The Churning of the Milky Ocean has a deep meaning. It actually represents one’s spiritual life in itself and divine achievement. All the divine qualities as well as the Amrit are anchored deep inside you.
Churning of the Milky Ocean is the story of the Gods versus the demons and their fight to gain immortality. Long time ago, the gods had been weakened when their most precious treasures were lost beneath the primordial ocean due to the great deluge. The most precious treasures included for example, amrita, the nectar of immortality, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune and Wealth, Uchhaishravas, the divine 7-headed horse, Kamadhenu, the first cow and mother of all other cows, Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree, Airavata, the elephant of Indra, Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world, Parijat, the divine tree, Sura, goddess and creator of alcohol, Apsarases, various divine nymphs and Dhanvantari.
The treasures were also accompanied by a deadly poison, Halahala. Two of these treasures – the elixir of immortality and Lakshmi – were particularly important; they would enable the gods to successfully conquer the demons who had taken over the universe.
To regain the treasures, they worked very hard and there were many problems they had to face. The demigods started praying to Narayan following the advice of Brahma, the creator of both the demigods and demons. Bhagvan advised them to befriend the demons and churn the Milky Ocean with the help of each other.
Vishnu told the gods and demons they should use Mount Mandara (Mandhara) as a churning stick, and the giant king of serpent, Vasuki, as a rope. He also managed to persuade the demons to hold the head of the snake, which was spitting furiously, while the gods held the tail end. The serpent was then coiled around the mountain. Each side alternately pulled the rope then allowed it to relax, causing the mountain to rotate in the water.
The demigods, representing the heart, and the demons, representing the mind, are brought together to churn the heart, the mind, the intellect and the ego. During this churning, you are being purified and cleansed, so that the divine qualities can awaken. However, what first awakens are all your negative qualities, because you have to face these qualities to be able to get rid of them. Then, the other divine qualities start awakening.
Bhagavan is always there, watching the entire process. In the form of Kurma Avatar, He is hiding down under the mountain. He is the invisible hand of the Divine that is always there supporting you. Very often, when you are going through karma in life, you think you are alone. But, the Lord is always there, hiding Himself, doing everything quietly, in a way not visible to your physical eyes. He is always supporting you and giving you strength. When you find your spiritual path, at the beginning, there will always be doubts in your mind. You have a spiritual feeling inside of you, yet your reason says, “No, no, no.” Doubt arises. Doubt is a terrible poison, and if you let it spread, it will kill you.
The poison Halahala also represents the regret of the past, the excitement of the present and the worry of the future. This poison has to be surrendered to the Lord, and that’s why Shiva drank it. He is the Destroyer, and the dearest to the Lord.
When doubt arises in your mind at the beginning of your spiritual path, you think, “Am I on the right path? Is he the right Guru? Will I truly follow him for my entire life? My goodness! Well, we’ll see how long we play this game. Let’s see what he can give me.” That’s what arises in the mind, and that’s the deadly poison. This poison is more dangerous than any of the other gifts that come out of the Milky Ocean. If you feed such thoughts inside your mind, it will slowly divert you from your path and you will miss your chance. If you let it poison your mind you will lose this chance, which comes very rarely in one’s life.
On the other hand, if you let go of that mind and hold strongly to your faith, and onto your path, what arises is Kamadhenu. Kamadhenu is a symbol of purity and represents cleansing. Purification starts to happen inside of you, and if you are fully devoted to your spiritual path, all the negativity which you have accumulated in previous lives and in this life starts to be cleansed.
The white horse which King Bali, King of the demons took symbolises determination, and the elephant taken by Indra represents true knowledge. When you have true knowledge many gifts will awaken and these are the gems which Maha Vishnu took. These gems represent the many precious gifts like mystic siddhis, clairvoyance, clairaudience and so on. If you ignore these gifts, and go deeper into your spiritual path, then the wish-fulfilling tree, Kalpataru, will awaken, which symbolises the connection between you and God. When the Kalpataru came out of the Milky Ocean nobody could have it. Neither the devas nor the asuras. What happened? It was lifted immediately to heaven by itself. Likewise, with this confidence and spiritual strength, automatically you will rise without any effort. Then, many other gifts will awaken on that path.
Then Varuni awakens, and she represents the spiritual pride. Once one has transcended spiritual pride, then Amrit awakens and that’s Self-Realisation. When Self-Realisation awakens, the demigods and the demons let go of everything. They say, “I have already reached there!” So when Self-Realisation happens you become a Jivan Mukta. But there are higher states of Realisation. So, aim for Narayana; He is the true nectar. If you just see the pot which contains the Amrit, it will not help you. Likewise, to be just a Jivan Mukta will not help; you have to become Godrealised. That’s what the demigods got, when they drank the Amrit.
Then, when you become God-realised, all the qualities and radiance of Krishna will shine through you in the same way. Here you see clearly that on the spiritual path one has to aim for the Almighty Lord. Although along the way one will receive many gifts, one should not give importance to these gifts. If you give these gifts importance, you will lose everything. You will stop your spiritual growth. That’s why many are still trapped in the cycle of birth and death. Because whenever some qualities awaken, pride comes with them. And pride will not lead you anywhere.
If you think, “I am somebody. I have a name. I have this and that.” This is where you lose everything. Therefore, when these qualities awaken, even when true knowledge is revealed to you, you have to be always watchful. Otherwise, the true knowledge can get contaminated, and somebody else can snatch it away. So you have to be vigilant.
But the merciful Lord says, “It doesn’t matter, even if you lose it again, I will not let the demonic qualities take over.” So once you have attained the Grace of the Lord, He will look after you. We just need to sincerely chant the Name of the Lord, sing His glory and meditate upon His glory.
READ FULL STORY IN SHREEMAD BHAGAVATAM
The Essence of Shreemad Bhagavatam – A Seven Day Journey to Love
Paramahamsa Vishwananda’s commentary gives an enlightening spiritual context to these stories of men and women, kings and beggars, avatars and demons, and connects them to the deeper issues and questions that concern us today: life purpose, responsibility, honesty, pride, ego, stewardship of the Earth, and more.
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