Buddhist Symbols



Buddhism as a tradition has many symbols, often connecting to the major concepts of Buddhism such as the eight noble truths. Many of these symbols are somewhat abstract, perhaps because of the detachment from the physical world that Buddhism is meant to involve, but nonetheless the imagery involved is rich and detailed. Eight of these in particular are known as the Eight Auspicious Symbols, and, as the name indicates, these are considered to be of great importance and have powerful properties.

The first of the auspicious symbols is the right-coiled white conch. It was meant to represent the melodious and far-reaching nature of the Dharma teachings, with the conch being the method of delivery of the teachings. This is also a symbol of the teachings bringing the uneducated out of ignorance and encouraging them to greater acts.

The precious umbrella is a symbol of one of those noble acts - namely, sheltering others from misfortunes, both temporary and enduring, through all realms of life. Thus the umbrella is a symbol of protection and shelter. It also can represent the feasting and prosperity that are possible under its canopy.

The victory banner shows victory over the negative elements the umbrella protects one from, either internally or externally. It represents someone who is victorious through their actions, their words, or their thoughts over these obstacles. It also generally represents the victory over the Buddhist Doctrine over outside influences and foes.

The golden fish represents a lack of fear for these obstacles - while a human might drown in the sea of sufferings that is the world, the fish swims freely, unencumbered. This is therefore not overcoming obstacles or protecting against them, but simply ignoring them, moving without their influence in any way affecting the course of movement.

One of the best known symbols of Buddhism is also one of the Auspicious Symbols - namely, the dharma wheel. The dharma wheel is a symbol of the endless wheel of incarnation, as well as a symbol of the wheel of Buddhist law. It can be seen as showing how Buddha's doctrine turns through all places and times, bringing with it enlightenment. Older dharma wheels had many spokes, but now many have four (for the four key moments in the life of the Buddha) or eight (for the eight noble truths).

The auspicious drawing, looking like a series of interweaved lines, represents various forms of blending and harmony - the balance between religious and secular life, the interrelation of emptiness and presence, and, most significantly, the blending between wisdom and compassion at the moment of enlightenment.

The lotus flower is a symbol of total purification for both mind and body. This also means doing beneficial deeds for others, with connotations of selflessness and kindness.

Last but not least, the vase of treasures represents long life, prosperity, and other symbols of happiness. While it is mostly a symbol of gifts in the material world, it also is a symbol of liberation.

There are far more symbols in Buddhist iconography, of course, and many other designs. However, the Eight Auspicious Symbols give a good sense of Buddhist doctrine and iconography.