Buddhist Symbols

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In the earliest centuries of Buddhism, statues of the Buddha were not used. Instead, Buddhist art consisted of images symbolizing the Buddha and his teachings, such as the lotus, the Wheel of the Law, the Bodhi tree and the Buddha's footprints.

Eventually, the Buddha image became one of the most popular representations in Buddhism, but these early symbols remain important and are frequently used to this day. They are especially important in Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand.

As Buddhism spread, Buddhist symbolism was enriched by the cultures it came into contact with. This is especially true of Buddhism in Tibet, which has developed a rich symbolic tradition. The central symbols of Tibetan Buddhism are the Eight Auspicious Symbols, known in Sanskrit as Ashtamangala (ashta meaning eight and mangala meaning auspicious).

The Eight Auspicious Symbols are printed on Tibetan prayer flags, incorporated into mandalas and thangkas, and used in other forms of ritual art. Another important symbol is the Wheel of Life, a symbolic representation of the universe as understood by Tibetan Buddhists.

Other important types of symbolism in Buddhism include colors, especially the five colors of white, yellow, red, blue and green, and symbolic hand gestures called mudras. The articles in this section explore these Buddhist symbols, providing information on their history, meaning and use in Buddhism today.

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Bhavacakra (Wheel of Life)

The Wheel of Life (Sanskrit; Pāli: bhavacakka; Tibetan: srid pa'i 'khor lo) symbolizes the Buddhist perspective on life and contains within it numerous symbols of Buddhist themes and teachings...

Buddha eyes

On virtually every stupa, which is a shrine of Buddhism, in Nepal, there are giant pairs of eyes staring out from the four sides of the main tower...

Buddhapada

The footprints of the Buddha (Buddhapada) are one of the early representations of the Buddha in the anticonic (no statues) stage of Buddhist art...

Color Symbolism

Colors have a wide variety of meaning and symbolism in the world's religions.

black

blue

five colors

gold

gray

green

purple

red

white

yellow

Dharma Wheel

The dharma wheel (dharmachakra) symbolizes the teachings of the Buddha, who was said to have "turned the wheel of the dharma." The wheel is commonly used as a symbol of Buddhism.

Eight Auspicious Symbols

The Eight Auspicious Symbols (Ashtamangala in Sanskrit) are a group of lucky symbols that appear on many Buddhist textiles, objects and paintings...

conch shell

dharma wheel

endless knot

golden fishes

lotus

parasol

treasure vase

victory banner

Golden Fishes Symbol

One of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, the golden fishes (suvarnamatsya) represents good fortune, fertility and salvation in Buddhism.

Mudras

Mudras are Buddhist hand gestures. They function both as symbols in Buddhist art and as actual hand gestures used during Buddhist meditation or ritual...

abhaya mudra

bhumisparsha mudra

dharmachakra mudra

dhyana mudra

varada mudra

Om Mani Padme Hum

Om mani padme hum is a Tibetan Buddhist mantra. The basic English translation is "Om Jewel in the Lotus Hum" or "Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus...

Swastika

The swastika (Sanskrit svastika) is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle. Sometimes the crossing lines are horizontal and vertical and other times they are an angle, forming a central "X" shape...

Treasure Vase Symbol

One of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism, the treasure vase (kalasha) symbolizes spiritual and material wealth, abundance, and good fortune.

Triratna

The triratna symbol represents the Triple Gem or Three Jewels of Buddhism, which are the three core values of:

    - Buddha - Dharma (the teachings) - Sangha (the monastic community)
These are also known as the Three Refuges, which are recited as part of Buddhist ordination ceremonies: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha...

Victory Banner Symbol

One of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, the victory banner (dhvaja) represents the victory of the Buddha's teachings and of wisdom over ignorance.

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