I dedicate this site to the memory of my stepdaughter, Heather, who was murdered on Thanksgiving 2017. I want to chronicle some of the events and spiritual insights that happened. It is my hope that this may help some other souls who stumble upon this site. Maybe some good can come off this after all (read more here).  ~ May 2018

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Reconciling materialism and idealism: Churning: how matter and consciousness form and relate


A few days ago (4/4/2019) I did an experiment, where I tried to have a dialogue with Hegel and James Joyce.  I am not sure what exactly happened, if it was just my subconscious or really some message from beyond, and I invite you to judge yourself.

A new yet ancient analogy from Hinduism: churning

However, what came out of it was their suggestion to look into the word “churning.”  The implication was that it would prove to be insightful with regard to a deep spiritual experience.  I have no idea where that suggestion came from, but the next day I did look it up (4/5/2019).  And immediately found one connection, which I will write about later (“churn” originally had the sense of grain, seed, kernel.  You can see the implications how this links to seeding the emptiness of grief).

And then I made another connection.  I remember one of the wonderful stories from Hinduism that has the concept of churning in it.  You see, Hinduism went through many stages.  In the early stages, going back some 5000 years, they formed the Vedas and Upanishads which are more like abstract descriptions of deep human insight, more accessible to sages.  About 2000 years ago they started to make it all accessible to the larger masses by weaving these deeper insights into these wonderful, now forgive me for the word, whimsical stories and myths that common folks could understand.  And so we got all these stories about the hundreds of Gods in Hinduism, which really express all but different aspects of the same secret.  These are stories that human beings can relate to, a new access point, and if you look behind the words you can indeed glimpse a deeper meaning.  The problem, as with all stories, is if you take them literally.

And I remembered one story that had churning in it as a key concept. I also remember, that back then, when I read this, I thought the whole thing was a little bit weird.  But now, it all makes sense.  

Churning: resonciling materialsm and idealism, consciousness and matter
This image shows the hole story of churning from Hinduism:  the opposites on both sides (devas and asuars) holding the serpent of time, moving the axis of space (Vishnu in the middle), thereby churning the great cosmic ocean of milk, until you see a small figure materializing on the bottom: Lakshima, the goddess of earthly wealth.  ( Source of image on the left: wikicommons)

And I got it.  I got why “churning” is indeed a central analogy.  It is the key to understanding one of the biggest mysteries that that science has struggled with:  how matter and consciousness relate.

Only their story was a metaphor.  It was made to convey a deep spiritual insight into the deepest inner workings of the universe to common man, cast in the language and mysteries of that ancient time.  But you have to learn to read between the lines.

Amazingly, it is all right there in that 2000 year old story, expressing an even older human insight gleamed thousands of years ago.  Only, they did not have our modern scientific language or knowledge about atoms and matter, so we got this understanding woven into  in this wonderful story.   Today, these same insights sound much different (science) and I am trying to build a bridge here.

An ancient story, an ancient insight:  the churning of the ocean of milk

So I invite you to read between the lines with me:

This is the ancient story in Hinduism called “Samudra manthan,” and it involves churning.   There are different variants of it, but basically it is the same.   In one version, it is about bringing out the nectar of immortality.    In another version, it is about Lakshima (or Lakshmi),  the Goddess of natural wealth -- the wealth that lays hidden  in the earth.   Both are really the same, but I will write it up with Lakshima, as it makes it more tangible for me.

Lakshima went into hiding, and all the wealth disappeared from the heavens.   The forces of heaven, the devas, went to Lord Vishnu for help.  Of the main three Gods of Hinduism, Vishnu is the one that engages with reality and tries to maintain order.

He told them that Lakshima was hiding in the great ocean of milk. The ocean of what? Milk?  Why milk?  What is special about milk?  Believe me, I wondered, too, when I first heard it.  But it all will make sense.  Maybe “milk” is a universal analogy, because today we also call our galaxy the Milky Way.

And the way to get the wealth, that is Lakshima, back out of that ocean of milk is to churn the milk.

So here you have churning.   In real life, milk gets churned to make butter.  Through the process of churning, the milk gets agitated: the fat molecules in the milk stick together and we end up with both butter  --a solid--  and skim milk or buttermilk -- a liquid.   And that’s why milk is so special:  a solid “magically” appears out of liquid! To the ancients that must have been a great mystery.

In the old days, you churned by using a churning staff, and a rope to move the staff back and forth.

So in our story, off to churn they go.  Now mind you, this is no small task:  we are talking about a comic ocean of milk here!  So you need a special churning staff and rope.  There are various names, but I will use these:

  • The churning staff was the axis of space (Mount Meda).  It is the axis that space rotates around.
  • The churning rope to pull the staff was the serpent of time ( Adi-Anata-Seta, meaning awakening-awake-slumbering).

Think about that for a moment. Here you have space and time as the tools for churning.

Now you need somebody to do the work, the agitation.  The devas, the spirits of heaven, try to churn, but nothing happens.  So Vishnu suggests they get their half-brothers, the dsuras, spirits hidden in the earth.  These are cosmic opposites, a most natural agitation. The devas and asuras despise each other, but both can lay claim to Lakshima, so they agree to work together.  

Now  you have  this cyclical motion, the devas pulling one way, the asuras the other, back and forth.   Agitation. In other words, two opposites are at work, setting time and space into motion, agitating the cosmic milk.

As the milk is churned, it slowly releases its treasures, becoming real and tangible, just like butter arises out of milk.  Finally Lakshima rises again (as well as the nectar of immortality).  She chooses to stay with Vishnu, and they forevermore float on the ocean of milk, on the back of the serpent of time, dreaming the universe into being in an endless cycle (and that is also another hint to be explored  later).

Recasting the ancient mystery and insight in modern terms.

This seems like a whimsical story, until you realize the deep meaning behind it.

Let’s review one more:  You have two opposites at work, churning, by moving the churning staff,which is  space, with the churning rope, which is time.  Thereby, the opposites agitate the milk, the cosmic soup, which then separates into liquid and solid.

So let me recast it.

  • Milk is an analogy for some cosmic soup, that contains both matter and consciousness dissolved TOGETHER.
  • Opposites agitate this cosmic soup.
  • Time and space bring it out.
  • And we end up with solids and liquids, that is, matter and consciousness. 

Isn’t that amazing?  Here is a 2000 year old parable to the secret of the universe.

As I stated above,  theses Hindu stories were invented as analogies to make the even more ancient wisdom of the Vedas, going back 5000 years, accessible to the common people.  So we end up with these wonderful stories that make it all graspable.

And as I also said above, you have to read between the lines.  Because, underneath it all, it is based on some deep mystical insight that was glimpsed by humans thousands of years ago, based on inner visions.  These are ancient insights into the deeper workings of the universe, about how matter and consciousness form and relate.

Back then, they phrased the mystery as milk being churned. Milk produces butter.  Must it not have seemed strange, even magical, how a solid simply appears to come out of a liquid?  Without any scientific knowledge behind, it must have been a mystery.    

Today, we understand how milk is an emulsion, and how butter can form.  But we have a new mystery, instead, that baffles us:   matter vs consciousness.   

That is the key issue of science today, some might call it a crisis, especially in physics.  Most physicists are afraid to go there: consciousness and matter. They only see the material part, yet they know consciousness is there, they see the problems lurking that come because of it (double slit experiment, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, "God does not play dice"), but they tried to safely find ways around it (the Copenhagen convention of quantum mechanics).  There is an old joke.  Just yell the word “consciousness”  in room full of quantum physicists, and watch them scramble for the fire exists.  Sorry, if you are a quantum physicist who happens to read this, I am not trying to insult you, but hope you get the point [smiling].

Yet consciousness is an integral part of it.  You can’t ignore it. It has to be included.

And this story here, at its core, is about a deep human insight, somehow glimpsed by ancient sages.  At its core is the same mystery we grapple with:  matter and consciousness.  Only,  they saw a resolution based on their inner vision.  And they cast it in the language of their days, of milk tuning into butter.  Milk is only the analogy, to make it understandable.

And we can learn from it.

A Copernican shift:  Not consciousness VS matter, but consciousness AND matter.

Because the story says:  it’s not consciousness VS matter, but consciousness AND matter.  They are not separate things to start out with, but one and the same.

That gives us a novel point of view:  consciousness and matter are originally the same, contained in some cosmic soup. 

( "Emulsion" is really the key modern day metaphor: the binding together of seemingly incompatible molecules. I am sure a scientist can state that better).

This new point of view can potentially reconcile a debate that has raged  for hundreds of years.  (Note that I say "potentially".) We always assumed that one of the two had to be primary, and that the other can somehow, magically be derived from it.  That is the mistake  And we ended up with two camps:

  • Materialism holds that matter is primary. And somehow, magically we can get consciousness from matter.  
  • Idealism holds how consciousness is primary. And somehow we end up magically with matter.  

Both are dead-ends because neither can derive the other.

Now, here is a new view that possibly reconciles materialism with idealism into something new. 

The key concept:  both matter and consciousness are enfolded together, similar to an emulsion.

Of course, this is only an analogy. There is a lot figured out, and it is the details that will be hard to get to.  But maybe, all that was missing was a change of viewpoint?   

Remember how Copernicus restated our beliefs about the solar system ( the earth moves around the sun, not the other way around).  Today we take that for granted, but at the time Copernicus was called a heretic (after his death).  And here, if we can see it, is the potential for another Copernican shift, this time resolving our views about consciousness and matter.

It’s just a new analogy, but maybe enough to make some smart scientist see a new connection that otherwise could not be glimpsed.

So I am talking to you, reader:  Can you see it?

Some more hints:  you can’t just have the good

But there is more to it the story, and I will give some hints:

I already gave one above, about  Vishnu floating on the serpent of time, dreaming the universe into being in an endless cycle.

But there is another great nugget in that story, which I have not mentioned yet:   when the opposite forces churned, their intention was to bring out the good.  Only the good.

But as it turned out, it also brought out the bad.  

When they were looking for the nectar immortality, it also brought out all the pestilence, disease and death in the world ( they call it “Halahala” ).  In the version looking for Lakshima, the goddess of earthly wealth, it also brought out her sister, the goddess of strife.  You see, wherever you have wealth, you automatically will get strife, jealousy, fighting for that wealth.

So you can’t just have the good.  You can only have the good with the bad. The trick is to reconcile the two.

And we, as humans, have to learn to deal with this, the tragic we experience in our lives.  In the story, it took the gods to resolves this (Shiva or Vishnu, that is, our godlike aspects), but it really in our own power to do so if we learn to do it. Hinduism states it, if you grasp it. Buddhism states, more openly.  As does Christianity, if you read between the lines.

And the same goes for science and materialism, our modern day religion:  as soon as we had the quantum, we had that pestilent consciousness that popped up everywhere and that we tried to wish away.  With idealism, we had that nasty leftover, matter, that obviously somehow always comes up.  In both views, one side is pure, the other bad.  

Here is a way to resolve it.

Who is ready to step up?

[I invite you to read the follow up article about how to add focus to this process ]

Namaste — I bow to you and the Divine in you.

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