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The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism

Images and What They Mean

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The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism originated in Indian iconography. In ancient times, many of these same symbols were associated with the coronations of kings. In Buddhist legend, the symbols represent offerings the gods made to the Buddha after his enlightenment.

The symbols can be found in the art of most schools of Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. In some monasteries in China the symbols are placed on lotus pedestals in front of statues of the Buddha.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Parasol

Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Parasol
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The parasol is a symbol of royal dignity and protection from the heat of the sun. By extension, it represents protection from suffering.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: Two Golden Fish

Two Fish
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The two fish were originally symbolic of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna, but came to represent good fortune in general, for Hindus, Jain and Buddhists. Within Buddhism it also symbolises that living beings who practice the dharma need have no fear to drown in the ocean of suffering, and can freely migrate (chose their rebirth) like fish in the water.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Conch Shell

A Conch Shell
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

In Asia, the conch has long been used as a battle horn. In the Hindu epic The Mahabharata, the sound of the hero Arjuna's conch terrorized his enemies. In ancient times a white conch also represented the Brahmin caste to Hindus.

In Buddhism, a white conch that coils to the right represents the sound of the Dharma reaching far and wide, awakening beings from ignorance.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Lotus Blossom

The Lotus Blossom
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The lotus is rooted in deep mud and its stem grows through murky water. But the blossom rises above the muck and opens in the sun, beautiful and fragrant. In Buddhism, the lotus represents the true nature of beings, who rise through samsara into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment.

The color of the lotus also has significance:

  • White: Mental and spiritual purity
  • Red: The heart, compassion and love
  • Blue: Wisdom and control of the senses
  • Pink: The historical Buddha
  • Purple: Mysticism

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Banner of Victory

The Banner of Victory
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The victory banner signifies the Buddha's victory over the demon Mara and over what Mara represents -- passion, fear of death, pride and lust.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Vase

The Vase
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The treasure vase is filled with precious and sacred things, yet no matter how much is taken out, it is always full. It symbolizes long life and prosperity.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: Dharma Wheel

Dharma Wheel
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The Dharma Wheel, also called the dharma-chakra or dhamma chakka, is one of the most well-known symbols of Buddhism. The Wheel has eight spokes, representing the Eightfold Path. According to tradition, the Dharma Wheel was first turned when the Buddha delivered his first sermon after his enlightenment.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols: The Eternal Knot

Eternal Knot
Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson
The Eternal Knot, with its lines flowing and entwined in a closed pattern, represents dependent origination and the interrelation of all phenomena. It also signifies cause and effect and the union of compassion and wisdom.

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