The Symbolism Of Elephants In The East
You don’t have to have a Ph.D in eastern religion to know that elephants play a recurring theme in many stories. It’s not hard to understand why: their large presence makes an impression on even the most callous of people. But the elephant’s symbolism extends deeper than just the surface level; in fact, it helped shape the east we know it today.
The Real Meaning
Both Hindus and Buddhists revere the elephant, and in fact use its likeness in many of their representations of gods. What most people get wrong is that they think Buddhists, and especially Hindus, worship the elephant directly…but nothing could be farther from the truth.
It isn’t the animal that they’re worshiping so much as the qualities they wish to emulate.
Elephants are a powerful role model for the spiritual lifestyle; they’re obedient to their leader, calm, nearly unstoppable when set on a path, and have large ears to hear more than speak. In short: the perfect disciple.
Buddhism and Hinduism differ only in the fact that Buddhists don’t use imagery in the same way. Many of the Hindu gods are simply a personification of these attributes.
This is especially the case with Ganesha, one of the most well known gods in Hinduism.
In Buddhism, the elephant still has spiritual significance, but it’s just a different way of going about it. When Buddha’s mother became pregnant with him, she had a dream of a pure white elephant. The elephant gave her a white lotus from his trunk and circled around her three times, entering her womb. She knew immediately upon waking that this was a divine omen. So even at its inception, Buddha was intricately linked to the elephant.
The Elephant Today
Unfortunately, the elephant’s status is a mixed bag in the east today. On the one hand, the elephant is revered by nearly every culture and country around India; on the other, the elephant is undoubtedly suffering.
Today, no one can deny the plight of this magnificent animal.
Poachers have put the elephant on the watch list for endangered species. 100,000 were killed for their tusks in the last 3 years. Not only that, but elephants are routinely abused in the circus; riders train them very hard in order to make them obey specific directions. It’s a shame that such a highly revered and regal animal is being hunted and abused across the world. If you feel inclined, check out some elephant sanctuaries on the web. There are plenty that need donations- large or small 🙂
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