‘Sagar Manthan’ – Unknown author, 1820 – Wikimedia Commons
We cannot be fully established in our true nature as peace and happiness without integrating all our latent tendencies, all these reflexive and self-protective habits born out of our belief in separation. These would prevent the advent of bliss. This is the meaning behind this ancient myth of India called the ‘churning of the ocean of milk’ (‘Samudra Manthan’ in Sanskrit), which is narrated in many religious texts.
In brief, as the Gods were bored, they decided to gather with some evil beings and unite their strength to churn the ocean of milk with the help of a sacred mountain as the rod, and Shiva’s serpent king as the rope. By doing so, the snake spitted out a deadly poison — called ‘Halāhala’ or ‘kālakūṭa’, literally: ‘black mass’ or ‘time puzzle’ — which Shiva, in its compassionate heart and presence, swallowed to prevent the destruction of the world. The path was cleared for the formation of many precious, invaluable gems, including the ‘amrita’, or ‘soma’, which is God’s drink, the elixir of happiness, or consciousness’ butter.
Myths have been created as an emanation of these timeless inner truths and work of forces at play inside our mind. So these stories are not mysterious or remote, but are the expressions of some of the intimate happenings that are at the core of our human experience. For what else is there, ultimately, than mind, or presence? Everything is contained in our experience, the whole human endeavour, the suffering, and the infinite possibilities of mind, as it is churned.
The churning of the ocean represents the contemplation of our experience, of Mind, including all the evil beings or incarnations born out of our belief in separation, all the habitual self-protective thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. These need to be integrated, for their intrinsic nature is hidden just behind, intimately woven with presence, and ultimately revealed as presence itself. When they are truly seen for what they are and surrendered, we are free to feel as a result the full bliss and peace of our own being.
The gods are cooperating with the demons, but not on an equal footing for the demons are not meant to have the elixir. Thoughts and feelings are not aware, are not the real presence here, and are not the ones eligible for peace and happiness. The elixir is for god only, for the quiet, aware presence inside us, that was prevented to enjoy the bliss of its own presence by the selfish and illusory surging of the demons, the conflicting acts of egoistic thoughts and feelings.
God, the contemplator, must swallow the contemplated, for the seer is here the seen. Consciousness will release the gems of its presence as it eats the poison of separation — the repetitive thoughts, feelings, hurts, etc. They have to be integrated and seen in the light of awareness — the ‘eye of love’ as Rupert Spira put it — so that they can be eaten, digested, and transformed into consciousness itself and its gems of love, intelligence and beauty. Nothing comes that is completely new, but what was previously felt as a hindrance, an illusion, a ‘maya’, is now revealed to be made out of God’s being, and expressed as Her own precious gems.
That is why, in William Blake’s words, “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.” These are truly God’s food, not something to be rid of, or pushed away, but something to be lovingly integrated, seen as one with the very being and substance of consciousness. The demons are not meant to drink the ‘soma’, or elixir. Only god is. For thoughts and feelings can never be aware. Only awareness is. So this churning of the ocean of consciousness, this contemplating of our experience, is bliss in action, revealing its inbuilt goodness. What was a hindrance is a gift. Life is revealed as the sacred playing field of god.
‘Samudra Manthan’ – Raja ravi varma, 19th CE – Wikimedia
As a result of this ‘churning’, mind expands, peace unfolds, meaning comes, love is revealed, and our thoughts and feelings of separation are seen for what they truly are: waves and currents that disappear in and as the ocean, engulfed by its bountiful presence. If by lack of attention or understanding, we have made these expressions into illusory, separate beings, the churning of the ocean of consciousness will help re-integrating these temporary waves of beliefs into their own forgotten identity, namely pure infinite consciousness in its most refined condition. In other words, the toad is made princess.
It reminds me of the story of the mariage between Shiva and Parvati. As the god left his hometown Varanasi to reach his Shakti’s abode in the Himalaya, he came with a whole procession of ugly figures and gremlins who were eventually turned into beautiful beings as they reached the heights of the mountains — of consciousness. So don’t let the demons open the procession of your life, they will ruin your marriage with truth. Be yourself the first, the groom, the bride. Let consciousness itself guide the procession. Be the loving watcher of all your shameful friends or expressions of separation.
For you will be paid tenfold by it. Being the leader of the procession is like the churning of the ocean, the contemplating of our experience, and ultimately the revelation of the gems of truth. This is done by eating the poison, which is nothing else but the crowning of experience under the guidance of the priest of truth or consciousness, the only contemplator there truly is, but which the demons of erroneous beliefs had pushed in the shadow. Shiva has turned blue because he swallowed the poison of separation which would have prevented his union with Shakti. Together, they — eternity and the productions of time — gave birth to two beautiful sons as gems: Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and Kartikeya, the slayer of demons.
The original myth presents a whole array of gems whose dumbfounding symbolic power and beauty speaks for itself: Along with various valuable gems, a white horse, many divine nymphs, a white elephant, a divine flowering tree, the moon, a seven-headed horse, a wish-granting cow, a physician, a powerful bow, and a boon-granting tree were released during the churning of the ocean. So don’t miss any of it. Contemplate yourself, the whole of it. Churn your ocean. Your demons are your allies. And drink the elixir that will take care of all that is dead and inert in you. This is the source of eternal life. Of the happy life. Of a life lived with meaning and beauty. This is where the nectar of true happiness lies.
Text by Alain Joly
Second painting by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906)
– ‘Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India’ – by Roberto Calasso – (Vintage; Illustrated edition)
– ‘Samudra Manthan’ or ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ (Wikipedia)
– Raja Ravi Varma (Wikipedia)
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2 thoughts on “Churning the Ocean”
Alain . thank you for this divinely lucid explanation
Thank you Ananda! 🙏