Path to Enlightenment Thangka is handpainted on cotton canvas which illustrates the different stages of Samatha meditation, showing a monk chasing and finally capturing an elephant.
The elephant, representing the mind, is led by a monkey representing the distractions.
Gradually both the monkey and the elephant change color, which is a metaphor for the ability of the practitioner through effort (the fire) to purify the lethargic tendencies of the mind.
Further along, the monk starts leading the elephant and the monkey follows the elephant rather than leading it. This represents the mind of becoming pacified.
The finals stages show the elephant resting with the monk. A rainbow streams out of the monk’s heart. This symbolizes perfect equanimity, and the practitioner is ready to cross over to mental bliss. The monk rides the elephant on the rainbow path towards perfection and returns bearing the sword of Wisdom.
Shamatha, which means calm, is the practice of meditation to develop the ability to focus the mind in single-pointed concentration.
This is practiced as a pre-requisite for mindfulness or insight meditations. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this practices is described as a nine-stage progression beautifully depicted in this thangka showing a monk chasing and finally capturing an elephant.
The way to complete control of one’s mind, each blend represents one of the six powers hearing, contemplation, mindfulness, alertness, and familiarity.
- The Elephant represents consciousness.
- The monkey represents mental agitation(emotional disturbances).
- The Rabbit is representing the fluctuations of the mind.
- The Stick is to control the elephant i.e alertness.
- The rope in the monk’s hand i.e. mindfulness.
The five objects or causes of mental agitation
- The Silk Scarf-touch
- Water in a conch-scent
- A mirror-form
The fires represent the struggle for control which reduces through familiarity. After, the final stage, bliss, and ecstasy are reached using the realization of the wisdom of emptiness to banish(drive away) ignorance.