Buddhist Ritual Items and Symbols

Buddhist Ritual Items and Symbols

is one of the most established world that has ever seen. Over the great expanse of , it has quietly established its own set of symbolisms – that are as old as time itself. This is only but with all the religions of the civilized world. And as such, many of these are considered recognizable icons of and . The more prominent symbols have entered the of the people from the Western world as well.

The thing about popular symbolisms is that many people know of its existence, and many people may even use it freely, but no one really knows how the said symbols came to existence and what the symbols initially meant.

Buddhist symbols are quite rich in spiritual overtones, regardless of the fact that this religion has already given way to varying factions and sects. Some of these symbols have literally crossed boundaries, and so there are Buddhist religious symbols that share the design as but may have varying meanings or interpretations.

For purposes of clarity, though, this article will focus on the greater lot of Buddhist symbols art that are universal or almost universal in nature. The most prominent of all Buddhist symbols and images is, of course, the very image of himself.

Siddhartha Gautama Buddha

The man’s figure has been depicted in various forms, during various stages of his life. His image can be seen almost in almost all corners of the globe, from eastern to permanent arm , and even elaborate cake designs. Even the conventional man on the street can often recognize the iconic image as something taken from the East. But many do not know that what they are seeing are actual depictions of the founder of .

A number of iconic images of Buddha represent him as a man undergoing his earliest starvation period – all and bones sitting in a very upright and rigid position. His robe has fallen off his shoulders and draped almost piteously against his small, malnourished waist. This representation is said to have been taken from historical accounts, about the time when Buddha was trying to achieve the very basis of his : the keystone to his which would eventually preach about the ultimate reality of the .

In other exemplars of Buddhist symbols and images, Buddha is depicted as a smooth-faced young man, his hair coiled tightly on top of his head, his earlobes long (as was the fashion for the affluent people of his time.) Often too, he is represented as the sitting Buddha: a figure whose hands are clasped in prayer while sitting in the . In this symbol, Buddha is often shown as someone well-dressed, and evidently at the peak of .

Needless to say, there are so many sitting Buddha statues in the world. Some of them are made entirely of gold, while others are created out of less costly materials but scaled to gigantic heights.

Interestingly enough, most Buddhist art forms represent Siddhartha Gautama as a laughing, carefree figure, round in shape, and somewhat on his way to old age; (he is usually depicted with a hairless scalp, long droopy earlobes, and sagging pectorals.) Undeniably, this representation of Buddha is the most iconic symbol of all Buddha representations.

However, the truth of this matter is that this image is not at all based on any historical account. Rather, this is a mere translation of Buddhist symbols. According to the prominent dogma of Buddhism, this laughing, the carefree and image of Buddha is what entities should look like after they achieved all their highest spiritual attainments and have given up his worldly for a divine one.

In Christian retrospect, this is what we should look like in heaven.

In other words, one of the most prominent Buddhist symbols is not based on accurate details; but rather, based on creative interpretations of a mere translation of Buddhist dogma.

Buddhism is one of the major religions in Today’s World. More than 9% of people follow . Lord Buddha was born in of Kapilvastu district of as a prince as his parents were Suddhodhana and Queen Mayadevi. His childhood was full of comfort but one day he left all his comfort and palace in search of the solution to in life. Then, Lord Buddha meditated under the . He found and at the same place.

If you’re interested to know more about Buddhism Check it out: Charity and Perfection of Giving in Buddhism

Buddhist Rituals Items

Let’s have a look at some of the Buddhist :

People who follow Buddhism can at both home or temple, it’s not essential to go to a temple. It is believed that the practice of , , development of morality, and the practices, lead to the path of Enlightenment.

Buddhism aims to accomplish enlightenment through good deeds and services without priests, , or other intermediaries. Buddhist followers were guided to “ on your own salvation with diligence”.

Ghanta (Buddhist Prayer )

Buddhist prayer bells are small and natural that is superintended to be small and innate. They are made up of shiny metal or gold. It consists of an ornate handle that forms into a curved bell and the top of the handle looks similar to a crown. The patterns made in these bells are unyielding and complex, which represents the entanglement of the religion. And, the bell curve is simple and contains repetitive simple patterns.

The sound of the bell is believed to symbolize the voice of Lord Buddha, by adding up to the sound of “Dharma”, or heavenly law. The bell also represents calmness and it is said to represent time to start the prayer and brace . It is also used to answer a call for prayer.

Sankha (Buddhist )

The resembles a decorated snail shell. It is regarded as one of the auspicious among eight in Buddhism. The outer part of this shell is decorated with beautiful patterns concerning the faith of Buddhism and they’re usually found painted in white or light colors. They represent Buddhism ubiquitous and .

Sankha is usually used as a musical instrument. It is also used to carry holy water from place to place. People believe that sankha will allow overcoming evil, to those who can hear its sound. Also, it represents the voice and the truth of Buddha’s teaching in Buddhism.

Dorje

Dorje is one of the most important items. It consists of complex designs and the ornate compliments to the bell. Dorje and Bell are supposed to go hand in hand. Commonly, it’s said as ‘thunderbolt’ and it symbolizes the “thunderbolt” of enlightenment.

Dorje is usually held in the right hand during rituals and prayers and the prayer bell would usually be held on the other hand. Dorje is supposed to represent male belief whereas bell symbolizes the aspect of wisdom. Both of these objects when together, a person achieves enlightenment.

(Tibetan )

Damaru is believed that the instrument reached the around the 8th century. The and the objects by the help of which Drum is made has been a staple of the Buddhist faith for a very long time. Damaru holds massive significance during practices. There are three types of Damaru. Each of them has its own specific purpose.

The most used damage is Chod Damru which is believed to be made from wood and is covered with leather skins on the surface. It is used during the Tantric practice of chod, with a belief that this the cut to the problem and faces them.

Gawu Box

The Gawu box is known as a lucky charm that is made up of silver and is used to hold an image of Buddha which is made from metal or clay. The outer side of the box is beautifully ornamented with and expensive stones. It is used during prayer to obviate an evil spirit and bring Lord Buddha’s blessing.

Male Buddhists wear a square-shaped whereas women embellish rounded ones.

Tibetan Butter Lamp

Tibetan is usually used in most of the sanctuaries and Tibetan temples. The golden cup represents the illumination of Wisdom. Tibetan Butter is offered to the temples early in the with other seven containing other symbolic . People traveling between temple also supply oil to gain favor.

Tibetan Prayer Wheel

 

comes in various materials, , and sizes and comes in a cylindrical form. The larger are usually held up by wooden structures and the personal ones are small in size. They are usually made up of gold and are decorated with auspicious symbols found in Asthamnagala.

(Tibetan Beads)

Tibetan Beads are one of the very important and well known Tibetan ritual items. The Mala is composed of 108 beads, and each of those signifies the mortal sins of humanity. Those beads are supposed to be made from the wood of a special tree, i.e. Ficus religiosa. Rattan seeds and Bodhi seeds are also used sometimes. The signification usually varies with the materials and the wooden beads are used for all purposes.

Tibetan Prayer Flag

Tibetan is one of the earliest traditions in Buddhism which dated back thousands of years. In times, Bonpo priests used colored cloth flags with their magical symbols which are supposed to balance the . help to generate natural positive energy and bring harmony to everything touched by the wind.

There are flags of 5 colors including Red, White, Yellow, Green, and blue color and each color represents , water, , , and respectively. People following Buddhism added ancient symbols, texts, prayers, and in these flags and they’re supposed to help to overcome natural disasters, diseases, generating , wish fulfillment, health, and other obstacles.

Brocade Banner

The Tibetan consists of 8 Tibetan Symbols with beautiful and Buddhist . These banners help to enhance the personal home, these wall banners eight auspicious symbols. They come on a golden yellow background and the symbols get decorated with colorful tassels. It consists of eight auspicious symbols including Golden Fish, Parasol, conch shell, URN, , Infinite knot, Flags, and .

The Brocade banners in Buddhist homes are believed to generate positivity and ward off negative energy. Also, they appease the surroundings and offer protection to worshippers.

Tibetan Cymbals

Tibetan Cymbals or are used by Buddhist practitioners during prayer and rituals. A chain or sometimes a leather strap is used to join these two cymbals and they are stuck together which results in producing a high and cleared pitched tone.

These days, antique Cymbala is very rare and quite expensive to find. == They’re used in , prayers, meditation, and overall in sound therapies. They were also used in Tibetan rituals as a contribution to “hungry ghosts”.

Tibetan Incense

 

 

Tibetan incense is one of the most used and needs ritual items. It is usually used during the cleansing of surroundings, , and meditation. The beautiful aroma helps to and soothes the of the devotees. They are made up of pure spices, flowers, .

Firstly, the pieces of wood are converted into a fine powder then other ingredients are added to the . Then they’re dried and made into different shapes and sizes.

Tibetan Prayer Scarf

Tibetan Prayer Scarf is also known as . It is one of the traditional its which indicates wishes of , respect. It is used in almost all the special occasions as well as its farewell. During the farewell period, it represents a safe journey. When it is given to a guest, it is supposed to symbolize welcome.

Khata is also believed to symbolize compassion and in Buddhism. The white-colored that represents a pure heart. The katas are hung on , placed around the neck of people and statues. khata is also one of the ways of showing gratitude.

Aromatic Pillow

Aromatic pillows have herbs which help to restore balance with its ancient healing recipes. This aromatherapy is widely used in South for centuries. Nepal is one of the countries rich in herbal plants and the products are handpicked by locals then dried. Then are made based on ancient Tibetan Therapies. The herbs are used for therapy for emotional well-being.

Singing Bowl

are made up of metals are usually used in medication and sound healing therapies. Singing Bowls produces prolonged soothing vibrations that help to calm you down and helps in healing. Singing Bowl when struck with a mallet produces harmonic and gets produced around the edges of the bowls.

For detailed information on the singing bowl: All you need to know about the singing bowl

Statue

Statues are used for representing deities in . The statue of Buddha is the representation of Lord Buddha. The statue of Buddha varies according to tradition and . The different Buddhist Statue has its own form and meanings. The statue of Buddha statues are artistic and are highly influenced by Buddhist texts.

Tibetan Bracelets

Tibetan Bracelets are one of the Buddhist Rituals items which are believed to protect from negative energy. The knots in the bracelets are tied together during the repetition of . And then the bracelets are charged with protective charm and positive energy. They’re tied together by the which are also one of the eight auspicious symbols. It is also believed to represent and symbolize the power of mind or perpetual . It is believed that in every knot the teachings of Buddha are embedded.

These Bracelets bring luck and stabilize and harmonize the of the human body.

Tibetan Meditation Cushion

Tibetan Meditation Cushion is supposed to improve your comfort level and posture. Both the half and the full lotus position is pivotal while one is sitting for meditative purpose. The Zabuton and Zafu meditation Cushions work best for the mediation purpose. The Zafu mediation cushion is best for people with average height and flexibility as well. These cushions are very essential during Buddhist Rituals and are also popular among practitioners.

Incense Burner

Incense Burner is also one of the main Buddhist ritual items. The burning of incense is served as an offering to Lord Buddha to clear the air of evil spirits. They are made up of different materials and are of different forms. They consist of a deep bowl and have a handle on each side. They are made up of Bronze, Copper.

Protector Amulet

Protection are supposed to protect against negative influences and helps to bring good luck and . They are also called Sungkhor and they drive away obstacles, negative forces, and obscurations. You should wear it correctly and never put it on the floor for maximum protection. All the amulets contain a saffron water-dipped mantra which first dries, folded, and then wrapped with thread. Their protection amulets can be found in various Buddhist shrines and monasteries in the region.

Begging Bowls

Begging Bowls is also known as alms bowl and it is one of the simple and the most important object in the daily lives of . This bowl is used to collect alms from lay supporters. These bowls are made up of clay or iron and the size of the bowl differs from the small, , and large.

This bowl represents historical Buddha as it is believed that when Lord Buddha meditated beneath the Bodhi tree, a woman offered him this kind of bowl filled with rice. And when he was enlighted, he threw the bowl into the river.

Buddhist Monastic Robes

Monastic Robe is a piece of clothes that are often worn by people following Buddhism which is yellow or saffron-colored. The robes are tie-dyed with turmeric or saffron. These robes are also known as civara. Wearing Chivara is a ’s four traditional requirements. Then material for a new robe is traditionally donated by a layperson in the Kathina ceremony which usually occurs in a rainy season.

Tibetan Skull Cup

Tibetan Skull cup is also known as in and it’s one of the much popular ritual items. It is made up of the upper oval section of the human cranium. These cups are usually used in Tibetan rituals and symbolic arts. Skull cups are usually seen in the hands of wrathful in Tibetan sculptures. It is usually held at the level of a heart and is paired with a curved chopper or knife.

Tibetan Thangka

Usually, Tibetan is embroidered or a printed banner which is usually hung up on the wall of monasteries or a family . It is also carried by on ceremonial processions. Thus, the thangka is a kind of and can be hung on a flat surface and can easily be rolled up when not needed.

Buddhist art

, of infinite compassion and mercy, possibly the most popular of all figures in Buddhist legend. This part shows the middle of the painting.

Buddhist art includes sculptures, , and other art forms that represent the stories and ideas of Buddhism. The earliest Buddhist art, which originated in , was mostly symbolic and avoided figurative depictions of Buddha. After many years, as Buddhism developed and spread to a culture, its religious art came to represent Buddha, , and in rich figurative imagery. Ritual art, like the intricate utilized in meditation, is additionally a crucial aspect of Buddhist art.

Mandala

In Tantric or , the mandala is works of art. Though mandala comes in they’re far more than just geometric figures. They are rich with symbols and sacred meaning in . It is also known as a ‘container of the essence’. It is a geometrical figure that is used to represent the universe as a whole. It is usually made with careful placement of colored sand, and accordingly is known in Tibetan as dul-tson-kyil-khor, or “mandala of colored powders.”

Buddhist Symbols

Other Recognizable Symbols of Buddhism

There are also a number of symbols in the Buddhist tradition that has no resemblance to the image of Siddhartha . Some of them include the 8-spoked wheel; ; flower; the white conch shell; the endless or eternal knot; , twin golden fishes, and .

8-Spoked Wheel

One of the most prominent Buddhist language symbols is the 8-spoke wheel. This is a 2-dimensional representation of the dharmackra or the . In other sects, the 8-spoked wheel is also known as the wheel of doctrine and the wheel of law. All of them pertain to the established teachings of Buddha.

The 8-spoked wheel symbol is considered language-based because it represents part of Buddha’s teachings. To be more precise, it is an iconic symbol for the “ of Buddhism:” the much-needed texts in order to finally achieve enlightenment.

The 8-spoked wheel is comprised of 4 things:

1. The center of the wheel or hub represents the need for moral discipline, the most elemental requirement for meditation.

2. The spokes which stand for the very things that limit man from moving towards enlightenment. According to Buddhist dogma, when wisdom is correctly applied in limited situations, man has the tendency to eventually end . Ignorance is the source of man’s suffering.

3. The rim where the spokes are attached symbolizes to the other parts of the wheel. This is needed in order to hold things together. And finally,

4. The circular shape represents:

a. The endless cycle of life

b. The perfection of Buddha’s dharma teaching; that it is complete and whole by itself.

If you want to see an image of the 8-spoked wheel, you can look at the figure right in the middle of the flag of India. The circular figure is based on ancient depictions of the wheel of dharma.

Parasol (chhatra)

A parasol may seem like an unlikely candidate for . As such, many of us recognize this small umbrella as part of Japanese culture. Yet, the origin of the parasol symbolism actually comes from India – the birthplace of Buddha himself. The parasol eventually evolved to represent or the Eight Auspicious Signs from the doctrines of the Tibetan monks. Known as the Chhatra, this is considered as a precious parasol umbrella associated with equality and universality among men. It is also often included in the depicting .

Originally, the parasol was utilized to symbolize its protective qualities. It is supposed to shield the bearer from the heat of the . With the passing of time, the meaning eventually came to signify general protection against defilements or any element that may cause spiritual retardation.

Lotus Flower ()

Another example of Buddhist art symbols is the innocuous but ubiquitous lotus flower. The lotus flower has come to mean a lot of things, but according to the earliest , this piece of white flora represents the practice of attaining the full potential of the mind through meditation. In other sects, the lotus flower simply means . With others, it has come to mean forgiveness and compassion. And yet, with other sects still, the lotus flower means pureness of intention, or charity without the need for payment.

Often, this flora is associated with the , who in turn is a representation of the compassionate side of Buddha.

White Lotus

The flower represents the purity of the mind, body, and spirit. White symbolizes the heart of the Buddha. The color is associated with the and proclaims her perfect nature, a that gets reinforced by the color of her body.

Red Lotus

The red lotus flower represents the heart, , and compassion. Red lotus flowers symbolize the emotional of the heart and other heart-centered emotions such as passion.

Blue Lotus

The blue lotus flower represents wisdom, intelligence, , and learning. The blue lotus flower is used to symbolize the victory of the spirit over the senses. It’s often depicted as being only partially open, so its center is not seen.

Pink Lotus

The pink lotus flower represents the Supreme Buddha as well as traditional and historical Buddhism. The pink lotus flower is considered to be the true lotus of the highest deity- the Buddha.

Purple Lotus

The purple lotus flower represents mysticism and . Usually, the purple lotus is depicted as having either one or three stems. The petals are shown closed and opened; at times it’s depicted as a bud and other times it’s depicted as being fully bloomed. All these representations symbolize the different mystical and spiritual stages in the journey that we take towards enlightenment and self-awareness.

Golden Lotus

The golden lotus flower represents total enlightenment and is often used to represent the Buddha

 

White Conch Shell (shankha)

The white conch shell is highly symbolic in nature. Normally, people associate shell with the bounty of the oceans and seas. In Tibetan , however, it has come to represent the flowing of good energy or “.” It is said that when good energy flows freely it, it is often followed by good .

Tibetan monks have fashioned the white conch shell as a sacred wind instrument that is supposed to call for peace and good karma. This is only played in very sacred but select ceremonies.

Twin Golden Fishes (Matsya)

 

The twin golden fishes have come to mean abundance, fertility, and happiness in Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Unlike the yin and yang, where opposing forces are said to “balance” each other out, the twin golden fishes stand side by side as equals. The usual representation of this is two fish standing face to face, vertically out of the water. Both are of equal size and both are facing inwards.

According to historical accounts, many people noticed that golden fishes usually swam in pairs. Eventually, the symbolism of the twin golden fishes suddenly turned to fidelity between conjugal partners.

Here are an interesting bit of trivia about the twin golden fishes. When it was fully established among the populace that twin golden fishes are the symbol of fidelity, people in and begun giving newlyweds a . This was their way of bidding the new couple a long and successful relationship.

Endless Or Eternal Knot ()

Also among the various Buddhist symbols and images, there is the endless or eternal knot: a 2-dimensional drawing of a knot, first seen in the documents of Tibetan Buddhism. The endless knot symbolizes many things. One meaning states that the endless knot stands for the “interweaving of the Spiritual Path,” where man’s destiny is dictated by the movement of time and the eventual changes that are bound to happen. Others say that the endless knot is the intertwining of compassion with wisdom. In Tantric Yoga, it has come to mean the link between the physical and the metaphysical world.

The endless knot may also be called the mystic knot, which represents the seemingly endless wisdom displayed by Buddha himself during his teaching ministry. This symbol has also become a fixture in Chinese and Tibetan Art as well.

The Victory Banner ()

In Buddhism tradition, the victory banner has evolved greatly. Initially, it was supposed to represent Buddha’s triumph over Mara: an evil or demonic entity who was trying to stop him from achieving enlightenment. Eventually, Mara became less of a demon and became worldly influences designed to tempt adherents from the straight and narrow path.

A few more years later, the formally adopts the victory banner, making it a representation of man’s triumph over eleven forms of spiritual defilements.

Victory banners can still be seen in many Tibetan monasteries today.

()

This symbol could be called the treasure vase or treasure urn. Its image is taken from the Sanskrit representation of the “bumpa,” which is is a long-life vase. In Tibetan , the treasure vase is supposed to be a representation of all things to be aspired for: long life, prosperity, and .

Corrupted Symbols

As with many of the established icons of the age, some symbols have been corrupted by time. Others were given such a turn-around treatment that the foremost or initial meaning of the symbols have been truly lost, and replaced by something totally unexpected or unwarranted.

Let us take the as an example. In the earliest representations of Buddhist art, the swastika was used as a sign of good luck. An early translation of Buddhist symbols states that the swastika (or manji, as it was called back then) represents the balance of two opposites, which in turn connotes harmony. It almost has the same representation as the Chinese’s predominant icon called yin-yang. Swastikas or manjis are Buddhist art symbols that are in fact, liberally used in a lot of the earliest (preserved) writings of Tibetan Buddhism.

It was only in the 1920s when the Nazi movement formally adopted the symbol to denote the rise of the German empire under Adolf Hitler, was the meaning of the swastika permanently altered. Even up to this day, very few people actually recognize this symbol’s Buddhist based origins.

Another corrupted symbol is the trisula. The trisula looks exactly like a three-pronged pitchfork, which we all know has come to symbolize the pitchfork of the devil. Before the onset of , the trisula and Poseidon’s trident were symbols of bounty and prosperity.

About sadiksha

Namaste! I am a Nepali Art Dealer specialized in Mandala and Thangka paintings. I love to write articles about the monastic culture of the Himalayas.

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