The Symbolism Of Elephants In Buddhism
In Buddhism, the elephant is seen as an earthly manifestation of the qualities embodied in the Buddha himself. Even at his inception, Buddha was linked to the elephant. When his mother became pregnant, she dreamt of a pure, white elephant offering a white lotus from his trunk, circling around her three times and entering her womb with his tusk. She knew immediately upon waking that she had experienced a divine omen. This prophecy helped solidify the symbolism of elephants in Buddhism.
A classic symbol of strength, patience, loyalty and wisdom, the elephant epitomizes the boundless powers of the Buddha. Here are a few of the most honorable characteristics that the mighty elephant has come to symbolize.
Strength & Might
In Buddhism, the elephant is a symbol of mental strength. At the beginning of one's path toward enlightenment, the uncontrolled mind is represented as a wild, gray elephant, erratically demolishing everything in its path. After the dharmic practice of “taming” one's mind, the controlled, strengthened mind is symbolized by a white elephant, mighty and powerful, who can be directed with purpose to destroy all obstacles in its way.
By taming the mind, we strengthen it, channeling its thoughts into resolution. When you begin an important endeavor, try invoking the elephant with the Ganesha Mudra. God of Knowledge and Destroyer of Obstacles, Ganesha bears the head of an elephant and can serve as a reminder to crush the obstructive thoughts that keep you from realizing your true potential.
Patience & Tranquility
Just as the violent gray elephant stampedes anything barricading its path, an uncontrolled mind can go haywire, leading to self-destruction. The white elephant, on the other hand, is a symbolic representation of a tranquil and obedient mind, which can be channeled by will. As strong as the white elephant is in body, it’s his patient mind and gentle demeanor that make him a sacred part of the Buddhist faith.
Loyalty, Responsibility & Perceptivity
The symbolism of elephants in Buddhism offers a compelling role model for the spiritual lifestyle. These magnificent creatures are unwaveringly obedient to their companions, loyal and loving to their family, calm in threatening circumstances, resolved when set on a path, and they possess massive ears made for listening and analyzing. It’s no wonder the Buddha saw such meaning in the elephant and chose this miraculous beast as the vital force to be embodied by all who seek enlightenment.
Wisdom & Knowledge
In Buddhism, elephants are known for their superior traits of power and wisdom. When placed on top of a pillar, an elephant is said to evoke the Light of Knowledge, and is thus depicted in a great deal of Buddhist architecture. Many Buddhist icons feature the Bodhisattva riding an elephant as a display of the power of knowledge, which can awaken us to the consciousness of our own destiny.
Wisdom is power. It often comes with age or experience, but in the case of the elephant, it comes by listening. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is to observe our thoughts and feelings without chasing them or trying to lead them toward self-created outcomes. The wise elephant knows better than to stampede unless danger is real.
Make An Effortless Impact
Simply by walking, an elephant’s force can be felt reverberating into the earth. Its effortless echo reminds us that sometimes, all we have to do is be patient. We’re often making waves, simply by standing still.
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