The Nine Stages of Mental Development

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. 9-stages-samatha-meditation The elephant is being led by a monkey. The monkey represents distractions. How well we know this scenario! This is ordinary mind or conventional mind mired in the Babylon Matrix (Jonathan Zap). But through study of the writings of Wisdom Teachers and mediation practice, the monk is able to capture and subdue the elephant. Gradually both the monkey and the elephant turn white representing the meditator’s ability to maintain the power of concentration.

Stages three and four represents the meditator’s ability to fix and hold his or her concentration steady. The meditator has lassoed the elephant and gradually the monkey, elephant and even a rabbit turn and look at the meditator to indicate that distractions acknowledge who is in charge.

In stages five and six the meditator begins to lead the elephant and the monkey of distraction follows the mind rather than leading it. The mind is controlled; the meditator uses a goad to discipline the elephant. The rabbit disappears and the mind is finally pacified.

In the seventh stage the monkey leaves the elephant and stands behind the meditator and pays homage.  In stage eight the meditator is in complete control. Single-pointed concentration is achieved.

The ninth is the stage of mental absorption. Perfect equanimity is found and the path has ended. The elephant rests beside the meditator who sits at ease. Now out of the meditator’s heart streams a rainbow like ray.

Stages ten and eleven represent crossing over into mental bliss. The meditator rides the elephant along the rainbow path into the perfection of the transcendent realm and returns bearing the sword of Wisdom. Samsara’s root is severed by the union of shamatha and vipashyana or insight meditation with emptiness as the object of contemplation. Aware of pure awareness, the meditator is now equipped with Compassion and Wisdom to guide others on the path to enlightenment. Ox Herding In the Chinese Chan (Zen) tradition this concept is illustrated through the Ten Ox Herding images by Master Kakuan in 12th Century China. There is a similar progression to the pictures to depict levels of realization.

The meditator (1) searches for the ox, (2) sees the tracks and follows them until (3) the ox is discovered in its hiding place. Once the ox is captured (4), the meditator is able to lead (5) and (6) then ride it back home. (7) Once home, the meditator achieves perfect concentration in non-duality (8). The next step, according to the Chan tradition is to realize the underlying, unshakeable unity of the cosmos (9); there is no separation between created (samsara) and uncreated reality (nirvana). Once realized, (10) the meditator returns to the marketplace. His Compassion compels him to help others on the path to enlightenment by offering his Wisdom.

The difference between the Tibetan and Chan illustrations reflects the cultural orientations of each rather than significant differences in the path or outcome. The Tibetan thangka, a sacred painting on cloth, is colorful and highly mythological while the Chan has an earthy pastoral flavor. Of course, there are no elephants in Tibet – nor in China – but Tibetan Buddhism was highly influenced by Indian culture. The Ox Herding pictures on the other hand demonstrate the Chinese orientation to nature beautifully and simply represented in ink drawings.

Both of these are examples of sacred or visionary art created for the purpose of teaching or clarifying the path of spiritual development. (See previous post: The Mission of Art.) Sacred art is purposeful and often uses high levels of logic as it in these illustrations. At the same time it is visionary and uses archetypal images from the realm of myth. Sacred art at its best is a union of logos and mythos.

Advertisements

The Mission of Art

In the forward to Alex Grey’s book The Mission of Art Ken Wilber writes, “In a world gone postmodern, bereft of meaning and value, cut loose on a sea of irony and indifference, Alex is taking a stunning stand: there is a God, there is Spirit, there is a transcendental ground and goal of human development and unfolding. Higher realities are available to us – that is the message of Alex Grey’s art and words in this book.”

THEOLOGUE WEB FULL

In a recent TEDx Talk in Maui, Hawaii, Alex Grey outlined his artistic and spiritual journey. The message that comes through both the book and this talk is that the true artist’s role is to remind us of the existence of Spirit. He says

The painter channels the creative force into the artefact and this artefact then becomes a battery ready to zap a viewer into a new way of seeing the world. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

Alex_Grey_Painting

Alex Grey unapologetically aligns himself with a long line of sacred or religious artists, a lineage that was thoroughly broken during the modern era and continues to flounder in what is being called the postmodern era. But Grey has, almost single-handedly, rescued art from its ego-centric, materialistic foray into meaninglessness, irony and indifference and reintroduced visionary art into contemporary culture.

Visonary art matters because visionary art is the most direct contact we have with the divine. And all sacred art and religious traditions are founded on this mystic state. Now the best currently available technology for sharing the mystic experience is a well crafted artistic rendering by an eye witness. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

A visionary artist becomes an eye witness through direct experience of the divine as a result of mystical experiences. There are many ways in which the artist can have mystical experiences – from a low intensity awakening like being overwhelmed with the beauty of the natural world to a high intensity awakening such as an experience of unity through meditation. It is because of these intense experiences an artist knows how to see rather than merely look.

No wonder that once the art of seeing is lost, Meaning is lost, and all life seems ever more meaningless: ‘They know not what they do, for they do not see what they look at.’ (Frederick Franck)

There are three sets of eyes with which we perceive. Our conventional mindset, in what Jonathan Zap calls the “Babylon Matrix,” requires us to limit our vision to our physical eyes and to the eyes of reason. With our physical eyes we obviously look at objects in the outer realm. With the eyes of reason we see the symbolic in order to make conceptual relationships. This is the extent of most modern and postmodern artistic vision. Art is either ultra realistic or abstract to the point of individually assigned meaning.

Alex_Grey-Psychic_Energy_Sy

The third way of seeing, the way of seeing with the mystic eye of contemplation, or the third eye, sees the transcendent. This way of seeing, used by visionary artists, is not encouraged in contemporary culture or in art schools because the modern and postmodern mindset denies the existence of, and therefore the possibility of seeing, divine beauty. But the visionary artist sees with all three eyes.

Artists need to be able to see on each level in order to bring technical beauty, archetypal beauty, and spiritual beauty to their work. (Grey, The Mission of Art, p.73)

Visionary art is responsible for redeeming culture; for reminding us of our connection with the source of life. Sacred art, from the earliest cave paintings to the great cathedrals, has pointed in this direction because, as Grey says, we are the creative force of the universe.

Art is an echo of the creative force that birthed the galaxies. Creativity is the way that the cosmos evolves and communicates with itself. The great uplifting of humanity beyond its self destruction is the redemptive mission of art. (Grey, TEDx Maui)