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Buddhist symbols meanings

Buddhist Symbols

Just like many legendary cultures of the past that still lives on today, Buddhism has laid a mark in the religious history in Asia and beyond. Buddhist symbols can also be clear evidence of how important their teachings have been to make a positive effect on both the cultural and spiritual traditions of the people who have practiced it. Buddhist Symbols are also one of the most interesting and unique glyphic findings throughout history, spreading across many regions of the gigantic and elegant Asian continent. Amazingly, Buddhist symbols are known for enacting symbolism and art in their teachings which can easily be found in Tibet, Vajrayana, and many parts of China and Japan. There are many Buddhist symbols like the Lotus flower which represents the ability of humans to use wisdom and purity to grow and overcome obstacles. Liberation and transformation are also a fundamental part of these teachings which are been thought for centuries. Over those long years, Buddhist culture as a whole continues to evolve. Many Buddhist symbols depict spiritual power which has influenced more recent religions in finding the will to protect themselves from harm and evil. Other glyphs go a long way in symbolism freedom which has helped people with limited opportunities to see the world and be free from oppression. Another teaching of Buddhism symbols is finding the ability to strengthen our faith when things aren’t going well. They also convey moral discipline in this case, as well as nurturing kindness in the human heart. These have easily symbolized the notion of finding peace even when there is war. Dwelling more on the spirituality of the human mind can become a conduit to so many amazing things to be found in the world. Buddhist symbols do not only depict principles and doctrines of goodwill but also heavily highlight the importance of being a better human and living a better life as well.

Airavarta - Six-tusked Elephant Buddhism symbol

Airavarta – Six tusked Elephant

The Airavarta or Six-tusked Elephant holds special significance in Buddhist traditions, as a symbol of purity, holiness and cleanliness. Elephants generally symbolize good fortune and luck and are considered an auspicious symbol. The Airavarta is also seen as synonymous with Buddha himself, as it is mentioned in Buddhist traditions. The six tusks are seen as a sign of divine conception and the beginning of Buddha’s physical journey.

Kirtimukha - The Face of Glory Buddhism symbol

Kirtimukha – The Face of Glory

The Kirtimukha is also referred to as the ‘creature without a name’. Its origin lies in the legend from the Skhanda Purana. Created from the anger of Shiva, the demon Rahu devours himself in hunger. Pleased by this action, Shiva gives him the name Kirtimukha and appoints him as a guardian of his door. A variation of this creature, Chepu is also commonly seen in Nepalese art.

Garuda – Half bird Half human Buddhism symbol

Garuda – Half bird Half human

The Daruda, or the ‘Devourer’ is a well known figure across south east Asia in regions such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. In both Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the Garuda is the lord of birds. Resembling an eagle and a man, its form is used as a means to ward off poison and snakes in southeast Asian regions. The legends that state that creatures are unable to survive Garuda’s bite and claws. The Garuda symbol is also seen at the top of Buddha’s throne, cementing its place as a supreme sunbird.

Mthun - The Four Friends Buddhism symbol

Mthun – The Four Friends

Mthin is a sign of good fortune, the motif refers to the four friends. These consist of an elephant, monkey, hare and partirude all locked into a pyramid underneath a tree. The symbol of the Four Friends is in reference to a legend relating to Buddha’s previous lives. A moral fable, the four friends purpose is to illustrate that age must be respected over other aspects of one’s life such as birth and learning.

Makara conch Buddhism symbol

Makara Conch

The Makara conch is part of the three creatures of victory. It is born from the union of a snail and a Makara. This creature is considered as a guardian, and it is used as a means of protection in sacred spaces such as temple entries. The Makara is also sometimes referred to as the water-monster.
The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony refers to the Garuda lion, fish-otter and makara conch. These were mainly used a sign of victory. It is said that these creatures are formed by the union of animals that are traditionally hostile to each other (i.e. predator-prey).

Fish-otter - The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony

Fish otter – The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony

The Fish otter is a union of a fish and its enemy, the otter. The body and limbs are of an otter while the head and gills are a fish. It is covered in fur, like the otter. The Fish-otter is sometimes referred to as the fish with hair.
The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony refers to the Garuda lion, fish-otter and makara conch. These were mainly used a sign of victory. It is said that these creatures are formed by the union of animals that are traditionally hostile to each other (i.e. predator-prey).

Garuda lion - The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony Buddhism

Garuda lion – The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony

The Garuda Lion is a result of a union between a lion and its celestial rival, the Garuda bird. It is depicted with eight limbs, four from the lion and the talons of a Garuda from the knees. The Garuda Lion is a representation of the sky and the earth and its union. The lion is the god of the skies while the Garuda is the lord of the earth.
The Three Victorious Creatures of Harmony refers to the Garuda lion, fish-otter and makara conch. These were mainly used a sign of victory. It is said that these creatures are formed by the union of animals that are traditionally hostile to each other (i.e. predator-prey).

Triratna Buddhism symbol

Triratna

The Triratna represent the three jewels of Buddhism. This is the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. It consists of other symbols found in Buddhism, such as a lotus flower, the vajra, the trisula and the nanda-chakra. This is to showcase the powers and strengths of Buddhism and is usually associated with the dharma wheel.

Vajra Buddhism symbol

Vajra

The Vajra is representative of reality. It symbolizes the indestructible nature of reality and its immutability. This is the enlightenment of Buddha. Although the vajra is seen in different religious cultures such as Hinduism, it is also a symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism. In some legends, it is said that Buddha took the weapon from the sky god Indra and bent its points together to create an instrument of peace.

Trishula - Trident Buddhism symbol

Trishula – Trident

The Trishula is a trident, or “three teeth.” Although found in many different mythological canon, it is associated with the god Indra’s vajra – three-pronged thunderbolt of sorts. Across Hindu and Buddhist culture, the three prongs represent a variety of qualities such as knowledge, power, and will. The trident is also seen in Buddhist art as a representation of his teachings on ethics, meditation and wisdom.

Jizo Buddhism symbol

Jizo

A guardian of travelers and the weak, Jizo is their patron saint. Originating in Japan, it depicts a Bosatsu (Bodhisattva). This is a person that has achieved enlightenment but chooses not to go to Nirvana. This is so they can guide others towards enlightenment by staying in this life. In Buddhist tradition, it depicts a monk that is gathering merit for the afterlife.

Daruma Buddhism symbol

Daruma

A depiction of Bodhidharma, the Daruma is seen as a symbol of the patronage of Zen Buddhist traditions. Known as Daruma in Japan, he is a sage who is considered the founder of Zen Buddhism. However, his teachings originated in China as a form of meditation and was referred to as Chan Buddhism.

Yantra - Instrument Buddhism symbol

Yantra – Instrument

The Yantra has complex meaning and is often used as a tool in meditation. The Yantra helps balance the mind and bring it towards spirituality. Whether worn, enacted, or concentrated on, the yantra is said to hold a myriad of benefits. It is seen as the destruction of evil from negative emotions such as desire and anger. Yantra translated means “Instrument”.

Yab yum Buddhism symbol

Yab Yum

The Yab Yum is both the father and the mother. It is the harmonious union of wisdom and compassion. The symbol itself shows a male deity united with a female consort. While the male is symbolic of compassion, the female is a symbol of insight. The Yab Yum is often seen in Buddhist art.

Sarshapa - The Mustard Seed symbol

Sarshapa – The Mustard Seed

Sarshapa translated means “The Mustard Seed”. In both Buddhist and Hindu culture, the mustard seed is used as a destructive force against negativity. In ancient India, it was considered a powerful substance that could be used for physical purposes such as cooking and fuel but also to counteract bad luck and negative energy. The mustard seed can also be used to ward off evil spirits and ghosts.

Sindura - The Vermilion Powder Buddhism symbol

Sindura – The Vermilion Powder

The Sindura was purportedly presented to Buddha by a Brahmin, Jyotisharaja. A potent mix, the Sindura holds deep significance. It is the birth of alchemy in many ways, but it also has strong connections to religion. When mixed with burnt cow dung, the Sindura is applied to foreheads of Hindus as a symbol of devotion. It is also used to identify married women whose husbands are still alive. The Sindura is a way to create a strong visual statement within Hinduism and caste. Sindura translated means “The Vermilion Powder”.

Dakshinavarta - Shankha Buddhism symbol

Dakshinavarta – Shankha

Dakshinavarta Shankha is a symbol of strength and might, the right-turning conch shell represents Buddha’s proclamation of the dharma. This shell was given to Buddha by the sky god Indra, as a method of supplication and an acknowledgement of his might. The The Right-turning Conch Shell is often found in Buddhist art as a symbol of his power. Dakshinavarta Shankha translated means “The Right-turning Conch Shell”.

Bilva – The Bilva Fruit Buddhism symbol

Bilva – The Bilva Fruit

The Bilva fruit (Aegle marmelos) refers to the Bengal quince. A round fruit with a hard skin, it is also sometimes described as a wood apple. It is known for its purifying qualities in Ayurvedic folk medicine as a cure for conditions such as diarrhea and dysentery. A sacred fruit, it was offered to temple gods in ancient India such as Shiva and Lakshmi. The Bilva is also sometimes depicted as a pomegranate in Tibetan art. Bilva translated means “The Bilva Fruit”.

Durva - The Durva Grass Buddhism symbols

Durva – The Durva Grass

A common grass, Durva is hardy grows in volume. Although usually found in wet territory, durva grass is known for its durability. It is considered sacred because in its role in various legends and is connected to immortality. It is also associated with kusha grass, which also plays an important role as a sacred grass. Durva translated means “The Durva Grass”.

Dadhi - The Curds of yogurt Buddhism symbols

Dadhi – The Curds of yogurt

Dadhi, or curds, have been an important dietary staple in India, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine. The pure white color of the dadhi represents a sense of spirituality and foregoing negativity. As one of the three substances derived from a cow, Dadhi has particular importance and is used as an ingredient for purification. Dadhi translated means “The Curds of Yogurt”.

Gorochana - The Precious Medicine Buddhism symbols

Gorochana – The Precious Medicine

The Gorochana refers to precious stones that are found in certain animals such as bears, cattle, and elephants. The intestinal stones these animals create have different colors and potenties, and are used as a means of counteracting poison. The Gorochana is essentially an antidote for certain medical conditions such as fevers and contagious diseases. Gorochana translated means “The Precious Medicine”

Darpana - The Mirror Buddhism symbols

Darpana – The Mirror

Darpana is a symbolic representation of the light and the ability to see one’s self. It is represented as emptiness, or the existence of pure consciousness. It reflects object without judgement and is never affected by what it has seen. The four circles inside the disc represented the wisdom of the five Buddhas. Darpana translated means “Mirror”.

Om Buddhism symbols

Om

The ‘Om’ sound and symbol are well-known even today. It is a sacred sound that is meant to be the sound of the universe. A sound of union and harmony, Om has been used across the centuries for peace and meditative practice. Om is an important mantra in Buddhism and symbolizes birth, death, and life.

Buddha eyes Buddhism symbol

Buddha Eyes

Buddha eyes are representative of his ultimate knowledge and power. These eyes look in four directions to symbolize his wisdom and omniscience. The belief is that the material eyes look at the external world. But the inner eyes, which are in the middle of the material eyes, are what see beyond the materiality of the world.

Kalachakra Wheel of Time Buddhism symbol

Kalachakra – Wheel of Time

The Kalachakra represents the finality of life and death and its endlessness. Seen as a symbol for creation and destruction, it is known as the wheel of time. The Kalachakra is important in understanding the measurements of time and dates in ancient India. This term is most commonly found in Vajrayana Buddhism.

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