Symbols #37: Skulls

Spotted in paintings and statues, skulls feature prominently in Eastern iconography. In both Buddhism and Hinduism wrathful deities are often depicted wearing necklaces of human skulls known as munda malas. In Tibetan Buddhism, certain tantric rituals require the use of vessels made from human skulls. These are known as Kapalas and were traditionally used to make offerings to the gods.

In Tibetan Buddhism, skulls represent bliss, the limits of human knowledge, and the Buddhist concept of emptiness, or the idea that nothing has an inherent essence. Denoting death, skulls are also a reminder of impermanence and life’s malleable nature. Because nothing is fixed and all is fleeting, one sees a skull and is reminded to embrace empathy: live today, for tomorrow is not guaranteed.

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