In the past different sages took different spiritual paths to find the Truth. Of course, even though they followed different paths outwardly, the same human values, the same inner wisdom, dawned in all of them. Take the example sage Dattatreya. He was unique in that he did not have a human being as a spiritual master or guide. For him the whole universe was his master: the five elements and all the forces in nature. They guided him and taught him the crucial lessons of life. Here is one of these lessons.
One evening, deep in meditation, Dattatreya was walking along the sands near the ocean. His mind was so calm and quiet; he could perceive everything around him with clarity and insight. He watched the waves and saw how they reached the shore and spread out on the sand before silently going back into the ocean. He also noticed that the waves brought some small pieces of wood to the shore and left them back on the sand.
“How selfish is this ocean”, Dattatreya thought to himself. “It won’t keep even a few pieces of wood in its fold. Out they go onto the shore”
Just then, Dattatreya heard a voice! It was the ocean, speaking to him!
“Why do you think I am selfish, Dattatreya?” asked the ocean. “Just because I am not letting even a few pieces of wood to defile me? O wise man, can’t you see that if I let even the smallest speck of dirt to stay in me I will no longer be pure and clean? If I allow even the smallest pieces of dirt to stay in me more will surely follow them. It will soon become impossible for me to get rid of them. So I am always vigilant, and I make sure that in every moment of my life, I don’t keep anything impure inside me.”
In a flash Dattatreya realized his wrong thinking and understood the importance of ocean’s action.
“But of course!” he thought. “If I let even a single negative thought stay in my mind, I have lost my purity/. I will become weak, and then more and more negative thoughts will come and stay in my mind. So I must follow the example of the ocean. Always be vigilant and never let negative thoughts stay in me. Only then can I be pure. When my thoughts are pure my words and actions too will be pure. And only when all three are pure, will I always be content, happy, stable and unchanging like the ocean.”
Dattatreya was so thankful for this lesson that he fell on his knees and bowed down before the ocean, in gratitude for such a valuable lesson.