Throughout history, we’ve seen our own capacity to get lost in darkness and create suffering for ourselves, and others.
Whether it’s because of fear, greed, or straight-up ignorance, we lose our connection to the divine. And, if we’re not careful, we can even manage to use our spiritual practices to perpetuate this fear and ignorance.
So as an act of pure grace, time and again, a very special and powerful being takes birth, in human form, to save humanity from itself.
This being is both a teacher and a living embodiment of the sacred, worthy of our reverence and worship.
Today, on Mārgaśirśa Pūrṇimā, we get to celebrate the birth of TWO of those beings!
We’re guessing you already know who the first one is. So let’s start by wishing you all a very, very, joyful Christmas!
And for the second – the full moon of this month is a special day called Datta Jayantī: the birth of Lord Dattātreya.
If you’re just encountering him for the first time, he’s a somewhat unusual yet powerful representation of the sacred. Similar to Christ, Lord Dattātreya came into being through divine means, and lived his life on Earth simultaneously as a teacher and an incarnation of God.
He embodies the unity of various religious sects and communities, as well as a more universal and gentle path. His teachings are focused on alignment with dharma, satya (truth), and ṛta, natural law and cycles. There are also several scriptures attributed to him.
Now, in the case of both Christ and Lord Dattā, we don’t know how much of their life story is actual, historical fact. (Did Lord Dattātreya ACTUALLY have three heads and six arms? Did Christ ACTUALLY walk on water?)
But here’s a somewhat radical proposition: from the perspective of a spiritual seeker, it really doesn’t matter.
For one, we won’t find a conclusive answer either way, so it’s maybe not the best use of our limited life energy. Secondly, from the vantage point of the tradition, these mythologies are intended to be symbols and allegories for self and the spiritual journey.
So taking these myths super-literally isn’t particularly helpful, because as the mind gets lost in concepts, it also loses touch with its capacity for devotion and self-reflection.
Mythology is a huge part of the tradition and of how the wisdom has been imparted for thousands of years. As you’ve probably already noticed, it’s a big part of what we share with you here.
To make the best use of it, we invite you to start engaging with it not from a place of “do I believe that this is literally true“, but rather, as you would with, say, a fairy tale, “how does this apply to me and my life? What can I learn about myself and the world from this?“
So with that, let’s acknowledge the fact that today, for the first time in over 40 years we get to celebrate the birth of both sacred beings together! Our next chance will be in 2034, when the full moon falls on Christmas again.
Practice: Honor Lord Dattātreya
A traditional practice for this day is to offer prayers and gratitude to Lord Dattātreya for blessing all creation through His teaching and presence. It’s also a time to remember that all wisdom traditions and teachers are paths to ONE divine source, and to show respect for them.
If you like, you can perform pūjā, ritual worship, to him or offer silent prayers in your heart. It’s also an auspicious day for any form of spiritual practice, and also new beginnings.
One very traditional way to honor a divine being is to meditate and reflect on their form. Take a moment now to study the image above.
Lord Dattātreya’s three heads represent the creator deity Brahmā, the sustainer/protector deity Viṣṇu, and the destroyer/liberator deity Śiva. This symbolizes not just a more cosmic version of the divine presence, but shows the fundamental unity of the various deity traditions – that ultimately there is only one divine presence with different faces/ attributes. In his six hands, he’s got traditional objects and weapons associated with the three primary deities.
As a human teacher, he also represents the power of the Guru – the one who gives the wisdom and love to lead you to liberation. He is described by some as ādi-guru – the cosmic guru – from whom all gurus receive their power.
The cow represents life-giving power and abundance, as well as sweetness, strength, and comfort. Cows are cherished and revered as mothers, which makes sense considering that we drink their breast milk. And like moms, what they give is sweet and comforting – butter, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream…
And, cattle have a lot of strength, and can be used for farming and other labor. Even the dung of a cow can be used as fuel, to provide warmth and comfort. So Lord Dattā’s association with the cow is that the divine is also a source of sweetness, nourishment, and comfort.
The four dogs represent the four ages of time, as well as the four Vedas, which are the scriptural basis for the ancient tradition that is the root of what we currently practice. The dogs also represent loyalty and simplicity – that this path and its teachings are loyal to the divine.
For extra credit (since it’s Christmas), and ideally if you have a pre-existing relationship with Christ or the Virgin Mary, you can also offer your prayers and gratitude to them, and then take some time to study or meditate on their form.