Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Turtle Beneath Your Yoga Mat

The devas and the asuras were cantankerous people. They were never satisfied and were known to constantly bicker amidst themselves, sometimes even leading to violent clashes. Sometimes the devas won, sometimes the asuras and there was never any stable equilibrium. At some point, due to years of such conflict, the devas and the asuras were tired of the fighting and born out of that was a hiatus to their battles. At that moment, the devas and the asuras noticed that there was a old man trying to say something to them. He had been with them all along but, caught up in their own fights, they had managed to ignore him. But now, due to the pause in fighting and the mental tiredness, they finally noticed him. This man, spotting the opportunity, announced that there is a possibility of the fighting to end and there is a possibility of lasting peace. Many of the devas and asuras were nonchalant about him but some of them took notice. Eventually, after much discussion, they asked the old man how. The old man told them that there is this wise person called Prajapati whom they should contact if they want to know more.

Devas and Asuras fighting!

Then, these perennial fighters paid a visit to Prajapati, a wise old man who almost seemed to have a hallow behind his head. He welcomed all these fellas with a warm smile and asked them the reason for their visit. The devas and asuras told him their lengthy history and finally told him that a old man advised them to consult him about discovering peace. Prajapati smiled and told them he cannot give them peace but he can guide them on what needs to be done if they are willing to do it for themselves. It seemed a fair enough deal for the devas and asuras and so they agreed. Prajapati then went on to tell them the location of a great secret ocean and revealed it to them that at the bottom of this ocean lies Amrit, the nectar of immortality. He further told them that the moment they discover amrit, their life will begin to be peaceful.

No sooner than Prajapati had revealed this secret, a few devas and asuras rushed to the ocean and jumped into it in an attempt to discover the amrit. Sadly, they were not aware of even the most simplest facts of navigating the ocean and, as a consequence, perished very soon. Prajapati felt sad and told the devas and asuras that they are an unintegrated lot and in order to do this job they all need to be integrated. In other words, they need to resolve together that they will all work together to do this. If not, he warned with a solemn face, that they may all go back to their fighting. The devas and the asuras went into a big huddle and started squabbling amidst themselves about the best course of action. Some of them wanted to ignore this old idiot and they actually started to leave. But, thankfully, most of them remained. Some out of curiosity, some out of the frustration with the old ways of living and some others inspired by the peace that Prajapti himself radiated. Finally, they came to a conclusion that they are going to do this and asked Prajapati to guide them.

Prajapti then began his instructions on the route to the discovery of amrit, or in others his instructions on Yoga. He went straight to the subject matter. He said you cannot go to the amrit but you can do something that will make the amrit come to you. To cause that, you need to churn the ocean with the help of the migthy Meru mountain and the snake Vasuki. Many of the devas and asuras were in splits. They concluded that this was the rant of a mad man and they left. Influenced by them, some more left. These fellas started to get on with their usual lives. But, there were still a few of them left. Prajapati, motivated by the sincerity of those who were present, continued his instructions. He went on to say, you need to get the help of, the ever ready to help, Lord Vishnu. He also warned them that there may be temptations and dangers along the way and only if all of you are motivated to get there, will you all get it. He concluded his instructions by saying that just one or two of you may not be able to get it. Its either all of you or none of you

The devas and the asuras were happy to get a blue print of their action plan but they were confused about the part that involved Lord Vishnu. They assumed that since Vasuki is an avatar of Adiseshan on whom Lord Vishnu sleeps, they need to ask Lord Vishnu's permission to use Vasuki as a rope. They were soon to find out if their assumption was right. So they chugged along to Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu and asked him and Adiseshan for their permission to use Vasuki. The ever ready to help lord, granted them their wish immediately. Within moments, the devas and the asuras who were at the task of churning the ocean started making their move.

In the meantime, those devas and asuras who thought Prajapati was a fool, went back to living in the way they know best - sensory enjoyments, suffering, brutal wars and more sensory enjoyments. Seeing all of this, some of the devas and asuras who had committed to churn the ocean were also tempted to go back to the old ways for the seduction of that was pretty strong. Confusion and self doubt reigned amidst most of them. Prajapati did his best to convince them that they were on the right path and that the path of violence is abhorrable. Indeed, he said, any path without the amrit is meaninglessl. After such a passionate speech from Prajapati, some of the confusion subsided. Most of them got back to the job of churning the ocean, though a few of them continued to be sceptical of the true intentions of Prajapati. When everything was set, devas and asuras wrapped Vasukis huge body around mount Meru and dropped the mountain onto the ocean. Unfortunately, the devas and asuras, in their lust for amrit, failed to realize that something very strong and stable is needed below to hold the mountain. Without such a stable support beneath to hold the process, the mountain started to sink. Despite the best and valiant efforts of many of them, the mountain continued to sink. A pall of gloom descended on the group of churners. They again rushed to Prajapti.

They related the story to Prajapati and Prajapati angrily told them that they had forgotten about his advice on Lord Vishnu. They complained that they did ask Lord Vishnu for permission. Prajapati smiled and asked them, rheetorically, if that is enough. He said, Lord Vishnu himself is needed to be a part of this if the amrit is to be discovered. Without the stability and strength of Lord Vishnu to guide you during the entire process, and his protection during the inevitable emergencies, Prajapati said, the amrit can never be discovered. In that moment of urgency, all the devas and the asuras assembled there and listened to Prajapati in rapt attention. He further went on to say that only if all of them get together and plead in an uniform voice will Lord Vishnu come and assist them. He said Lord Vishnu is ever ready to arrive but their plea for help has to reach him. He is exactly such a distance away that if everyone calls for him in an uniform voice, he will hear their voice. Even if one person does not join the chorus, the request will not be strong enough. But, the moment he hears, he will arrive instantaneously. Hearing this, the devas and the asuras grouped together and tried to call Vishnu in one uniform voice. After many failed attempts, motivational speeches from a few asuras and devas themselves, everyone got motivated to give this a one last serious try. At that point, their differences vanished and they all united in their effort. Seeing the sincere efforts of these folks, the guys who had deserted these sincere seekers earlier under various pretexts returned to join the prayer. Just as Prajapti had ordered, all of them united in their cause. Finally, in one uniform attempt they prayed and the prayer reached Lord Vishnus ears.

Vishnu opened his eyes and saw mount Meru sinking and noticed that all devas and asuras were praying to him for succor. Instantaneously, the lord of infinite grace, the lord who responds instantaneously to whole hearted prayers took the form of a huge turtle (kurma avatar), went under the ocean and held the mountain on its supremely sturdy shell. Then gradually he lifted the mountain to an appropriate height and kept it there steadily so that the devas and asuras may churn the ocean. All of them now rejoiced. Having now witnessed the lord in action, all of them were convinced that Prajapati was indeed speaking the truth all along. They were all convinced that there is peace to be found at the end of this process. At the very least, they were all convinced that this is a journey worth taking and that their past ways of living missed something phenomenal. They all also realized that there is still work to be done. Then they went about churning the ocean.

Churning of the ocean!

For a reasonable amount of time, nothing happened. Initially, their churning was very ineffective and it was very difficult. It requird every bit of their energies. Prajapati was of great assistance here in training them. Slowly, they learnt the correct technique and the churning became more and more efficient. Gradually things started to change. Many interesting items started to come out of the ocean. Some of the devas and asuras were satisfied with these things and decided to call it quits. But, the sincerity of the others, memory of past suffering in their wars and Prajapati's relentless insistence on continuing convinced them to get back to the job. For example, there was the Aswini brothers of Ayurveda who gave wonderful advice on good health. After their arrival, all the devas and asuras attained prime health and their churning became much better. Then there was the most precious gem called Kausthubh. The famed cow Kamadhenu that blesses with milk continuously also came out of the ocean. Drinking that milk gave all of them all the enthusiasm that they needed to finish this job. Having obtained all this and many such wonderful gifts in the process, the devas and asuras were well primed to reach their goal. But, the temptations were too high for some of them and the churning started to loose steam. Prajapati stepped in and gave more advice passionately. Thanks to his efforts and the sincerity of some of them, the churning was restarted. But, some ground was lost in the meantime and that had to be recovered. But, the devas and asuras stepped up and the churning went on full steam.

For a while then nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. All was still. The devas and asuras started anticipating something tremendous. But, instead there was a foul smell in the air. Some of them started feeling dizzy. The color of the ocean changed and started to take on a black tinge. Everyone became a tad afraid. But, now that they had come so far, they continued. And suddenly, the stench became unbearable and the most deadliest poison ever, Halahala, started to ooze out of the ocean at great speed. There was no where to hide. All the devas and asuras were stunned. Even Prajapati was speechless. None of the scriptures spoke about it, though some of them spoke about mysterious dangers. All of them were scared to death. At this point, all their expectations dissolved. All their hopes of something great vanished. They all huddled together as one mass and were watching the scene unfold intensely. The stream of poison now became higher and higher and just as it was about to fall over them and destroy them forever, there appeared the supreme lord Shiva out of nowhere and in one fell scoop, he swallowed all of the poison. Then, at the same speed with which he came, he disappeared and that too without a trace. In seconds, the foul stench was gone and the ocean was back to its beautiful shade of blue. The devas and asuras were too shaken to respond but were happy that they were saved. They couldnt quite understand. They asked Prajapati for an explanation. He said only now did he himself understand and also said that is difficult for him to explain at this point. More importantly, he said, all the dangers are now over and the churning has to be complete.

Shiva drinking Halahala!

At this point, having spent such tough times together, and having worked together, the devas and asuras were unified into one single personality. They were all totally integrated into one and there were no two. They then churned the ocean as a single individual and with total grace and harmony. They then all realized that churning was absolutely effortless. What was a major effort once, was now absolutely effortless. The moment they all realized this, mount Meru disappeared. So did Vasuki. Then, Lord Vishnu, in the form of a turtle, came out of the ocean with a beautiful vessel in their hand holding the Amrit. Then, Lord Vishnu distributed the amrit to all of them. All the devas and asuras surrendered completely at his lotus feet. The Lord then took all of them into his fold and blessed them so that they will all be eternally in peace and never at war with each other.

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