A Thai Dhamma wheel at Wat Phothivihan, Tumpat, Kelantan

Buddhist symbolism – From representation to auspiciousness

is the use of to represent certain aspects of the Buddha’s Dharma (teaching).

Early Buddhist symbols

Early Buddhist symbols which remain important today include the Dharma wheel, the Indian lotus, the three jewels and the Bodhi tree.

Anthropomorphic symbolism depicting the Buddha (as well as other figures) became very popular around the first century CE with the arts of Mathura and the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.

The development of new symbols

New symbols continued to develop into the medieval period, with Vajrayana adopting further symbols such as the stylized double .

In the modern era, new symbols like the were also adopted.

Many symbols are depicted in early Buddhist art.

Many of these are ancient, pre-Buddhist and pan-Indian symbols of auspiciousness (mangala).

At its founding in 1952, the World Fellowship of Buddhists adopted two symbols to represent Buddhism.

These were a traditional eight-spoked Dharma wheel and the five-colored flag.

List of recognized Buddhist symbols

This is a list of Buddhist symbols recognized by practitioners from divers schools around the world.

Vajra

Vajra is a ritual scepter symbolizing compassion and skillful means, and also a symbol of indestructibility.

In tantric rituals, the vajra is the necessary counterpart of the bell, which symbolizes the wisdom of emptiness.

Vajra and bell are a set where both have the same number of spokes. Their number varies from one to one thousand, yet the most commonly known are the five-spoked ones called “Samaya vajra and bell” and the nine spoked called “wisdom vajra and bells”.

The size of the vajra can vary from 4 inches to twenty, and the bell should be in proportion.

Dharmachakra

The Dhamma Chakra is a symbol from ancient India and one of the of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism.

The Dhamma wheel symbol has represented Buddhism, Gautama Buddha’s teachings and his walking of the path to Enlightenment since the time of early Buddhism.

The symbol is also connected to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

Namkha

, also known as Dö; is a form of yarn or thread cross composed traditionally of wool or silk and is a form of the of the Eight Auspicious Symbols (Ashtamangala).

Endless knot

The endless knot or eternal knot is a symbolic knot and one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols. It is an important symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. It is an important cultural marker in places significantly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism such as Tibet, Mongolia, Tuva, Kalmykia, and Buryatia. It is also found in Celtic and Chinese symbolism.

Swastika

The is meaning auspicious in the Sanskrit language. When turning to the left it is the principal religious symbol of the Bon and Jain religions. For the Bon, a right turning swastika has no meaning. Several Bon historical figures and deities hold a single swastika or a double swastika scepter. For the Buddhists, it is a decorative element occasionally having a more specific meaning within a localized Tantric context.

Dhvaja

, meaning banner or flag, is composed of the Ashtamangala, the “eight auspicious symbols.”

Khata

A or khatag(Tibetan: ཁ་བཏགས་ ; Dzongkha: དར་, Dhar, Mongolian : ᠬᠠᠳᠠᠭ / Mongolian: хадаг / IPA: [χɑtɑk], khadag or hatag, Nepali: खतक khada, Chinese 哈達/哈达; pinyin: hādá/hǎdá) is a traditional ceremonial scarf in tengrism and Tibetan Buddhism. It originated in Tibetan culture and is common in cultures and countries where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced or has strong influence.

Shankha

A is a conch shell of ritual and religious importance in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is the shell of a large predatory sea snail, Turbinella pyrum, found in the Indian Ocean.

Ashtamangala

The Ashtamangala are a sacred suite of Eight Auspicious Signs endemic to a number of religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The symbols or “symbolic attributes” are yidam and teaching tools. Not only do these attributes point to qualities of enlightened mindstream, but they are the investiture that ornaments these enlightened “qualities”. Many cultural enumerations and variations of the Ashtamangala are extant.Groupings of eight auspicious symbols were originally used in India at ceremonies such as an investiture or coronation of a king. An early grouping of symbols included: throne, swastika, handprint, hooked knot, vase of jewels, water libation flask, pair of fishes, lidded bowl. In Buddhism, these eight symbols of good fortune represent the offerings made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he gained enlightenment.

Urna

is the small dot on the forehead of the Buddha, actually a white hair tuft, and one of the 32 major marks of a Buddha.

Bumpa

The , or pumpa, is a ritual vase with a spout used in Tibetan Buddhist rituals and empowerments. It is understood to be, in some contexts, the vessel or the expanse of the Universe.

Gankyil

The or “wheel of joy” is a symbol and ritual tool used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism. It is composed of three swirling and interconnected blades.

Khakkhara

A (Sanskrit: sounding staff; English: monk staff; is a Buddhist ringed staff used primarily in prayer or as a weapon, that originates from India. The jingling of the staff’s rings is used to warn small sentient beings to move from the carrier’s path and avoid being accidentally trodden on. In ancient times it was used also to scare away dangerous animals. Ringing also is used to alert the faithful that there is a monk within earshot in need of alms. In the Sarvāstivāda vinaya the khakkhara is called the “sounding staff” because of the tinkling sound the rings make.

Japamala

A or mala is a string of prayer beads commonly used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Shintō for the spiritual practice known in Sanskrit as japa. The rosary is usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers are also used. Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a Deity.

Azusa Yumi

An is a sacred bow (yumi) used in certain Shinto rituals in Japan, as well as a Japanese musical bow, made from the wood of the Japanese azusa or Japanese cherry birch tree. Playing an azusa yumi forms part of some Shinto rituals; in Japan, it is universally believed that merely the twanging of the bowstring will frighten ghosts and evil spirits away from a house. In Japanese poetry, the word azusa yumi functions as a makurakotoba.

Hama yumi

The (破魔弓) is a sacred bow used in 1103 A.D. in Japan. The Bow is said to be one of the oldest and most sacred Japanese weapons; the first Emperor Jimmu is always depicted carrying a bow.

A in Buddhism

The phoneme A (अ) is an important symbol and seed mantra in Mahayana Buddhism as well as in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Chatra (umbrella)

The chatra is an auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

Lion Capital of Ashoka

The is a sculpture of four Asiatic lions standing back to back, on an elaborate base that includes other animals. A graphic representation of it was adopted as the official Emblem of India in 1950. It was originally placed on the top of the Ashoka pillar by the Emperor Ashoka, in about 250 BCE during his rule over the Maurya Empire. The pillar, sometimes called the Aśoka Column, is still in its original location, but the Lion Capital is now in the Sarnath Museum, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Standing 2.15 metres high including the base, it is more elaborate than the other very similar surviving capitals of the pillars of Ashoka bearing the Edicts of Ashoka that were placed throughout India several of which feature single animals at the top; one other damaged group of four lions survives, at Sanchi.

Dadar (ritual tool)

The Dadar, or arrow often though not always dressed with rainbow ribbon, is a teaching tool, ritual instrument symbol for Nyingmapa and Bonpo Dzogchenpa and is a particular attribute for Mandarava and Saraha.

Shuin

A is a seal stamp given to worshippers and visitors to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. The seal stamps are often collected in books called shuinchō (朱印帳) that are sold at shrines and temples.

Triratna

The is a Buddhist symbol, thought to visually represent the Three Jewels of Buddhism.

Buddhist flag

The Buddhist flag is a flag designed in the late 19th century as a universal symbol of Buddhism. It is used by Buddhists throughout the world.

Indra’s net

Indra’s net is a metaphor used to illustrate the concepts of Śūnyatā (emptiness), pratītyasamutpāda, and interpenetration in Buddhist philosophy.

Shakyasimha

a. The symbol is a lion, as king of all beasts. the ‘Lion of the Sakya Clan’. The lion is therefore one of the prime symbols of Buddhism itself. Like a Buddha, Padmasambhava as the Second Buddha, is also called Shakyasimha. The ‘lotus-born’ guru Padmakara, who was revered throughout the Himalayan world as Second Buddha, introduced the most advanced meditative practices of Mahayoga and Atiyoga from Oddiyana and India into Tibet and Bhutan during the eighth century. On the 10th day of the second lunar month, guru Padmakara received two names: Shakyasimha and Matiman Vararuci.

Sacred lotus in religious art

The lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is an aquatic plant that plays a central role in the art of Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Abhayamudra

The Abhayamudrā “gesture of fearlessness” is a mudrā (gesture) that is the gesture of reassurance and safety, which dispels fear and accords divine protection and bliss in many Indian religions. The right hand is held upright, and the palm is facing outwards. This is one of the earliest mudrās found depicted on a number of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh images.

Mundamala

, also called kapalamala or rundamala, is a garland of severed human heads and/or skulls, in Hindu iconography and Tibetan Buddhist iconography. In Hinduism, the mundamala is a characteristic of fearsome aspects of the Hindu Divine Mother and the god Shiva; while in Buddhism, it is worn by wrathful deities of Tibetan Buddhism.

Hamsa

The is a palm-shaped amulet popular throughout North Africa and in the Middle East and commonly used in jewellery and wall hangings. Depicting the open right hand, an image recognized and used as a sign of protection in many times throughout history, the hamsa has been traditionally believed to provide defense against the evil eye.

Kagome crest

The or Kagome mon is a star-shaped emblem related to the kagome lattice design. The Kagome mon can be depicted as, either, a six-pointed star and as an eight-pointed star :The six-pointed star version is composed of two interlocking equilateral triangles, similar to/interchangeable with the Hindu Shatkona, which represents the union between opposites, similar to Yin and yang. The eight-pointed star version is composed of two interlocking squares, similar to/interchangeable with the Hindu Star of Lakshmi.

Physical characteristics of the Buddha

There are no extant representations of the Buddha represented in artistic form until roughly the 2nd century CE, partly due to the prominence of aniconism in the earliest extant period of Buddhist devotional statuary and bas reliefs. A number of early discourses describe the appearance of the Buddha, and are believed to have served as a model for early depictions. In particular, the “32 signs of a Great Man” are described throughout the Pali Canon, and these are believed to have formed the basis for early representations of the Buddha. These 32 major characteristics are also supplemented by another 80 secondary characteristics (Pali:Anubyanjana).

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