Tag Archives: symbol

Symbols #43: Tibetan Buddhism Auspicious Symbols

In Tibetan Buddhism, these symbols are said to be the luckiest and most sacred of all. Frequently seen in combination with one another, each represents a different component of Buddhist philosophy.

The Parasol: Representing protection and shelter, the Parasol shows how Buddha’s teachings will shield us from the “heat” of forces like greed and lust.

The Golden Fish: A symbol of joy and liberation, the Fish represent freedom from samsara, or the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

The Conch Shell: Used to call individuals to prayer, the Conch’s resounding trumpet represents the influence of dharma and its ability to awaken us from ignorance.

The Lotus: A symbol of enlightenment, the Lotus mirrors human suffering. Growing through muck in order to blossom, the Lotus shows that we too may blossom through Buddha’s wisdom.

The Urn: A symbol of abundance, the Urn is evocative of Buddha’s spiritual wealth, demonstrating that there is no end to his knowledge and wisdom.

The Infinite Knot: With no beginning or end, the Infinite Knot reflects Buddha’s infinite compassion as well as the interconnectedness of all living things.

The Banner: Also known as the Flag, the Banner represents victory over ignorance and the obstacles that block the path to enlightenment.

The Wheel: The Wheel of Law, or Dharmachakra, is a summation of Buddha’s teachings. The eight spokes are Buddha’s Eightfold Path, while the inner hub is the discipline required to follow it.

Symbols #42: Om Mani Padme Hum

Om Mani Padme Hum is a mantra of benevolence and is often recited to inspire compassion. The syllable “Om” represents the body, spirit, and speech of Buddha; “Mani” is for the path of teaching; “Padme” for the wisdom of the path, and “Hum” indicates the union of wisdom and the path to it. Though commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism, meditators across various practices find this mantra inspiring. Compassion, after all, isn’t exclusive to any one belief system.

Symbols #41: Mudras

Mudras are sacred hand gestures and expressions of inner wisdom. Each mudra represents a different action or form of energy. In meditation, mudras help maintain focus, allowing the meditator to channel a specific energy for their practice.

Mudras are also a common feature of Eastern art, as various figures and deities are often shown gesturing with a specific mudra. In fact, mudras are some of the most distinguishing characteristics, helping the viewer better understand the meaning behind a specific statue or image.

Vitarka Mudra

Thumb and forefinger touch to create a circle

A gesture of instruction, wisdom, and intellect, this mudra represents transmission of knowledge. The mudra’s circle also represents the perfection of dharma.

Abhaya Mudra

Right palm faces outward, fingers are straight

A gesture of protection, reassurance, and comfort, this mudra means “no fear.”

Bhumisparsha Mudra

The fingers of the right hand touch the ground

A gesture of determination and steadfastness, this mudra represents the strength necessary to overcome temptation.

Symbols #40: Happy Buddha

Full of exuberance, Happy Buddha is often mistaken for Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. But the image of Happy Buddha is actually based on a wandering Chinese monk, Budai (Hotei, in Japanese), who lived centuries ago.

Happy Buddha is believed to be Maitreya, or the Buddha to come. His plump figure and benign countenance suggest magnanimity and plenitude. Also called Laughing Buddha, his signature smile is symbolic of pure joy. Happy Buddha is considered a symbol of good luck, and it is thought that rubbing his big head or belly brings fortune and wealth. At the same time, his walking stick and satchel remind us to pay attention to the journey before us, not just the destination.

Symbols #39: Sri Yantra

The Sri Yantra is the most revered of all yantras, or mystical diagrams. It consists of nine interlocking triangles surrounded by two circles of lotus petals. In the middle is a dot, or bindu, which symbolizes the place from which all creation emerges. Its four upright triangles represent male energy, or Shiva, while the five downward facing triangles represent female energy, Shakti. Together, they represent all of the cosmos and the union of its forces.

The Sri Yantra is said to contain the path to enlightenment. Its geometry is so profound, that meditating on its patterns is said to inspire divine wisdom and a sense of oneness. For this reason, the Sri Yantra is considered a powerful tool for spiritual growth.

Symbols #38: Stupa

Stupas are religious monuments and the most iconic forms of Buddhist architecture. Inspired by India’s ancient burial mounds, the first Buddhist stupas were originally created to house Buddha’s remains. Today, they are used for worship and to commemorate different aspects of Buddha’s legacy. Some contain Buddha’s possessions or those of his disciples. Others mark a significant event in Buddha’s life. Some stupas represent his teachings while others are built as a form of devotion.

Stupas are often dome-shaped and include several components of Buddhist philosophy as part of their design. Practitioners visit stupas for a variety of reasons. One may seek good blessings, make an offering, or pray for someone in need. When visiting a stupa, it is custom to walk around its base clockwise as a form of meditation.

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.

Symbols #36: Shou

Shou is the Chinese character for “longevity” and can be spotted on jewelry, art, textiles, furniture, and architecture all throughout China. In Chinese tradition and folklore, longevity is considered one of the five blessings that form the foundation for a good life. The other blessings are health, wealth, virtue, and a peaceful death. In Chinese, the word for “blessings” sounds the same as the word for “bat”. For this reason, the five blessings are commonly depicted as bats, and the shou character is often accompanied by drawings of bats.

Symbols #35: Pagoda

Pagodas are tower-like structures often characterized by multiple eaves stacked on top of another. Seen throughout Asia, pagodas are adaptations of India’s Buddhist stupas, which were initially built to house the remains and relics of the Buddha. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, stupas became a vital feature of Buddhist temples and their traditional dome shape slowly evolved into what we now know as a pagoda. Similar to stupas, pagodas were initially used to hold Buddhist relics, though many have since lost this function. The number of eaves on a pagoda sometimes has a symbolic meaning. In Japan, for example, it’s common to see pagodas built with five different tiers. These represent nature’s five elements: earth, fire, water, wind, and space.

Symbols #34: Vajra

A ritual tool used for spiritual worship, the Vajra scepter is a combination of two powerful symbols: the diamond and the lightning bolt. The diamond, a substance which cuts but cannot be cut, represents resolute spirit. The lightning bolt, with its overwhelming force, represents great power. Together they represent compassion, the most powerful force of all and the ultimate path to enlightenment.

The Vajra sometimes appears as a Double Vajra, also known as Visvavajra. Depicted as an X or shown in vertical form (like a plus sign), it represents the indestructible foundation of the universe. The Double Vajra also stands for protection, harmony, and all-knowingness.