As one of the world’s oldest and most prominent belief systems, Buddhism is surely an interesting subject for anyone who is interested in theology, religion and spirituality. To understand Buddhism better, one should definitely be well-versed in Buddhist symbolism as symbols play an important role in Buddhist faith. So, without further ado, here is the extensive list of Buddhist symbols and their meanings.
The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism – Buddhist Auspicious Symbols Explained
If we are to discuss symbolism in Buddhist faith, it is only appropriate to start with what is called “the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism”.
There are eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism, which are also known as “the eight symbols of good fortune in Buddhism”, underlining the importance of achieving enlightenment through various teachings of Buddha.
While originally these symbols represented the offerings made to Buddha (Shakyamuni) by Hindu deities/gods for achieving enlightenment, they were associated with various meanings over time. Today, among several other concepts, they are used to represent various stages of a person’s material and spiritual well-being.
In the earliest periods of history, these symbols were used in important ceremonies like coronations of kings.
In Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, they are also believed to represent parts of Buddha’s body. Different parts of him, respectively, for each of these faiths.
But why are they called “the auspicious” symbols of Buddhism?
The answer lies within the etymology of the Sanskrit word “Ashtamangala”, the word that has been used to define these symbols throughout history.
It is important to note here that these auspicious symbols were also a part of faiths such as Hinduism and Jainism. They did not just belong to Buddhism and the eight auspicious symbols changed depending on the historical period or culture they were used in.
For instance, the earliest set of symbols included the throne and the swastika (yes, the swastika was actually an important symbol in eastern culture before it was adopted by the Nazis).
With ‘ashta’ and ‘mangala’ meaning ‘eight’ and ‘auspicious’, respectively, the word “Ashtamangala” translates into English as “eight auspicious” and that is where this phrase comes from.
Now, it is time we delved into the meanings associated with each of these eight symbols of good fortune in Buddhism.
The parasol is primarily a symbol of protection. However, in Ancient Indian culture, it also doubled as a symbol for royalty.
The higher the number of parasols one had, the higher their hierarchical social status was believed to be. Royals usually had a total of thirteen parasols. Buddhists later incorporated the tradition into Buddhism. Thus, in some of the earliest representations of the Buddha, he is seen with thirteen parasols.
The parasol also represents enlightenment and prosperity. Prosperity, as back in the day, only the rich could afford luxuries as such.
The symbol is also associated with enlightenment and can best be compared to that of the Halo in Christianity. The idea is that the parasol offers protection that these enlightened ones earn because of the wisdom they gained on the path to enlightenment.
The Lotus Flower is one of the most widely recognized symbols of Buddhism, and it primarily represents peace.
It also represents the achievement of enlightenment and primordial purity. Primordial purity refers to the ability to think straight and pure and process information as is without having your thought process tainted by worldly or material influence.
The lotus flower grows from the mud to eventually rise to the surface of the water. According to Buddhist beliefs, The flower’s growth process is an accurate representation of one’s achievement of primordial purity of the mind.
The mud represents evil, worldly pleasures such as attachment and desire. It represents the dark underside of the beautiful flower. In a sense, the symbol shows that the lotus flower, in all its beauty and glory, has a dark side.
It teaches Buddhists that no matter how dark your past is or how deep your roots may be stuck in the dirt, you too can rise to the surface and live a beautiful, clean, and enlightened life.
The lotus also represents birth and is present throughout historical artwork, symbolizing the birth of royalty or other beings of divine origin.
One important thing to note is that the Buddhist lotus flower symbol has eight petals signifying the eight-fold path, one of the main teachings of Buddhism, a way for one to gain insight about one’s existence and reach nirvana.
The symbolism behind the lotus flower also changes depending on the color of the flower.
- The white lotus is a symbol of purity of the mind, body, and soul. It also represents the heart of Buddha and is considered a representation of the perfect nature of White Tara, an incarnated Chinese Princess.
- Red Lotus represents the heart, love, attachment, and other feelings associated with the heart, including passion.
- Blue lotus represents spirituality, wisdom, learning, and intelligence. It is usually depicted as half-open, signifying the victory of spirituality over the senses and the achievement of great knowledge.
- The purple lotus has the most variations in depictions. While it primarily represents mysticism and spirituality, the different stages of the flower symbolize various stages of spirituality. Sometimes it is shown as a bud; other times, it is shown as a half or fully blooming flower. The purple lotus flower symbol usually has three stems, but it also appears with one stem in some depictions.
- The pink lotus, which is assumed to be the original lotus symbol used in the early periods of Buddhism, is used to represent Buddha.
- The gold lotus is also used to represent Buddha, the Supreme Buddha that is, further highlighting his Supremacy.
The right-turning conch shell is a depiction of the Buddha’s melodious voice, and the color white represents his enlightenment and divinity. Today, it holds several meanings and purposes in Buddhist culture.
As some of its most important uses in today’s practices, the conch shell is used in calls to assemble for religious gatherings and as a vessel to hold holy water.
The conch shell symbolizes the Buddha’s fearlessness in teaching the truth of the Dharma. It also doubles as a symbol of power and as a symbol of protection. Right-turning conch shells are rare, which is why it is considered a sacred item and symbol.
The Endless Knot
The Endless Knot has its roots in several religions and signifies many different teachings. Even within Buddhism, it holds different meanings depending on the type of Buddhism one follows.
In China, the knot is a symbol of longevity, undying love, and continuity. But in traditional Buddhism, as a representation of Buddha’s teaching, it signifies wisdom, compassion, continuity of life, and the perfection of knowledge.
It illustrates how everything in the world is connected, and to attain enlightenment, one must practically apply gained wisdom and knowledge into every aspect of their life.
The knot also represents the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, known as Samsara. The design shows that everything is interconnected, and death and birth are a part of life. The symbol symbolizes the endless interconnectivity of human existence.
The endless knot is also a representation of Karma, a fundamental concept in the teachings of Buddha. The knot is a visual representation of the concept of what goes around comes back around, and serves as a reminder to extend only good into the world.
Initially, the pair of fish represented the two great rivers in India, the Ganges and the Yamuna. Buddhists later adopted the symbol by Buddhism and used it to describe the freedom of will, the realization of which is an essential aspect of Buddhism.
The Supreme Buddha taught that one must not follow blind faith but must make conscious decisions regarding their life.
The fish also represent freedom of movement, happiness, and fertility.
In most depictions, the fish are drawn as carps which are considered sacred for their magnificent size and long lives. Thus, the fish symbol also represents abundance and longevity.
The vase goes by many names, including ‘the treasure vase’ or ‘the vase of inexhaustible treasures’. The symbol consists of an image of a traditional vase, ornately decked with a jewel or two protruding from its mouth.
The vase symbol represents the wealth of Buddha’s teachings. It is always overflowing with wealth and sometimes even has lotus flowers painted on it.
The idea behind it is to show that by following Buddha’s path, one can achieve never-ending wealth, metaphorically speaking. Wealth here can mean many things besides its literal meaning, including wisdom, knowledge, happiness, peace and power. Most importantly, though, the vase represents the value of Buddha’s teachings.
The Victory Banner
In Buddhism, the victory banner represents Buddha’s victory over all hindrances on the path to achieving enlightenment. Legend has it that the banner appeared on top of Mount Meru, signifying Buddha’s win over the universe’s temptations.
Today, the banner represents how one can overcome all hurdles to achieve enlightenment.
It represents happiness, victory, power, attainment of wisdom, and knowledge over ignorance, among some other concepts. Whatever your struggle may be, the victory banner can serve as a symbol of hope and strength to help you overcome all hindrances. That is the main way to interpret the symbol.
The Eight Spoked Wheel Also Known As The Dharma Wheel
The Eight-spoked wheel or the Dharma wheel represents the eight-fold path to achieving enlightenment as laid down by the Buddha.
The wheel can help steer or guide your vessel in the right direction. Buddhists believe the wheel aids the attainment of perfection.
The Dharma wheel comprises three main components; the spokes, the center, and the rim.
The center represents ethics, which according to Buddha, help stabilize the mind and aid in the achievement of purity in mind.
The rim represents meditation and concentration that help harmonize the mind and the body, aiding in following the eight-fold path that the spokes represent.
The eight spokes represent:
- right kind of view
- right way of thinking
- right kind of speech
- right kind of action
- right kind of livelihood
- right way of diligence
- right form of mindfulness
- right way of concentration.
On an important side note, the Dharma wheel may represent different things based on its design.
If the center has three swirls, it shows the three jewels, Dharma, Buddha, and Sangha.
If it is drawn with four swirls, it represents Buddha’s teachings of the Four Noble Truths.
If the God of Death, Yama, appears to be turning the wheel, it indicates the inevitability of death.
The Dharma wheel depicted alongside Buddha represents freedom or liberation.
In Buddhist faith, the Dharma Wheel is the last of the eight auspicious symbols and represents the final enlightenment stage.
According to some historical accounts, the Dharma Wheel is a result of the combination of the Victory Banner and the Endless Knot.
Buddhist Peace Symbols – What Are The Symbols Of Peace In Buddhism?
Whether it is about the inner world of a person or his/her relations with the outside world, peace is an important concept in Buddhist faith.
We have already established above that some of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism represent peace. Now, let’s move on to the other Buddhist peace symbols.
One of the Buddhist peace symbols, and probably the most surprising one at that, is the swastika.
The swastika is an ancient Buddhist symbol that is used interchangeably with the Dharma Wheel. The term ‘swastika’ originates from the word ‘devanagari,’ meaning auspicious or instrumental in one’s well-being.
The symbol is one often drawn on representations of the Buddha’s feet which also includes symbols personifying all his teachings.
It is used to distinguish Buddha’s birth and is present at the beginning of all Buddhist teachings, Buddhist temples, and maps.
Nazis later adopted the symbol, and thus, it has come to represent destruction in the modern world. But in Buddhism, the swastika represents eternity, longevity, peace, abundance, and well-being.
The lotus flower is perhaps the most well-known symbol of peace. It is shown having eight petals, signifying the eight-fold path taught by Buddha.
As mentioned earlier, different colored lotus flowers represent varying meanings. It is the pink lotus flower that represents peace in the state of being.
The flower emerges from the mud, which personifies evil, worldly distractions, turmoil, and more, to rise above it all and float on the surface of the water peacefully, in calm and in a storm. Thus, the lotus flower represents inner peace or peace in the state of being.
Though it is common knowledge that Buddha discouraged using mantras and chants, the actual practice is quite different now.
One of the most widely used chants, especially in India, is the Mani Mantra or the Om Mani Padme Hum.
When chanted silently or loudly during meditation, the mantra invokes compassion, clears the mind, bringing inner peace to the chanter. Thus, the symbol Om represents inner peace and is commonly used for tattoos all around the world.
A Buddha depiction in a meditating position with his eyes closed fully or halfway represents peace and calm.
Buddhists take up the pose when trying to induce inner peace within their hearts and minds. The silhouette of the pose is similar to that of a triangle. Thus, many also create a triangle and consider it a symbol of stability and peace.
Buddhist Strength Symbols – What Are The Symbols Of Strength In Buddhism?
Yellow Lotus Flower
A yellow lotus flower provides another instance where Buddhists refer to the blooming process of the lotus flower to represent strength and perseverance required to follow Buddha’s teachings.
The colors yellow and orange themselves represent bravery, strength, and perseverance, transforming the most known Buddhist symbol into a strength symbol.
Vajra is a Sanskrit word that translates as both ‘thunderbolt’ and ‘diamond’. It is a spear-like object used in traditional Buddhist ceremonies.
The name and the appearance, as well as the legend associated with the item, represents strength and indestructible power.
According to legends, the item belonged to the Hindu God of rain, thus the name Vajra (thunderbolt). The Vajra possesses destructive powers but cannot be destroyed, signifying incomparable strength and power.
Buddhists usually use the four-headed Vajra in most traditions. It has a lotus-shaped bud in its design, which is another sacred Buddhist symbol.
The wielder holds the Vajra in the right hand and a bell, another important symbol, in the left hand. The bell and the spear represent wisdom and power, respectively; together, the two represent Buddha’s basic teachings that urge followers to be wise in their use of force.
Buddhist Good Luck Symbols
In addition to the eight auspicious/good fortune symbols in Buddhism, there are some specific symbols of good luck in Buddhism that you should know about.
The first in our list of Buddhist good luck symbols is a famous one, the laughing Buddha.
The laughing Buddha is one of the most renowned Buddhist symbols known to bring good luck, wealth, and prosperity.
If you want to bring some good luck into your life, then a laughing buddha sitting on a gold nugget and holding out another/smaller gold nugget is what you would want to bring into your home.
A laughing Buddha, holding gold in his hands in an upright position, is also said to bring good luck.
According to Buddhist scriptures, Buddha achieved enlightenment after meditating under a Bodhi Tree for six years.
Thus, the tree is now a sacred symbol in Buddhism, representing hope and salvation for many. Buddhists believe that there are only two Bodhi Trees in existence, which originated from the same Bodhi Tree the Supreme Buddha meditated under.
Regardless of whether the tree is the original tree’s offspring or not, all Bodhi Trees are sacred to Buddhists.
It is also known as the wisdom tree and symbolizes one’s achievement of enlightenment. The growth of the tree represents the growth of an individual from the discovery of self and their journey to enlightenment.
These are the reasons why Buddhists hold the Bodhi tree dear and consider it as a symbol for good luck.
Buddhist Protection Symbols – Symbols of Protection in Buddhism
The Protecting Buddha
If you are really interested in Buddhism you probably have already seen ‘the Protecting Buddha’, which is one of the most prominent Buddhist protection symbols, somewhere as a symbol, a figurine or a statue.
In this version of the Buddha symbol, the protecting Buddha sits cross-legged and upright with his left hand lying on his lap and the right raised in front of him facing outwards.
Some variations show the Buddha standing with this left hand hanging on one side or raised and facing outward. The pose represents protection from fear, delusion, and evil.
The second one in our list of Buddhist protection symbols is the Umbrella/the Parasol which is also one of the eight auspicious signs of Buddhism.
In ancient Indian culture, it represented royalty and hierarchical status. However, after Buddhism’s introduction, the parasol/umbrella has been being used also as a symbol of safety and protection obtained through Buddha’s teachings.
Buddhists believe that by following Buddha’s practices, they can protect themselves from all evil and worldly desires and distractions, which are synonymous with evil in Buddhist teachings.
The Four Guardian Kings
The four guardian Kings are also known as the guardians of direction for the four heavenly kings in Buddhism.
According to Buddhist beliefs, these kings appeared right after the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Each of the kings offered Buddha a bowl which were subsequently combined to form the one bowl depicted in Buddha’s lap in many of the murals.
Paintings depicting the four kinds can be seen at the entrances of Buddhist temples today, with each figure adorned in heavy armor shown guarding the temples.
Thus, the four guardian kings are considered a symbol of protection in Buddhism that guards the teachings of the Buddha and keeps evil out of the temples and sacred prayer areas.
Buddhist Animal Symbols
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 symbols and their meanings. We hope you enjoyed reading the post, please do share it, if you did. Many thanks.