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Glossary of Buddhist Icons and Symbols

A glossary of symbols, creatures and sacred beings from Buddhist art and scriptures. Click on the term for more explanation of its meaning.

In Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat is an individual who has realized enlightenment and may enter Nirvana.

Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is beloved to Mahayana Buddhists as the embodiment of infinite compassion.

The Bhavachakra, or Wheel of Life, is a common illustration in Tibetan Buddhism of the cycle of existence, through birth and rebirth.

In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is one who works for the enlightenment of others and who vows not to enter Nirvana until all other beings are enlightened.

Chakras are energy centers of the human body that correspond to psychological and physical properties.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, a dakini is the energy of nondual awareness manifested as a naked, dancing, wrathful female deity.

Dharmapalas are fearsome creatures of Vajrayana Buddhism who aid and protect Buddhists.

Dhyani Buddhas
The Five Dhyani Buddhas are transcendent Buddhas visualized in tantric meditation.

A dorje is a symbol and ritual object of Buddhism.

Enso, circle, is a frequent theme in Zen art.

A garuda is a beautiful, wise bird creature of Buddhist myth.

Hungry Ghosts
Hungry Ghosts are characters from Buddhist iconography who suffer from their greed, envy and jealousy.

Jizo Bosatsu
Jizo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) is one of the most beloved figures of Japanese Buddhism. He is known in particular as the protector of deceased children.

Kwan Yin
Kwan Yin is one of the many names of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Others are Kanzeon or Kannon (Japan) and Chenrezig (Tibet).

Mara, Lord of Death
The demon Mara plays a role in many stories of the Buddha and his monks, and in particular the story of the Buddha's enlightenment. This article discusses Mara's origins and what he represents in Buddhism.

Nagas are divine serpents who appear frequently in sutras and myths.

Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum (Sanskrit) or Om Mani Peme Hung (Tibetan) is a Buddhist mantra meaning "Om, jewel in the lotus, hum."

Tara is a tantric deity of Tibetan Buddhism. She embodies the female aspect of compassion.

Vairocana Buddha
Vairocana Buddha is the primordial Buddha or supreme Buddha.

Vajra or Dorje
A vajra is a Buddhist symbol and ritual object with several meanings.

Wheel of Life
A graphical depiction of the cycle of birth and rebirth; also called the Bhavachakra.

In Tibetan Vajrayana (tantra), Yab-yum is the image of male and female deities in sexual union.

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