Symbolism in the Churning of the Ocean of Milk


Dear Sir/madam,

Could you explain the meaning of the "Samudra manthan or the churning of the ocean of milk" described in Indian scripture? Since it is related to snake, is it related to the awakening of kundalini? Also, finally amrit is obtained;Does this denote the secretion of nectar? Then what does swallowing of the poison by lord shiv depict? Also it states that vishnu took kurma avtar & was at the base of the mountain while Brahma was at its top;ocean was churned by devas & asuras. what do all these things mean?

—A, India


Hello A,

Stories like this are rich in symbolism. Yes, the snake is kundalini, and the amrita is the nectar-like divine taste one experiences in high states of consciousness, when the kundalini has been raised.

The detailed symbolism, however, is really not useful to us spiritually. It merely titillates the intellect, but doesn’t take us anywhere. The essence of the story is more important than the details: i.e., spiritual growth requires much effort on our part, and God will help us. Both our positive (deva) and negative (asura) qualities will participate, although with different motivations. Above all, without God’s help (as symbolized by 3 aspects of the Divine Mother: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva), we cannot succeed.

A note on Lord Shiva: Being the destroyer/neutralizer aspect of the Mother, he is the natural one to have swallowed the poison (i.e., God will take care of our “stuff” that comes up in the process of spiritual growth).

I hope this helps. May you churn your inner ocean of milk and taste the bliss of Spirit. Do your work, and God will help you.