhūya kalodayam

|| SB 11.6.36 ||

Once, the moon was afflicted with consumption because of the curse of Dakṣa, but just by taking bath at Prabhāsa-kṣetra, the moon was immediately freed from his sinful reaction and again resumed the waxing of his phases.

While the entourage was preparing for the eventual departure, Uddhava approached Sri Krishna in a private manner, bowed down to the supreme Bhagwan & addressed him as thus:

श्रीउद्धव उवाच
देवदेवेश योगेश पुण्यश्रवणकीर्तन ।
संहृत्यैतत् कुलं नूनं लोकं सन्त्यक्ष्यते भवान् ।
विप्रशापं समर्थोऽपि प्रत्यहन्न यदीश्वर: ॥ ४२ ॥

śrī-uddhava uvāca
deva-deveśa yogeśa pu
htyaitat kula nūna loka santyakyate bhavān
samartho ’pi pratyahan na yad īśvara

|| SB 11.6.42 ||

Śrī Uddhava said: O my Lord, O supreme God among all the demigods, real piety is invoked simply by hearing and chanting Your transcendental glories. My Lord, it appears that You will now withdraw Your dynasty, and thus You Yourself will finally give up Your pastimes within this universe. You are the supreme controller and the master of all mystic power. But although You are fully capable of counteracting the brāhmaṇas’ curse against Your dynasty, You are not doing so, and Your disappearance is imminent.

Uddhava displays rich knowledge, equanimity and awareness of the situation. His relationship with Krishna is reflected in his statement where he acknowledges the divinity of Sri Krishna as one who is capable of nullifying the curse of the brahmanas, yet chooses not to. He is equally at ease at the dawning reality of the imminent departure of the divine Bhagwan from his role on earth. While the pain of a friend is quite evident, the longing of a Bhakta becomes a more significant emotion.

Uddhava’s bhakti is reflected in his further statements where he confidently states the path for mukti from the cosmic illusion, Maya.

त्वयोपभुक्तस्रग्गन्धवासोऽलङ्कारचर्चिता: ।
उच्छिष्टभोजिनो दासास्तव मायां जयेमहि ॥ ४६ ॥

tvayopabhukta-srag-gandha- vāso-’lakāra-carcitā
ṣṭa-bhojino dāsāstava māyā jayema hi

|| SB 11.6.46 ||

Simply by decorating ourselves with the garlands, fragrant oils, clothes and ornaments that You have already enjoyed, and by eating the remnants of Your meals, we, Your servants, will indeed conquer Your illusory energy.

Uddhava clearly outlines what is considered the divine prasada in the modern day life. Gandha, Mala of Bhagwan is considered very auspicious and powerful in dealing with the difficulties of life. Uddhava goes on to mention that though there are means of handling Maya, he wishes Sri Krishna to explain how to get out of the snare made of “I” and “Mine”.

Sri Krishna replies starting with the objective of his birth as below:

मया निष्पादितं ह्यत्र देवकार्यमशेषत: ।
यदर्थमवतीर्णोऽहमंशेन ब्रह्मणार्थित: ॥ २ ॥

mayā nipādita hy atra deva-kāryam aśeata
yad-artham avatīr
o ’ham aśena brahmaārthita

|| SB 11.7.2 ||

Answering the prayer of Lord Brahmā, I descended within this world along with My plenary portion, Lord Baladeva, and performed various activities on behalf of the demigods. I have now completed My mission here.

After Sri Krishna explains the reason of his birth, he further instructs his dear friend and bhaktha Uddhava not to remain in this world.

न वस्तव्यं त्वयैवेह मया त्यक्ते महीतले ।
जनोऽभद्ररुचिर्भद्र भविष्यति कलौ युगे ॥ ५ ॥

na vastavya tvayaiveha mayā tyakte mahī-tale
 ’bhadra-rucir Bhadra bhaviyati kalau yuge

|| SB 11.7.5 ||

My dear Uddhava, you should not remain here on the earth once I have abandoned this world. My dear devotee, you are sinless, but in Kali-yuga the people will be addicted to all types of sinful activities; therefore do not stay here.

Sri Krishna clearly predicts the fore coming future & suggests his dear friend not to continue with the journey in this mortal world. Uddhava requests for upadesha to overcome these external influences from his dear friend.

Sri Krishna says that lessons of eternity can be assimilated by observation of the environment all around.

प्रायेण मनुजा लोके लोकतत्त्वविचक्षणा: ।
समुद्धरन्ति ह्यात्मानमात्मनैवाशुभाशयात् ॥ १९ ॥

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
a manujā loke loka-tattva-vicakaā
samuddharanti hy ātmānam ātmanaivāśubhāśayāt

|| SB 11.7.19 ||

Bhagwan replied: Generally those human beings who can expertly analyze the actual situation of the material world are able to raise themselves beyond the inauspicious life of gross material gratification.

This is a very important aspect mentioned by Bhagwan Sri Krishna, where the ability to absorb, analyse and assimilate the lessons emanating from daily experiences plays a crucial role in shaping one’s lives.

Bhagwan Sri Krishna reinforces this thought in a following verse.

आत्मनो गुरुरात्मैव पुरुषस्य विशेषत: ।
यत् प्रत्यक्षानुमानाभ्यां श्रेयोऽसावनुविन्दते ॥ २० ॥

ātmano gurur ātmaiva puruasya viśeata
yat pratyak
ānumānābhyā śreyo ’sāv anuvindate

|| SB 11.7.20 ||

An intelligent person, expert in perceiving the world around him and in applying sound logic, can achieve real benefit through his own intelligence. Thus sometimes one acts as one’s own instructing spiritual master.

Sri Krishna clearly instructs that one’s own atma can become its own Guru leading to the path of enlightenment. It is imperative to note that Sri Krishna would have advised Arjuna in a similar fashion during Śrīmad Bhagavadgītā discourse.

आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मन: || 5||

ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmana

|| SBG 6.5 ||

.. for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.

The ability of atma to be one’s own spiritual guide is explained at multiple junctures by Paramatma.

Concepts are best explained or illustrated with the ability of effective tools like stories. Sri Krishna also highlights the need to explain the concepts of learning from one’s own environment by relating to a story from Puranas about his ancestor Yadu.

अत्राप्युदाहरन्तीममितिहासं पुरातनम् ।
अवधूतस्य संवादं यदोरमिततेजस: ॥ २४ ॥

atrāpy udāharantīmam itihāsa purātanam
avadhūtasya sa
vāda yador amita-tejasa

|| SB 11.7.24 ||

In this regard, sages cite a historical narration concerning the conversation between the greatly powerful King Yadu and an avadhūta.

The discussion between Maharaja Yadu and Avadhūta Dattatreya is considered as Avadhūta Gītā, in which Bhagwan Dattatreya describes the lessons learnt from twenty-four (24) teachers.

In the first part of the series, we look at the first eight (8) teachers described by Bhagwan Dattatreya as a response to Yadu’s queries. The following description of Avadhūta Gītā forms the crux of Chapter 7 of Skanda 11 of Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa.

Avadhūta Gītā – Part 01

Maharaja Yadu observes a young, learned brahmana roaming around fearlessly with an amazing calm and unexplainable happiness on his face. Though he was an expert himself, he takes the opportunity & strikes a conversation with him, posing some queries.

त्वं हि न: पृच्छतां ब्रह्मन्नात्मन्यानन्दकारणम् ।
ब्रूहि स्पर्शविहीनस्य भवत: केवलात्मन: ॥ ३० ॥

tva hi na pcchatā brahmannātmany ānanda-kāraam
brūhi sparśa-vihīnasya bhavata

|| SB 11.7.30 ||

O brāhmaṇa, we see that you are devoid of any contact with material enjoyment and that you are traveling alone, without any companions or family members. Therefore, because we are sincerely inquiring from you, please tell us the cause of the great ecstasy that you are feeling within yourself.

Yadu displays a very unique trait which should become an inspirational template to follow. No matter how much one is well versed with scriptures and knowledge, one should always take up the initiative to learn at every potential opportunity.

In response to Yadu’s questions, the brāhmaṇa describes the various teachers who have shaped his outlook.

श्रीब्राह्मण उवाच
सन्ति मे गुरवो राजन् बहवो बुद्ध्युपाश्रिता: ।
यतो बुद्धिमुपादाय मुक्तोऽटामीह तान् श‍ृणु ॥ ३२ ॥

śrī-brāhmaa uvāca
santi me guravo rājan bahavo buddhy-upāśritā

yato buddhim upādāya mukto
 āmīha tān śṛṇu

|| SB 11.7.32 ||

The brāhmaṇa said: My dear King, with my intelligence I have taken shelter of many spiritual masters. Having gained transcendental understanding from them, I now wander about the earth in a liberated condition. Please listen as I describe them to you.

The following forms the main crux of Avadhūta Gītā as it lists all the 24 teachers.

पृथिवी वायुराकाशमापोऽग्निश्चन्द्रमा रवि: ।
कपोतोऽजगर: सिन्धु: पतङ्गो मधुकृद् गज: ॥ ३३ ॥
मधुहाहरिणो मीन: पिङ्गला कुररोऽर्भक: ।
कुमारी शरकृत् सर्प ऊर्णनाभि: सुपेशकृत् ॥ ३४ ॥
एते मे गुरवो राजन् चतुर्विंशतिराश्रिता: ।
शिक्षा वृत्तिभिरेतेषामन्वशिक्षमिहात्मन: ॥ ३५ ॥

pthivī vāyur ākāśam āpo ’gniś candramā ravi
 ’jagara sindhu patago madhukd gaja

|| SB 11.7.33 ||

madhu-hā hario mīna pigalā kuraro ’rbhaka
kumārī śara-k
t sarpa ūranābhi supeśakt

|| SB 11.7.34 ||

ete me guravo rājan catur-viśatir āśritā
ā vttibhir eteām anvaśikam ihātmana

|| SB 11.7.35 ||

O King, I have taken shelter of twenty-four gurus, who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the prostitute Piṅgalā, the kurara bird and the child; and the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp. My dear King, by studying their activities I have learned the science of the self.

After providing with the complete list of teachers, Bhagwan Dattatreya starts to describe the unique characteristics and lessons learnt from each of these teachers.

It is imperative to note that all these teachers are present all around us in daily life. Through this unique Gītā rendition, Bhagwan is directing us to be aware of the mother nature around us with its innumerable lessons for us to understand and assimilate.

  1. Bhoomi / Earth

 भूतैराक्रम्यमाणोऽपि धीरो दैववशानुगै: ।
तद् विद्वान्न चलेन्मार्गादन्वशिक्षं क्षितेर्व्रतम् ॥ ३७ ॥

 bhūtair ākramyamāo ’pi dhīro daiva-vaśānugai
tad vidvān na calen mārgādanvaśika kiter vratam

|| SB 11.7.37 ||

 A true jnani should understand that no matter what another person is heaping on them, they are helpless as it is due to their previous prarbdha karma

  • The truly enlightened jnani shouldn’t get distracted / deter from his own path
  • From the mountains & trees dependent on Prithvi, we should learn the quality of dedicating oneself in service of others, be firm & unmoved like the mountain itself
  1. Vayu / Air

प्राणवृत्त्यैव सन्तुष्येन्मुनिर्नैवेन्द्रियप्रियै: ।
ज्ञानं यथा न नश्येत नावकीर्येत वाङ्‍मन: ॥ ३९ ॥

prāa-vttyaiva santuyenmunir naivendriya-priyai
jñāna yathā na naśyeta nāvakīryeta vā-mana

|| SB 11.7.39 ||

  • A muni should be contended with the contemplation of the supreme Bhagwan, satisfied with a simple existence
  • Though placed amidst material world, he shouldn’t indulge & should learn to live without his senses getting impacted due to the same
  • Vayu is omnipresent, yet is not unattached to any specific object. It carries the fragrance of sandal, but doesn’t mixed with them & ultimately wears off.
  • Similarly an enlightened soul shouldn’t get impacted various qualities of material world just like the wind
  1. Akasha / Sky

तेजोऽबन्नमयैर्भावैर्मेघाद्यैर्वायुनेरितै: ।
न स्पृश्यते नभस्तद्वत् कालसृष्टैर्गुणै: पुमान् ॥ ४३ ॥

tejo-’b-anna-mayair bhāvairmeghādyair vāyuneritai
na spśyate nabhas tadvat kāla-sṛṣṭair guai pumān

|| SB 11.7.43 ||

  • Sky is eternal, whose expanse is spread all across. It pervades the entire visual range
  • Similarly, the parabrahma tattva is present in all beings equally and pervades the universe
  • An enlightened jnani should observe that brahma tattva is present in all souls similar to the way sky is spread all across
  • Due to air, clouds are present in the sky. Yet, the sky is unattached to the clouds, even though it appears sky is covered by them
  • The body made up of basic elements is subject to the impact of various gunas due to kaala, yet his spirit is never impacted
  1. Jala / Water

स्वच्छ: प्रकृतित: स्‍निग्धो माधुर्यस्तीर्थभूर्नृणाम् ।
मुनि: पुनात्यपां मित्रमीक्षोपस्पर्शकीर्तनै: ॥ ४४ ॥

 svaccha praktita snigdho mādhuryas tīrtha-bhūr nṛṇām
punāty apā mitram īkopasparśa-kīrtanai

|| SB 11.7.44 || 

  • Water is pure by its nature, free of any contamination, has unending love for the humanity & purifies the human
  • Similarly, the behaviour of the enlightened jnani should also be pure
  • With the kindness of their sight, touch & sweet words, they purify the humans who interact with them.
  1. Agni / Fire

तेजस्वी तपसा दीप्तो दुर्धर्षोदरभाजन: ।
सर्वभक्ष्योऽपि युक्तात्मा नादत्ते मलमग्निवत् ॥ ४५ ॥

tejasvī tapasā dīpto durdharodara-bhājana
yo ’pi yuktātmānādatte malam agni-vat

|| SB 11.7.45 ||

  • Agni is full of its own brightness, though consumes everything, but is not contaminated by what was eaten
  • Agni’s heat is sufficient to purify what was eaten
  • A truly enlightened jnani, though being a tapasvi & tejasvi shouldn’t get impacted by the gunas around him
  • Agni is visible at times & hidden within the wood.
  • An enlightened jnani sometimes appears in public form & at other times conceals himself.
  • Similar to Agni, the jnani accepts the offerings of the devotees and purifies them without getting impacted due to the same
  • As Agni is present hidden in all wood & takes their specific form, the parabrahma tattva is also hidden in all living beings without being visible to humans
  1. Chandra / Moon

विसर्गाद्या: श्मशानान्ता भावा देहस्य नात्मन: ।
कलानामिव चन्द्रस्य कालेनाव्यक्तवर्त्मना ॥ ४८ ॥

visargādyā śmaśānāntā bhāvā dehasya nātmana
kalānām iva candrasya kālenāvyakta-vartmanā

|| SB 11.7.48 ||

  • Moon waxes and wanes as per the cyclical period of kaala. From no contour on a new moon day to a sliver of a presence to a full bright full moon to diminishing forms to no contour.
  • Similarly our physical bodies undergoes many transformations due to the impact of time
  • However, our atman is unimpacted due to these changes of kaala.
  • When the flames of fire rise, no one will know how it began & how it finishes
  • Every particle created burns for a while & diminishes
  • Similarly, the process of birth, childhood, youth, middle age, old age & death keep repeating with precise regularity
  • Though this keeps happening, atma continues with its journey uninterrupted.
  1. Surya / Sun 

बुध्यते स्वे न भेदेन व्यक्तिस्थ इव तद्गत: ।
लक्ष्यते स्थूलमतिभिरात्मा चावस्थितोऽर्कवत् ॥ ५१ ॥

budhyate sve na bhedena vyakti-stha iva tad-gata
lakyate sthūla-matibhir ātmā cāvasthito ’rka-vat

|| SB 11.7.51 ||

  • Through his rays, Sun absorbs water, transforms them into clouds & showers the same back as Rain
  • In a similar fashion, a jnani consumes something & returns the same to another person without getting impacted by the same
  • Importantly, he shouldn’t consume for personal gain like wealth, grains etc.
  • If one fills water in multiple vessels or dents created by the hooves of the cows and views them, one can find a sun in each one of them
  • Reflection of the Sun could be different, but there is only one physical Sun
  • Similarly, even though the enclosed atman in various bodies appear different, the reality is that the atman in all of them is the same
  1. Pigeon

Avadhuta quotes the story of the pigeon to illustrate the impact of excessive affection or concern for anyone.

नातिस्‍नेह: प्रसङ्गो वा कर्तव्य: क्व‍ापि केनचित् ।
कुर्वन् विन्देत सन्तापं कपोत इव दीनधी: ॥ ५२ ॥

nāti-sneha prasago vā kartavya kvāpi kenacit
kurvan vindeta santāpa kapota iva dīna-dhī

|| SB 11.7.52 ||

In a forest, there was a male pigeon and its mate who had constructed a nest on top of a free. They were absolutely devoted to each other and did every activity jointly. If the female pigeon desired something, the male pigeon would stretch to satisfy her wishes. Thus they were leading a happy life.

Over time, the female pigeon laid eggs in the nest, which hatched and young pigeons came out. The parents were ecstatic about their family and their happiness knew no bounds.

One day, the parents had gone out to get food for the young ones. When they were away, a hunter found these young ones. Since they were easy to catch, he caught them in his net.

When the parents returned back, they found that their young ones were trapped in the hunter’s net. The mother was distraught with grief. Unable to bear the separation from her young ones, she rushed into the net and got trapped herself.

The male pigeon who was witnessing everything,  started to lament on his misfortune. He is distraught that his dear wife and children for whose sake he was living were call caught in the net. As he didn’t see the point of his own life, he also rushed into the net & gets trapped. The hunter was over the moon at his prized catch and went home happily.

This story illustrates the impact of being excessively attached to one’s worldly possessions like wealth, materials etc. If one gets trapped into the attachment, they will face a similar fate to the pigeon couple.

य: प्राप्य मानुषं लोकं मुक्तिद्वारमपावृतम् ।
गृहेषु खगवत् सक्तस्तमारूढच्युतं विदु: ॥ ७४ ॥

ya prāpya mānua loka mukti-dvāram apāvtam
gheu khaga-vat saktastam ārūha-cyuta vidu

|| SB 11.7.74 ||

One should realize that this manushya janma is a gateway to mukti. This is an often repeated theme across all puranas and shastras. One should immerse himself in the objective of attaining mukti. If one gets trapped into the travails of samsara, he would be akin to a person who would have reached pinnacle only to trip & roll back down.


In this article, we are introduced to the premise of Avadhūta Gītā along with the lessons of first eight (8) teachers as described by Bhagwan Dattatreya. In the next article, the lessons from the next nine (9) teachers from Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa Skanda 11, Chapter 8 shall be described in detail.


  • Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa – Gita Press
  • Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – Kamala Subramaniam
  • Eight Upanishads with commentary of Sankaracharya – Swami Gambhirananda
  • The Principal Upanishads with Sri Madhvacharya Bhasya – Prof. K.T. Pandurangi
  • The Principal Upanishads – Prof. S. Radhakrishnan
  • Understanding Isavasya Upanishad – Prof. Harish C. Gaur
  • Isavasya Upanishad shlokas –
  • Śrīmad Bhāgavatam shlokas & translations –
  • Śrīmad Bhagavadgītā shlokas & translations – 


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