30 Jan The ocean of milk
Greetings from India!
This is the time of the year when I go to India and resource myself and take my exploration of yoga a little deeper. There is a vast ocean of yogic knowledge that is inexhaustible and available to us and I love swimming in it. I will be here for another seven weeks as I am taking this time two different trainings.
Beginner’s yoga practitioners are sometimes surprised by the power of yoga. As they sink deep in their body, emotions start to ascend. If that happens this is a gift that is offered to us so we can release old emotions that have been stored within us for a long time.
Being currently in India, this reminds me of an ancient yogic text that illustrates and explains well this process. It is called the ocean of milk. It goes like this:
Indra is the Supreme Being in Heaven, and unfortunately he neglected Prakriti, who is Mother Earth; she was so incensed by his behavior, that she cursed him and said that he would lose his kingdom. Much time passed, in which Indra endured many tortuous emotions, and after he was cursed, he became depressed and sank into despair; he then decided to plead for the counsel of the absolute God, the one and only Brahma.
After careful consideration of Indra’s story, Brahma suggested that he should seek the help of the Devas, (demi-Gods,) and also that of the Asuras, (the demons,) to assist him to retrieve the Amrit, (which is the nectar of immortal life.) This would aid him to become immortal and thereby regain his kingdom. The difficulty that he faced was that the vessel of Amrit was unfortunately at the bottom of the primeval ocean, (the ‘ocean of milk.’)
After much consideration, Indra decided to ask for the assistance of the Devas, but extreme caution was necessary, as they did not wish for the Asuras to retrieve the Amrit. Eventually, the Devas decided to approach the demons, (although they were very complicated creatures,) for their assistance. The outcome was that they all decided to churn the ocean of milk together.
Together, they devised a plan to use Mount Meru as a churning stick, and the great serpent Vasuki as a rope; Vishnu, (one of the main Vedic Gods,) was to assume the form of a kurma, (tortoise,) to help prevent Mount Meru from sinking.
As the demons and Demi-Gods were churning the ocean, a dense and acidic poison emanated from its depths, and fogged the entire universe. The fog was so corrosive that even the demons could not continue to churn, and the operation was halted. Fortunately, Shiva, (the Transformer, or Destroyer,) came to their aid, (as one would expect 😉 and by using his yogic power, he swallowed the poison, which has been in his throat ever since. This is why we often see Shiva with a snake coiled around his throat.
By the time the destructive poison had dissipated, many gifts had begun to emerge from the ocean; these were Kamadhenu, (the wish-fulfilling cow,) Surya, (the sun,) and Chandra, (the moon.) Alongside them was Sura, (the Goddess of wine,) Lakshmi, (the Goddess of riches,) Airavata, (the white elephant,) Uchchaisrava, (the white horse), Dhanvantari, (the physician of Gods which gave birth to Ayurveda,) Kalpavriksha, (the wish-fulfilling divine tree), a Concha (a pure, virtuous shell) and finally the coveted Amrit.
These jewels were divided between the demons and the Demi-Gods, all apart from the Amrit of course; and this infuriated the demons and a fight ensued. Eventually the Devas won the battle, with the aid of Vishnu, and this represents the victory of good over evil.
To correlate this legend to our lives today, Mount Meru represents our spine which is the central axis of the body (meru-danda) while the serpent, Vasuki, represents our desires. The Devas represent our senses and the Asuras our negative thoughts and impulses. The poison represents the suffering and pain we undergo at the beginning of our spiritual path. The ocean of milk is the human consciousness. The tortoise is the practice of sensory withdrawal while Shiva represents the destroyer of illusions. The various jewels that ascended during the churning of the ocean of milk are the psychic or spiritual powers (siddhis) and Dhanvantari stands for health.
Through our spiritual and yogic practices, emotions start to emerge, but what is important to remember is just as we twist and bend forwards and backwards, so do we stir up old emotions; by continuing with our yogic practices, we will finally be able to release all these old and negative emotions. We will eventually see the fruits of our practices, (the ‘jewels’ from the ocean,) when we manage to free ourselves from our outmoded behavior and unwanted energy that has dogged us in the past.
In peace and light,