The Churning of the Milk Ocean

Churning of the Milk Ocean 2

At Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok a large statue shows the story of The Churning of the Milk Ocean.

In this Hindu legend several treasures including Amrita, the nectar of immortality, had been lost beneath the sea. These prizes were so valuable that one day the gods and devils agreed to put aside their differences and work together to recover what had been lost.

First they wrapped Vasuki, king of the serpents, around a mountain, Mount Mandara. Then they alternately pulled the snake’s head and tail back and forth in a giant tug of war, spinning the mountain as they did so, and churning the Milk Ocean.

For a thousand years they spun the mountain round and round, churning the sea, until one day it gave up its contents.

The first item to be released was a lethal poison known as Halahal. This poison was so powerful that it might have destroyed the whole of creation, but the god Shiva stepped forward and swallowed it, and the universe was saved.

Next came all the other treasures that had lain hidden, including:

  • Sharanga, a powerful bow
  • Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world
  • Parijat, the celestial wishing tree with blossoms that never wilt or fade
  • Three types of supernatural animal, including Surabhi, the cow of plenty
  • Three goddesses, including Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and wealth, and finally
  • Amrita, the nectar of immortality, carried by Dhanvantari, the doctor of the gods.

This story can be seen as a metaphor for the times that we are living through.

With so much change happening, it is often easy to feel as if we are being pulled back and forth by gods and demons (and it is not always easy to tell which is which).

The first hidden ‘treasure’ to appear from our time of churning certainly seems to have the potential to destroy the whole of creation. For some people this is the ongoing banking crisis and near-collapse of the financial system, with its consequent damage to our economies and standards of living. For others Halahal is the potential devastation that extreme climate change and destruction of the natural world are forecast to bring to life on Earth.

Whatever your view, this crisis must also contain opportunities. And with a crisis so large, the opportunities must also be huge.

The gods and demons in this story represent inner aspects of our own psyches. Their churning of our inner ocean has the potential to bring forth health, wealth, and other wonders.

The best way I know to obtain whichever treasure matters most to you is to follow the path of Inner Leadership: centre and ground, make sense of your situation, identify the opportunity that is best for you (most aligned with your purpose and values), turn it into an inspiring vision, and then move to action using the tools of Chapter 7 and Outer Leadership.


With thanks to Sally Birch for sending the photo and Ramkumar Nagabushanam for alerting me to the story.

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