1. Matsya (the fish)- 1st stage of sadhana:
Once a king named Satyavrata was performing a sacred thread ceremony beside a river. While scooping water from the river, he accidentally caught a tiny fish in the palm of his hand. The fish begged him not to throw it back into the river where it could become a victim of larger fish. The king felt sorry for the small fish and took it home to his palace and placed it in a bowl of water. The next morning, the fish had outgrown the bowl. The king then transferred it into a pond. Soon, it outgrew even the pond. Later, the king shifted the fish into a lake. In no time, the fish even outgrew the largest lake in the kingdom and had to be transferred into the ocean. By this time, the king was so fascinated by the growth of the fish that he inferred that the fish had to be an incarnation of the divine. He prayed and asked it why it had taken this form. Matsya replied that in a week, a huge devastation would engulf the lower part of the universe. He told the king to call 7 great sages and to gather samples of all herbs, seeds and living creatures. He promised to send a large boat to save them. As Matsya predicted, huge clouds appeared from all directions and it rained heavily on land and sea. Soon, the ocean overflowed. Then Satyavrata and all his companions saw a large boat floating towards them. Matsya who was by now a golden fish of gigantic size appeared in the ocean. Using the enormous serpent, Vasuki, they tied the boat to Matsya and Matsya then began towing it across the stormy waves, awaiting the return of calm waters. During their journey, Matsya instructed the king, the sages and the rest of the party in the spiritual knowledge of the vedas. 1st Stage of Sadhana – Before a person starts his sadhana, he is swimming in the ocean of sensuality and ignorance, surrounded by tamas (darkness and unawareness) and very much involved and attached to worldly life. The small fish accidentally scooped up from the river represents a faint light attracting a person to begin spiritual journey and then once the person pursues his sadhana, he would be rescued from the great worldly ocean.
2. Kurma (Tortoise) – 2nd Stage of sadhana:
Once the Asuras (demons) were fighting with the Devas (demi-gods) and the Devas were losing. In desperation, they went to seek help. Brahma told them to go to the ocean of milk where Vishnu resides and to churn the ocean of milk until they obtain Amrit (divine nectar of immortality). They immediately went to the ocean and used the mountain, Mount Mandara as the churning rod and the king of serpents, Vasuki as the churning rod. Later the Devas realised that they could not churn the ocean on their own and they needed help. The Devas then decided to make peace with the Asuras and requested their help in the churning of the milk ocean. They tried to churn but the mountain sank into the ocean floor. Vishnu then took the form of a gigantic tortoise, Kurma and supported the mountain on his back. Using kurma as a base, they started to churn again. As the churning resumed, poison (hal hala) first emerged from the ocean. Lord Shiva took the poison and drank it. Parvati held his neck preventing him from swallowing the poison. This is why Shiva is called the blue-throated one. After that, great wealth like jewels, gold, the wish-fulfilling cow and Laxmi herself emerged from the ocean but this did not stop them from churning. Finally Amrit flowed out from the ocean and immediately the Asuras had desires to steal it. On seeing this, Vishnu took the form of a beautiful divine female called Mohini. The Asuras, not knowing that the Mohini is Vishnu himself but infactuated by her beatiful appearance prayed her to distribute amrit among them. Mohini condescended to do it but on condition that they would not question her actions, whatever they might be. The Asuras, not knowing who she was and totally under the spell of her charm, readily agreed to her condition. “Go bathe and assemble yourselves in one row with your cousins, the Devas in another row.” ordered Mohini. When they were all assembled in two separate rows, Mohini began serving the Nectar to the Devas first. The Asuras were uneasy but chose to keep quiet as they had promised not to question her actions. By the time the last of the Devas in their row had been served, Mohini had made sure that there was no Nectar left to be served to the Asuras. Nectar of immortality would only cause untold harm and destruction, if granted to aggressive and unscrupulous beings like the Asuras. Then to the amazement of Asuras, Lord Vishnu assumed his own form and the Asuras realised that it was Vishnu who had appeared before them as Mohini. They demanded of Vishnu their share of Nectar; but they got only a smile from him in return. Mounting GARUDA, Lord Vishnu flew away from them. The Asuras felt cheated and immediately started attacking the Devas. With God on their side and with the Nectar inside, the Devas had regained their original splendour and strength and they were able to conquer the Asuras, who had to flee before the might of Devas. On the advice of Lord BRAHMA, conveyed through Sage Narada, INDRA called off the hostilities and returned to his realms with the Devas. The Lord thus did revive and restore the lost glory of those who were righteous and who sought refuge in him; and subdue those who were aggressive an unrighteous and who didn’t repose faith in him. Lord VISHNU in this manner saved his True Devotees from dissolution so as to hand down divine knowledge and saved the VEDAS from destruction so as to ensure CREATION after the DISSOLUTION. 2nd Stage of Sadhana – when we begin our sadhana, we will experience instead of good thoughts, bad thoughts invading our mind. This is like the poison that came out of this ocean. In order to cleanse our mind, the filth and poison has to first flow out before the purity can be experienced. The Devas denote the good tendencies in us and the Asuras denote the negative tendencies. We should not stop our sadhana despite bad fortune striking us although our actions have been good. As the giant tortoise supported the Devas, the Lord will certainly support our sadhana. He is our foundation and He will never allow us to crumble and fall. We should continue our sadhana until we receive the amrit of self-realisation.