There can be only one Guru in life, the supreme preceptor who imparts divine knowledge. But upa-gurus or secondary preceptors may be many. At every turn of the road, they come and teach something valuable. The sage Ramakrish Paramhansa once told the story of the Avadhuta, a great yogi who had 24 upa-gurus as mentioned in the Bhagavata.
One day, as the yogi was walking across a meadow, he saw a wedding procession coming towards him with great pomp and loud beating of drums. Nearby, he saw a hunter deeply engrossed in aiming at his quarry — totally ittentive to the noisy procession, casting not even a passing look at it. Saluting the hunter, the yogi said, “When I sit in meditation, let my mind be concentrated upon the object of meditation, impervious to all distraction, as yours was on your quarry.”
An angler was fishing in a pond. The yoga approaching him asked the directions to a nearby place. But float of the fishing rod at that time was indicating that a fish was nibbling at the bait; so the man gave no reply, his entire attention riveted at his fishing rod. After hooking the fish, he turned round and asked, “What is it you have been saying, sir?” But the yogi saluted him and said, “You too are my guru. When I sit in contemplation of the deity of my choice, let me follow your example — that before finishing my devotions, I must not attend to anything else.”
A heron was slowly walking on a marsh to catch a fish. Behind, there was a fowler aiming an arrow at the heron, but the bird was totally unmindful of this fact. The yogi saluting the heron, said, “When I sit in meditation, let me follow your example and never turn back to see who is behind me.”
A kite with a fish in its beak was being followed by a host of crows and other kites, all pecking at it hard and trying to stch the fish away. In whatever direction it flew, its tormentors followed it cawing shrilly, till at last they made it let go of the fish in sheer vexation. Another kite instantly caught the fish and was in its turn followed by the squabbling lot. The first kite was left unmolested and sat calmly on a tree branch. Seeing the tranquil state of the bird, the yogi saluted it, saying, “From you I have learned that peace of mind is possible in this world if only adjuncts (upadhis) are given up, otherwise there is trouble at every step.”
The yogi found another guru in a bee. With long and hard labour, the bee had been storing up honey. But a man came from somewhere, broke open the hive and drank up the honey. The bee was not destined to enjoy the fruit of its great labour. On seeing this, the yogi saluted the bee, saying, “Lord! You are my guru as well. From you, I have learnt what the sure fate of accumulated riches is.”