Shiva Sutra 2.3 - Churning the Ocean of Consciousness
Swami Lakshmanjoo reveals to us that the essence of all mantras is “the supreme knowledge of oneness.” The word mantra in this sutra does not mean those chanted sequences of traditional Sanskrit words. Here mantra refers to the supreme God, that God consciousness that permeates the universe and is the point of the formation of the collection of all sounds. “Mantra, in the real sense, is that supreme I consciousness [SLJ].”
There is only the One. The One takes on the appearance of two as Lord Shiva (in Kashmir Shaivism) and the Mother, who is the symbolic essence of the creative manifesting feminine principle. The Mother – matrika shakti, womb, matrix, yoni – is one with mantra and mantra is one with all letters, which are sounds that generate the temporal holographic universe.
Shaivite texts often take the form of Shiva speaking to his consort Parvati, who asks him questions and his replies provide the reader with eternal wisdom. In this sutra Shiva explains to Parvati that those people who are hypocrites and do not sincerely perform their spiritual practices, “because of these misdeeds” he has “extracted the splendor from their mantras” and thus their mantras become useless [SLJ]. It is your consciousness alone that makes a mantra successful.
This Mother Shakti pervades the entire universe. In the body, the Mother takes the form of kundalini in the center of the Heart. The Heart is not physical, rather it is “a center of awareness found everywhere in the body [SLJ].”
The Mother goddess as kundalini is asleep in the body and in order to awaken her as our internal awareness, we must raise the frequency of our consciousness so that it is in harmony and resonating with hers. This process is described as “churning” and it is said, “the yogi has to churn his point of one-pointedness in the heart, without break, again and again. [SLJ].”
This sutra extensively quotes from the Tantrasadbhava on the experience of getting the kundalini to rise – and then declares “the energy of kundalini…puts obstacles in the way in the journey of final liberation [SLJ].” Those yogis who are satisfied with lights, visions, and limited yogic powers will not reach the supreme God consciousness that is the One. The God within seems to delight in deceiving Itself as us and placing distracting tempting trinkets on the way Home.
The Sanskrit texts build on one another, meaning texts that were written in later periods contain reflections of older texts. This idea of “churning” consciousness reminded me of the story of the gods churning the ocean, (which is in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas). This story has always fascinated me because I believe that these so-called ‘myths’ are not myths at all. They are the eternal wisdom of the previous cycles of time encoded as metaphor in histories.
If linear thinking doubt leaves you skeptical, wondering if these events actually took place, and attempting to date them, then in my view you miss the point. You will miss the great eternal wisdom embedded within these wonderful inspiring tales of grand heroes and timeless spiritual knowledge. The clock enslaves our consciousness. India wasn’t much bothered about time and dates before the English arrived.
The Churning of the Ocean of Milk, from the Ramayana, Canto XLV — in my words:
In a previous Satyayuga, meaning a golden era in the four cycles of time, the sons of Diti and Aditi wanted immortality. Reflecting on their dilemma, they decided to obtain an immortalizing drink from the ocean of milk by churning it.
The sons of Diti were demons and the sons of Aditi were gods. They were not strong enough to accomplish this herculean task alone. They needed each other. Using the giant snake Vasuki, the king of serpents, as a rope and the mountain Mandara as the churning rod, they began to churn the ocean of milk. For one thousand years the gods and demons together churned the ocean of milk
Now the serpent king Vasuki had many heads. Those heads began to bite the rocks on Mount Mandara, and their fangs were spewing copious venom. The churning for immortality was thus creating a deadly poison all over the surface of the ocean. This poison was called Halahala and it began to consume the entire universe – gods, demons, and humans.
Using telepathy the gods beseeched Lord Shiva for protection from the poison, because Shiva is the Lord of the principle of Destruction. Lord Shiva appeared before them – and soon thereafter Lord Vishnu, the principle of the Preservation of the universe.
Vishnu honored Shiva saying that because Shiva is the Jewel among gods, who takes the lead among the gods, then whatever has appeared first from the churning of the ocean is by rights the share that belongs to Shiva. Vishnu urged Shiva to accept the poison as tribute offered in precedence over others.
Hearing the praise of Vishnu and aware of the fear felt by the gods, Lord Shiva, Destroyer of the universe, swallowed up the treasure known as Halahala poison as though it were nectar. Shiva kept the poison held safely in his throat, which turned blue, and then departed for his own realm.
The gods and demons intent upon their immortality went on churning and Mount Mandala fell down into the Patala Loka, the lowest of all subterranean regions. The gods begged Lord Vishnu to lift up the mountain out of the darkest depths.
Vishnu, the Preserver is also the Ruler of the senses. To lift up the mountain he became the divine Tortoise and supporting the mountain on his back, helped the gods and demons to continue churning the ocean of milk.
Eventually their churning produced the nectar of immortality, among other things. The story does not end here, but for our purposes one might see the metaphors of consciousness in this primordial tale. The snake is the kundalini latent within the human body.
The ocean of milk is the ocean of consciousness, which must be churned by those who aspire to immortality in God consciousness. The human body is a microcosm of the universe, made up of both gods and demons, meaning positive and negative forces. The darkside will take over, poison and cover our own ocean of consciousness if we do not destroy it – thus we need Shiva as the power of Destruction.
Shiva destroys (self-created) ignorance of our Oneness with God. Shiva, as the principle of destruction, swallows the poison and keeps it in his throat until he requires it for the Dissolution of the current universe.
Our senses are said to be the gods. In Sanskrit the senses are termed indriya – pertaining to Indra, the king of the gods. Vishnu as the principle of Preservation becomes a tortoise, a creature that can withdraw into its shell - as we must withdraw our senses from the temporal hologram in order to realize our true identity.
Well, this is nothing I have read elsewhere. This is just my intuitive imagination running wild with a favorite story from the Sanskrit texts, connecting it to the verse in the Shiva Sutras – a bit of fun. You can draw your own conclusions. For me, the journey into Sanskrit is marvelous and unending!
Srimad Valmiki-Ramayana. With Sanskrit Text & English Translation. Part I, by scholarly translators for Gita Press, Gorakhpur, India, 2006.
After I wrote this, I googled the Churning of the Ocean story, I found a somewhat similar explanation: