Buddhist Animal Symbols And Their Meanings

Animals are valued as beings in Buddhism and the teachings of the Buddha extend to the way of dealing with animals as well. Here is the list of the most prominent Buddhist animal symbols you should know about.


The Lion has been a symbol of strength, bravery, and loyalty for centuries. In Buddhism, the Lion represents the birth of the Buddha and is associated with the Buddha’s bravery in challenging the injustices of the time.

It is also believed that the voice of the Buddha was like a lion’s roar: strong, clear, and powerful.

Several paintings show the Lion guarding the Buddha’s throne or standing right next to the Buddha, protecting him; thus, the animal doubles as a symbol of strength, courage, and protection.


The second in our list of Buddhist animal symbols is the fish.

As mentioned earlier, the fish is one of the auspicious symbols of Buddhism and represents the freedom of will. It also symbolizes happiness, abundance, and spontaneity, all of which are an integral part of Buddhist teachings.

Buddhists do not believe in being bound by another’s instructions and promote self-recognition through the achievement of enlightenment. The fish are used to represent the freedom Buddhist teachings provide.


The Phoenix is an important mythical creature with roots in Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian cultures.

In Buddhism, it is a sacred animal symbolizing peace, prosperity, and harmony. Buddhists believe that the Phoenix only appears when there is peace in the land and disappears during the chaos.

The majestic bird also represents the achievement of enlightenment. They say that the Phoenix bursts into flames upon death and rises from its own ashes, reborn.

The process of death and rebirth of a Phoenix symbolizes the end of one’s ego and rebirth as an enlightened individual in Buddhism. Paintings and murals show the Phoenix attacking snakes, signifying that the birth is a protector as well.


The Peacock is considered to be an embodiment of the Bodhisattvas. When the bird spreads its feathers, it is equated to the Bodhisattvas spreading their thousand arms and opening their thousand eyes. Other reasons why the Peacock is symbolic in Buddhism include its perpetual enmity with the snake.

According to the belief, the Peacock kills the snake and transforms its venom into nectar, signifying Buddhists’ ability to take in the negative energy and turn it into positive energy.

It also represents the Bodhisattvas’ ability to take ignorance and transform it into wisdom/enlightenment.

The beautiful colors of the Peacock symbolize the beauty of positive thoughts in Buddhism.

The Peacock is also said to support the Western Pure Land’s Buddha Amitabha, which increases the bird’s significance in Buddhism.


Another important one in our list of Buddhist animal symbols is the elephant. Elephants are sacred animals in India. They are majestic creatures representing beauty, strength, intelligence, dignity, and peace.

It is said that the Buddha’s mother dreamt of a white elephant, which offered the mother a white lotus. The elephant then proceeded to enter her womb, leading to predictions of a leader or ruler’s birth.

The qualities possessed by a Buddha hold utmost importance in Buddhism. Buddhists believe them to be enlightened animals. A grey elephant symbolizes the uncontrolled mind of someone starting on the path of Buddha.

The elephant layer transforms into a white elephant upon achievement of enlightenment as the color white represents purity.

The elephant’s large ears signify the need to listen to the Dharma or the teachings of Buddha. An elephant’s characteristics, such as obedience, steadfastness, and calmness, are considered ideal traits in Buddhism.

A famous depiction of an elephant in Buddhism is that of the Bodhisattva riding a six-tusked elephant.


The horse symbolizes strength, loyalty, energy, and effort. These qualities are a must for those embarking on their spiritual journey in Buddhism.

In some Buddhism branches, the wild horse also signifies the speed and swiftness with which the mind achieves freedom from worldly troubles and materialistic pleasures.

The horse also represents good luck and is often seen on flags as a symbol of hope and a prayer that things may progress well.


The deer is one of the most important animals in Buddhist symbolism. It is often seen standing on either side of a Buddhist and possesses all the qualities treasured in Buddhism.

It resides peacefully, harmoniously, and gently among others. It does not harm others and signifies purity and guaranteed safety in Buddhism.

Many depictions show two deers sitting and staring at the Dharma wheel with joy in their expressions. In some tales, Buddhists are said to have been born as deers in their past lives.


Dragons or Nagas are said to be protectors of Buddhists and of nature.

Many believers offer them jewels and food to bribe them into providing prosperity.

According to the belief, dragons bestow prosperity on those who protect the environment and destroy those who harm nature. They are often portrayed wrapped around a Buddha’s throne, protecting him from all harm.

This concludes our article covering Buddhist animal symbols and their meanings. We hope you enjoyed reading the post, please do share it, if you did. Many thanks.

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