Animals in Buddhist Religion

In Asian culture and more specifically, in Buddhism, there is as deep a divide between spiritual and material things as there seems to be in Western civilization today. This is why religious symbols are a living part of every aspect of Asian culture.

Meaning and Significance of Animals in Buddhism

We will describe the different symbols in their outer and inner or esoteric meaning, according to the different teachings of Lord Buddha. However, according to Buddhist teachings, the very physical existence of any phenomenon depends on the inner sense, which is due to the mental creation or karmic activity of sentient beings. This means that the face that the symbols exist is due to the mental or karmic creation of these beings and cannot exist without it. Just as a plant needs a seed to exist, so the plant as a symbol only exists because there is a karmic seed that causes it.

bear animal

In fact, the very existence of the material or physical plant also depends on the existence of a karmic seed in the consciousness of the beings in whose world this plant grows. Therefore, what we call symbols are not artificial cultural creations invented by someone, but correspond to a real karmic activity which manifests on the external level as a material object - a plant or animal in this case and on the internal, mental level corresponds to a mental experience.

The actual reality of these symbols was experienced directly in meditation by such highly realized beings as Sakyamuni Buddha and others. Even ordinary beings can perceive the real nature of symbols to a certain extent, but in order to obtain a clearer understanding, some intellectual explanations are necessary.

In general, Buddhist symbols as well as other religious symbols are considered as a cultural element, without understanding their real meaning. They are only used or revered because it is the tradition of their own country, or because it is believed that these symbols or objects bring good luck and prosperity. In fact, these symbols can not only bring good luck, long life and prosperity, but can also bring the highest realization of the real nature of all existences.

They can help sentient beings develop their own inner wisdom and reach the level of a Buddha, whatever they want to call it. And this is why symbols exist as manifestations of this wisdom inherent in the minds of all sentient beings. In the present trial, only five animals were briefly described.

The Lion in Buddhism

lion buddhism

The lions are the kings of the animal kingdom: they are proud and majestic. They live in plains and grassy hills, never in mountains and especially not in high snowy mountains. Lions are organized into clans or groups and never live alone, except in the case of old lions or those expelled from the community. They feed by hunting, which is always done by females and never by males. The male's job is to protect the clan from enemies.

However, lions have no natural enemies. Because of these characteristics, the lion has been regarded throughout all ages and countries as a symbol of royalty and protection, as well as wisdom and pride. The iconographic representation of the lion originates from Persia.

In Buddhism, lions symbolize bodhisattvas

The “sons of the Buddha” or “lions of Buddha”. Bodhisattvas are beings who have reached a high level of spiritual development. They engendered bodhicitta and vowed to renounce the happiness of highest enlightenment and remain in this world working until all sentient beings are free from suffering. bodhisattvas practice the six fundamental paramitas: charity. Morality, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom[dana, sila, ksanti, verya, dhyana and prajna] and the four which derive from the basic means: skillful means, vows, power and knowledge[upaya, pranidhana, bala and jnana].

They are eight great bodhisattvas or divine bodhisattvas. In the Nispannygavaqli of Mahapandita Abhayakara Gupta, three sets of sixteen bodhisattvas are mentioned.

In Buddhist iconography, we find lions in their role as protectors of dharma who support the throne of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. They are also found at the entrance to monasteries and sanctuaries. In the northern regions of Nepal, influenced by Tibetan Buddhism and art, lions have become "snow lions".

Actually, there are no lions living in the snow mountains, but there are leopards. Snow lion area white or blue with a turquoise or orange mane flowing in the wind and very angry, with large eyes and an open mouth. They roam freely in the high snow mountains without any fear, symbolizing the wisdom, fearlessness and divine pride of those dharma practitioners who are truly capable of living freely in the high snow mountain of pure mind, without being contaminated by illusions. They are kings of doctrine because they have attained the power to subdue all beings with their great love, compassion and wisdom.

The guardian lions of the temple are represented in pairs at the entrance to the shrines and enclosures of baha.

Elephants in Buddhism

elephant buddhism

The main characteristics of the elephant are its strength and constancy. This is where it becomes a symbol of physical and mental strength, as well as responsibility and terror.

In Indian mythology we hear of flying elephants and Airavata, the white elephant which became Indra's vehicle and which appeared from the churning of the milky ocean. This is why white elephants are considered very special and have the power to produce rain. They are identified as clouds containing rain, which will explain the belief in the flying elephant. In Indian society, elephants were considered bringers of luck and prosperity. They belonged to kings and were used in wars.


In Buddhism, the Elephant is a symbol of mental strength. At the beginning of the practice, the uncontrolled mind is symbolized by a gray elephant that can break loose at any moment and destroy everything in its path. After practicing the dharma and taming one's mind, the mind which is now mastered is symbolized by a strong and powerful white elephant, which can be directed wherever one wants and destroy all obstacles in its path.

Buddha Shakyamuni was born as an elephant in some of his previous incarnations. In his latest incarnation as Siddharth Gautama, he also sings: Descending from the pure land of Tushita, he entered his mother's womb in the form of a white elephant.

In iconography Buddhist, we find the elephant-faced deity Gangpati or Ganesh as an emanation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. In another aspect also, representing the worldly aspect of the same eternity, he is trampled by the same other deities like Mahakala, Vajra Bhairava and others.

In the mandala offering ritual, the precious elephant is offered to the Buddha, with the strength of a thousand elephants and which can circumambulate the entire universe three times in one day. Elephant tusks are also one of the seven royal emblems.

The elephant is the vehicle of the Tathagata Aksobhya and the deity Balabadra. The elephant also appears as guardian of temples and of the Buddha himself.

The Horse in Buddhism

buddhism horse

Horses have always been the means of transportation. They can run very fast and that's because they used to have wings and could fly. Even in Greek mythology we have Pegasus, the flying horse. Their main characteristics are their loyalty, diligence and speed. A good example of these qualities is Kantaka, Siddhartha Gautama's horse. When the future Buddha raised his palace to become an ascetic, his horse realized he would never see his master again and died of a broken greart. He was born again in one of the heavens.

In Buddhism, the horse symbolizes energy and effort in the practice of dharma. It also symbolizes the air or prana which passes through the channels of the body and is the vehicle of the spirit.

In this sense, we can cite a passage from a passage from the "Song of the galloping horse of a yogi" by Milarepa.

"In the hermitage of the mountain which is my body,
In the temple of my chest
At the top of the triangle of my heart,
The horse that is my spirit flies like the wind"
"He gallops on the plains of great bliss.
If he persists, he will reach the rank of victorious Buddha.
By retreating, he cuts the root of samsara.
As he advances, he reaches the high land of Buddhism.
Riding such a horse, one achieves the highest enlightenment"
[translated by Losang P. Lhalungpa]

The so-called "wind horse", symbol of the spirit, the spirit, its vehicle, the wind, can be ridden on it. This means that we have the ability to control the mind and the wind and guide them in any direction and at any speed we wish.

The neighing of a horse also symbolizes the power of the Buddha to awaken the sleeping mind for dharma practice.


There are some stories from bodhisattva Lokesvara taking the form of a horse in order to help sentient beings.

In Buddhist iconography, the horse supports the throne of the Tathagatha Ratnasambhava and carries the chariot of Surya, the sun god. The horse is also the vehicle of many other deities and dharma protectors, such as Mahali, and there are horse-faced deities, such as Hayagriva.

Peacocks in Buddhism

peacock buddhism

Generally speaking,peacocks are a symbol of openness and acceptance. In Christianity, the peacock is a symbol of immortality. In Mesopotamia a symbolic representation of a tree flanked by two peacocks appears, which symbolizes the dualistic spirit and absolute unity. In Hinduism, the patterns of peacock feathers, the resurfacing eyes, symbolize and the stars. In Buddhism, they symbolize wisdom.

Peacocks are said to have the ability to eat poisonous plants without being affected by them. Therefore, they are synonymous with the great bodhisattvas. A bodhisattva is able to take illusions as the path to liberation and transform the poisonous mind of ignorance, desire and hatred[moha, raga, dvesa] into the thought of enlightenment or bodhicitta, which opens in color like the tail of peacocks.

Here we will cite a teaching entitled "The wheel of sharp weapons", written by Dharmaraksita, who transmitted it to his main disciple Dipankara Sri Jnana[Atisa, 982-1054].

"In the jungles of poisonous plants, peacocks strut,
Through medicine, beauty gardens can be found nearby.
The masses of peacocks do not find gardens pleasant,
But thrive on the essence of poisonous plants,
In the same way, the brave bodhisattvas
Stay in the jungle of worlds of concern.
No matter how joyous this global pleasure garden may be,
These brave people are never attracted by pleasures,
But thrives in the jungle of suffering and pain."

The minds of sentient beings in this world are like a thick forest of desire and hatred. Pleasures and material goods are like a beautiful medicinal garden. Courageous bodhisattvas, because they have realized the shortcomings of samsara, are not attracted to samsaric pleasures, just as peacocks are not attracted to medicinal plants. Bodhisattvas, having the attitude of only wanting to work for sentient beings and desiring no happiness for themselves, can use the poisonous thoughts of ignorance, desire, hatred and so on in order to achieve works for sentient beings.

But by eating poison, the body of peacocks becomes healthy and beautiful. It is adorned with five feathers on the head, which symbolize the five paths of the boddhisattva and the achievement of the five families of Buddha. They have beautiful colors, such as blue, red, green, and please other beings simply by being seen. Likewise, any body that sees a bodhisattva receives great happiness in its mind. The eating habits of the peacock, which eats poisonous plants, does not cause harm to other beings. Likewise, bodhisattvas do not harm other sentient beings in the slightest.

By eating poison, the colors of its feathers become bright and its body healthy. Likewise, by taking upon themselves all problems and sufferings, bodhisattvas quickly purify mental obscurations and develop their minds rapidly, reaching higher and higher realization. Peacocks in particular symbolize the transmutation of desire on the path to liberation. They are therefore the vehicle of Amitabha Buddha, who represents desire and attachment transmuted into the Wisdom of Discriminating Consciousness.

The GARUDA Bird in Buddhism

garuda bird
Garuda is the king of birds. Its name derives from the root Gri, to swallow: garuda devours snakes. He is depicted with a human upper body, large eyes, a beak, short blue horns, yellow hair standing on end, bird claws and wings. However, sometimes, mainly in Hindu iconography, it is depicted in human form with wings.

Garuda is a very large bird that hatches from the adult egg. Garuda symbolizes the space element and the power of the sun, which can dry up waters. It is therefore the natural enemy of snakes and it devours or controls them. It represents the spiritual energy of which it devours the illusions of jealousy.


And hatred, represented by the snake. Garuda is also the opening: he can spread his wings and fly into space. It represents the great fresom of the mind which can open itself and is not uplifted by conflicting emotions the wise mind which reaches everywhere, like the rays of the sun, and brings life growth and wisdom. Specifically in Buddhism, Garuda is linked to the perfection of jibe[dana paramita], just as the sun's rays give life to the earth.

The myth of the great bird which devours the serpent seems to have originated in Mesopotamia. The snake represents the subconscious or hidden aspects of the mind, those feelings and thoughts that crawl beneath the surface. Garuda can sense any tiny snake and fall into it instantly. Likewise, by practicing awareness of all our feelings, thoughts and actions, we can develop the wisdom that can perfectly perceive the workings of our mind and, in this way, we can achieve complete freedom to act using our mind of the most beneficial way.

In Hindu iconography, Garuda is the vehicle of Vishnu. In Buddhism, he is the vehicle of amoghasiddhi, the Buddha who embodies the wisdom that accomplishes everything. It is also the vehicle of one of Lokishvara's Hariharihar vahana. Garuda is also a deity of his own who is believed to cure snake bites, epilepsy and diseases caused by Nagas. An image of Garuda is found in the toranes, the semi-circular tympanum above the temple doors.

Emerald, also called Garuda stone is considered protection against poison and images of Garuda appear in jewelry as protection against snake bite.

The Tiger in Buddhism

tiger buddhism

The Tiger resides in the South, symbolizing unconditional trust, disciplined conscience, kindness and modesty. She is relaxed but energized; she rests in a gentle state of being that has a natural feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment, referring to the state of enlightenment.
Associations: the main quality is confidence, domination over the forest and the air element.

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