The below spiritual illustration called a Thangka represents the path of meditation that will deliver an aspirant to enlightenment according to Tibetan Buddhism. Consisting of nine progressive steps, the imagery is symbolic of the various stages of mental development an aspirant will pass through on the quest to total realization.
The initial stage represents study and practice.
The primary goal of the aspirant is to first learn to tame the mind of distractions and to focus the mind on enlightenment. This is beautifully depicted with the simple representation of three traveling companions. The scattering monkey (distraction) leads a black elephant (the untrained mind) with the aspirant of enlightenment chasing behind with a lasso in his hands.
As the aspirant continuously chases his companions he must learn to concentrate. As his concentration develops the monkey begins to only gently lead the elephant, as the scattering becomes a brisk walk, and the aspirant gaining ground on his escaping partners in the journey.
As the path continues the aspirant’s concentration develops to the point that he is able to lasso the elephant, holding firmly onto the mind, which causes the mind to turn it’s attention away from the monkey (distraction). Representative of the becoming tamable, the elephant begins to turn a pure white color. This color advances further as the aspirant creates ongoing progress of fixing the mind in concentration. Eventually the aspirant leads the way, at first forcibly and then more gently as the elephant adapts.
Finally with the monkey in a submissive state, the aspirant and the elephant walk side by side to a cave for the remaining steps of attaining full realization. The aspirant now in meditative absorption the monkey leaves the elephant and the elephant becomes purely white. The mind is now able to remain in absorption on the object of concentration, enlightenment particularly. The path now over and and elephant at rest, the meditating aspirating emanates a rainbow-like ray. Attaining the object of meditation, the aspirant rides the elephant across the rainbow in mental bliss. Victorious and wielding a flaming a sword of perfect insight, the exalted aspirant rides in perfection back along the rainbow.