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Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols

“All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

Buddha

What are the main symbols of Buddhism? 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, especially  in Theravada Buddhist countries in South East Asia.

 The Parasol or Umbrella

The parasol or the umbrella symbolizes protection from various elements like the sun and the rain. In Buddhism, the umbrella is believed to protect man from suffering and other harmful forces. It also symbolizes enjoying the cool shade it gives.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols According to mainstream Buddhism, the Umbrella or Parasol is a symbol of protection from illness, obstacles, harmful energies and suffering experienced in the three lower realms of existence

The Stupa

he stupa is the oldest Buddhist religious monument. In prehistoric times, stupas were simply mounds of earth and stones (tumuli) – places to bury important kings away from the village. Twenty-five-hundred years ago, at the time of Shakyamuni Buddha’s death, a change came about in the way stupas were regarded.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols Stupa, Buddhist commemorative monument usually housing sacred relics associated with the Buddha or other saintly persons.

The Buddha requested that his relics be placed in a familiar stupa, but with a shift in emphasis. Instead of being just a place of honor where the bones or relics of a cremated king were placed, the stupa was to be located at four corners (i.e., a crossroads), to remind people of the awakened state of mind. So, the stupa evolved from a mound of dirt (stup, Skt., “to heap up, pile, raise aloft, elevate”), to a king’s burial tomb, to a religious monument.

After the Buddha’s death, stupas evolved from being used as shrines to the dead and into places to honor the living. They were erected to remind people far into the future that they, while living, had the seed of enlightenment.

The Two Golden Fish

In ancient times, the two fishes denote the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers. It also means luck and fortune. It indicates the courage and fearlessness to face any suffering and swim freely just like the fish.

The Conch Shell

The conch shell is large and is used in many countries as a battle horn. In Buddhism, the white conch has a spiral pattern on the right and denote deep and joyful sound of the Dharma teachings.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols A Hindu priest blowing a conch during a puja

It also represents the awakening the disciples get on hearing the teachings. The conch shell is indicative of stimulating the people from ignorance.

The Lotus Flower

The lotus flower is used in many Buddhist teachings to convey the true nature of the humans. Just like the roots of the lotus plant that are stuck deep in the mud and yet the plant and a sweet-smelling flower grow above the murky water, we must rise from our sufferings and reach for enlightenment, clarity, and beauty.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols The lotus flower represents one symbol of fortune in Buddhism.

Different-colored lotus plants carry different meanings in Buddhism. For instance, white lotus indicates spiritual and mental purity, purple means mysticism, red means love and compassion, pink symbolizes traditional Buddha while blue signifies wisdom.

The Victory Banner

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols The Victory Banner looking towards Tibet, Roof of Tharlam Monastery, Bodha, Kathmandu (Image Source)

The victory banner shows how Buddha won over Mara, the demon. Demon in Buddhism indicates passion, pride, and lust. The victory banner is used to remind people to win over their pride, lust, and desires to attain enlightenment.

The Vase

A vase or the Urn of wisdom in Buddhism means health, wealth, prosperity and all the things that accompany enlightenment.

The Dharma Wheel

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols An intricate representation of the Dharmachakra, or Buddhist eight spoked Wheel. Photo by Chaithanya.krishnan (Image Source)

The Dharma Wheel or the dharma chakra represents Buddha. It is the universal symbol for Buddhism. It has eight spokes that represent the Eightfold path.

The Eternal Knot

The endless knot consists of intertwining lines to signify that everything is connected. It denotes how religion and secular aspects along with compassion and wisdom are connected.

Besides the eight symbols, other objects are associated with Buddhism and its teachings.

The Bodhi Tree

The Bodhi Tree is also known as Bo. It is a large old sacred fig tree which is in Bodh Gaya, a city that is around 100 km from Patna in the Indian state of Bihar. Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual founder, and teacher of Buddhism achieved enlightenment under this tree. The tree takes around 100 to 3000 years to grow fully and is recognized by its heart-shaped leaves.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols The Mahabodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya. (Image Source)

The tree grows at the Mahabodhi Temple and is frequent by pilgrims. Other Bodhi trees are the Anandabodhi tree in Sravasti and Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Both the trees are believed to have originated from the original Bodhi tree.

Footprint of Buddha

The footprint of Buddha is believed to be the imprint of Gautama Buddha’s one or both feet. It is found in two forms, natural, as found in rock and stone and those made artificially.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols A sculpture from ancient Gandhara, South Asia, depicting the footprints of the Buddha, known in Sanskrit as Buddhapada from 2nd century at the Yale University Art Gallery (Image Source)

Empty Throne

The empty throne signifies the concept of empty and the royalty of Siddhartha Gautama.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols the motif of “the empty throne” seems to symbolize the essence of stūpa art on the principle of keeping the sacred memory of the Buddha inward

Begging Bowl

The begging bowl is simple but one of the most important objects in the daily lives of the monks.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols The simple begging bowl is one of the very few possessions of a Buddhist monk. (Image Source)

It symbolizes the life chosen by the Buddhist monks.

The Lion

The lion is the most important symbol of Buddhism. It indicates the royalty which was part of Buddha’s life before attaining enlightenment.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols Lions outside the Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai (Image Source)

It also suggests the teachings of Buddha which are compared to the roar of the lion.

Swastika

The emblem denotes the feet or the footprints of the Buddha. It is used to mark the beginning of texts. Modern Tibetan uses this symbol to decorate their clothing.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols The left-facing swastika of Buddhism (Image Source)

With the spread of Buddhism, it signifies plurality, prosperity, long life and abundance.

Four Guardian Kings

In Buddhism, the Four Heavenly Kings or the guardian gods watch over the one cardinal direction of the world.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols Shitennō (Four Heavenly Kings), Hōryūji Temple 法隆寺, Nara Mid-7th Century. Oldest extant set of the four. National Treasures. (Image Source)

Buddha’s Eyes

Buddha eyes are also called as the wisdom eyes. It can be found on all the four sides of the Buddhist shrines called as the stupas. The symbol indicates the all-knowing eyes of Buddha and represents the presence of Lord.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols The Eyes of Lord Buddha, Svayambhunath, Kathmandu (Image Source)

The curly line below the eyes is the Sanskrit numeral one and indicates unity. It is the only way to gain enlightenment through Buddha’s teachings. The dot between the eyes symbolizes the third eye and represents spiritual awakening.

Vajra

The Vajra is the Buddhist tantric symbol of high spiritual power and steadiness of spirit. It indicates one of the three main branches of Buddhism, Vajrayana. It is shaped like a club and sports ribbed round heads.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols Vajra in the hand of the Buddha

The Vajra symbolizes purity and non-destruction like diamond and powerful energy like a thunderbolt. It also indicates infinite creativity, skill, and strength. The Vajra is used as a ritual tool and is also known as Dorje in Tibetan Buddhism. The lamas and other sadhana practitioners use it along with the bell.

Significance Of Main Buddhist Symbols
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