What are the symbols of Buddhism and their meanings?

If you're here, you're likely asking yourself this question, and you're in the right place to find the answer! Discover now the most represented Buddhist symbols.

Buddhism began as early as the 4th or 6th century BCE when Siddhartha Gautama started spreading his teachings about suffering, nirvana, and rebirth in India. Siddhartha himself was opposed to accepting images of himself and used many different symbols to illustrate his teachings.

Buddhism symbols

There are eight different auspicious symbols of Buddhism, and many say these represent the gifts God made to Buddha when he attained enlightenment.

What do the different Buddhist symbols mean?

The role of imagery in early Buddhism is not known, although many surviving images can be found because their symbolic or representative nature was not clearly explained in ancient texts.

Among the oldest and most common symbols of Buddhism are the stupa, the Dharma wheel, and the lotus flower. The Dharma wheel, traditionally depicted with eight spokes, can have various meanings.

Originally, it only meant kingship (a concept of the "wheel-turning monarch, or chakravartin), but began to be used in a Buddhist context on Ashoka's pillars in the 3rd century BCE.

The Dharma wheel is generally considered to refer to the historical process of teaching the Buddha dharma; the eight spokes refer to the noble eightfold path. Similarly, the lotus flower can have several meanings, often referring to the inherently pure potential of the mind.

Other ancient symbols include the Trisula, a symbol used since the 2nd century BCE which combines the lotus, the diamond thunderbolt vajra, and a symbolization of the three jewels (The Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha).

The swastika (The Swastika) was traditionally used in India by Buddhists and Hindus as a sign of luck. In East Asia, the swastika is often used as a general symbol of Buddhism. Swastikas used in this context may be oriented to the left or right.

Primitive Buddhism did not depict the Buddha himself and may have been aniconic. The first hint of human representation in Buddhist symbolism appears with the footprint of Buddha.

Ashtamangala les huits signes bouddhiste

The eight Auspicious Buddhist Symbols form the body of Buddha. (Ashtamangala)

  1. The parasol represents Buddha's head
  2. The two fish represent Buddha's eyes
  3. The vase, Buddha's neck
  4. The lotus represents his tongue
  5. The golden Dharma wheel represents his feet
  6. The victory banner represents Buddha's body
  7. The conch represents Buddha's speech
  8. And the endless knot represents Buddha's mind.

This is a sacred suite of Eight Endemic Signs to a number of Dharmic Traditions such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism.

The symbols or "symbolic attributes" are the yidam and the teaching tools. Not only do these attributes, these energetic signatures, point to qualities of enlightened mind, but they are the adornment that graces these enlightened "qualities".

Many enumerations and cultural variations of the Ashtamangala still exist. Originally, sets of eight auspicious symbols were used in India during ceremonies such as the inauguration or coronation of a king.

A first group of symbols included: throne, swastika, svastika, handprint, hooked knot, jewel vase, water libation flask, pair of fish, bowl with lid.

In Buddhism, these eight symbols of good fortune represent the offerings made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he attained enlightenment.

1. The Buddhist parasol or umbrella (The Chatra)

Buddhist Symbols and Their Meanings

A parasol can shield people from various elements, like sun or rain. In this context, a parasol or umbrella can signify protection from suffering and harmful forces. It can also signify the pleasure of enjoying the cool shade it provides.

Learn more about the Buddhist parasol

2. The Two Golden Fish

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

Two golden fish In ancient times, the two fish were drawn to symbolize the Ganges and Yamuna rivers. Through interpretation, it became synonymous with luck and fortune. It also symbolizes the courage and fearlessness to face the ocean of sufferings and to swim freely like fish in water.

Learn more about the two golden fish

3. The Conch

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

This large shell has been used in many countries as a traditional battle horn. In Buddhism, the white conch shell spiraling to the right can signify the deep and joyous sound of the Dharma teachings. It is representative of the awakening that disciples receive when they hear these teachings. The conch shell can also signify people's awakening from ignorance.

Learn more: The Symbol of the Buddhist Conch

4. The Lotus Flower

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The lotus has been used in many teachings of Buddhism to convey the true nature of all humanity. The roots of the lotus plant are deeply embedded in mud, yet it still grows above the murky water and blossoms into a beautiful flower with a sweet fragrance. The lotus can be analogized to how we rise from our sufferings to attain enlightenment, beauty, and clarity. Different colored lotus plants signify different things in Buddhism. A white lotus is a symbol of mental and spiritual purity. Other colors and their meanings include:

  • Red - This represents the heart, love, and compassion.
  • Pink - This represents the historical Buddha.
  • Purple - This represents mysticism.
  • Blue - This represents wisdom, as well as control over the senses.

Learn more about The lotus flower and its meaning

5. The Victory Banner

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

This symbol represents how Buddha defeated the demon Mara. This demon, in Buddhism, is synonymous with passion, lust, and pride. The Victory Banner is used to remind people to overcome their own pride, lust, and passions to attain enlightenment.

Learn more about The Treasure Vase / The Vase of Wisdom (Bumpa)

6. The Treasure Vase or Vase of Wisdom

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

A vase can be filled with many different things. The vase, in Buddhism, can signify the rain of health, wealth, prosperity, and all the good things that come with enlightenment.

It represents health, longevity, wealth, prosperity, wisdom, and the phenomenon of space.

Learn more about the vase of wisdom

7. The Dharma Wheel or Dharmachakra

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The Dharma Wheel This wheel is also called the wheel of dharma or the Dhamma wheel and is often used to represent Buddha himself.

It has also universally become the symbol of Buddhism. The Dharma wheel has eight spokes, which represent the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path.

Learn more about The Dharma Wheel (Dharmachakra) Symbol of Buddhism

8. The Eternal Knot

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

It is said that the interlacing of lines in the eternal knot symbolizes how everything is connected. It can also represent how religion and secular affairs, as well as compassion and wisdom, are united and interconnected.

The "endless knot" or "eternal knot" represents the intertwining of wisdom and compassion; represents the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs.

Learn more about The symbolic meaning of the endless knot in Buddhism

Other Buddhist Symbols with High Significance

Bodhi Leaf and Bodhi Tree

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The bodhi tree, also known as the Bo tree (from the Sinhalese Bo), was a large and very old sacred fig tree located in Bodh Gaya (about 100 km from Patna in the Indian state of Bihar), under which Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism later known as Gautama Buddha, is said to have attained enlightenment, or Bodhi.

In religious iconography, the Bodhi tree is recognizable by its heart-shaped leaves, which are usually prominently displayed. It takes 100 to 3000 years for a Bodhi tree to fully grow.

The term "Bodhi Tree" is also widely applied to existing trees, especially the Sacred Fig tree growing at the Mahabodhi Temple, which is a direct descendant of the original specimen.

This tree is a frequent destination for pilgrims, being the most important of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

Other sacred Bodhi trees that have great significance in Buddhist history are the Anandabodhi tree in Sravasti and the Bodhi tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Both are believed to have been propagated from the original Bodhi tree.

Learn more The Meaning of the Bodhi Tree

Buddha Footprint

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The Buddha footprint is an imprint of one or both feet of Gautama Buddha. There are two forms: natural forms, as found in stone or rock, and artificial forms.

Many of those "natural," of course, are recognized as not real prints of the Buddha but replicas or representations of them, which can be considered as Cetiya (Buddhist relics) as well as an iconic and symbolic representation of the Buddha in his early days.

Buddha footprints abound throughout Asia, dating from different periods. They often bear distinctive marks, such as a Dharmachakra at the center of the sole, or the 32, 108, or 132 auspicious signs of the Buddha, engraved or painted on the sole.

Learn more about The Significance of the Buddha Footprint.

Empty Throne

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

An empty throne resides within the concept of "emptiness," an important element of mysticism. This symbol also represented the royalty of Siddhartha Gautama.

Learn more about The Empty Throne in Buddhism

The Buddhist Lion

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The lion is one of the most significant symbols in Buddhism. The lion is the symbol of royalty representing what the Buddha was a part of before attaining enlightenment. It also symbolizes the power of the Buddha's teachings and is often likened to the roar of a lion.

Learn more about The Lion in Buddhist Religion

Swastika or Buddhist Swastika

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

In Buddhist tradition, the swastika symbolizes the feet or footprints of the Buddha and is often used to mark the beginning of texts. Modern Tibetan Buddhism uses it as garment decoration. With the spread of Buddhism, it passed into the iconography of China and Japan where it was used to denote plurality, abundance, prosperity, and long life.

Learn more about Swastika, the Buddhist Swastika

The Four Heavenly Kings

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The Four Heavenly Kings - In Buddhist faith, the four heavenly kings are four guardian gods, each of whom watches over one cardinal direction of the world.

Learn more about The Four Heavenly Kings in Buddhist Religion

The Eyes of the Buddha

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

Eyes of the Buddha - Also called Wisdom Eyes, this pair of eyes is commonly depicted on the four sides of Buddhist shrines known as Stupas. The symbol indicates the omniscient and omnipresent eyes of the Buddha and is representative of the Lord's presence all around.

The curly line beneath the eyes in the middle (where the nose is on a face) is the Sanskrit figure symbolizing the unity of all and also signifies that the only way to attain enlightenment is through Buddha's teachings. The dot between the eyes is indicative of the third eye, representing spiritual awakening.

Learn more about The Eye of the Buddha | Meaning & History


Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The Vajra is a tantric Buddhist symbol representing great spiritual power and the firmness of mind. It symbolizes one of the three main branches of Buddhism, the Vajrayana.

Shaped like a club with a spherical head ribbed, the Vajra symbolizes the attributes of a diamond (purity and indestructibility) as well as the properties of lightning (irresistible energy). It also represents endless creativity, skillful and powerful activity.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the Vajra is also a ritual tool and is known as Dorje. It is used with a bell by lamas and other sadhana practitioners.

Learn more about Vajra, a widely used five-branched ritual object in Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies

Learn more about What Does the Aum/Om Symbol Mean?

The Three Buddhist Jewels

The Three Jewels are also called the Three Refuges. When a person accepts Buddhist teachings and wants to incorporate them into their life, the traditional path is to take refuge with the three jewels, the most precious elements of the Buddhist path.

The first jewel is the Buddha, enlightened or awakened, as well as our own Buddha nature. The second jewel is the Dharma, the path following the Buddha's teachings leading to awakening. The Sangha is the third precious jewel.

The three jewels are also a symbol for the diamond mind, which can cut through all illusion. The yellow jewel symbolizes the Buddha, the blue jewel symbolizes the Dharma, and the red jewel symbolizes the Sangha.

Learn more about the Three Jewels

The Alms Bowl

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The alms bowl is one of the primary symbols of monastic life. Every monk and nun receives a bowl when they are initiated and carries it with them wherever they go. They accept any food offered for their sustenance and serve as a blessing for the giver. In this way, the bowl symbolizes the middle way between giver and receiver.

According to legend, the ascetic Siddhartha practiced austerity until he was almost starved. A young woman offered him a golden bowl filled with rice and milk, which he accepted. After eating, he threw the bowl into the river, as a symbol of renunciation. This story symbolizes another aspect of the middle way, which is to avoid extreme practices and attachments.

Learn more about Buddhist Object | The Alms Bowl

Buddhist Bell

Since ancient times, temple bells have invited monks and nuns to meditation and ceremonies. The gentle sound of a bell during chanting helps disciples focus on the present moment and release from daily worries.

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

A sense of peace and calm can be enhanced by the sound of the bell. For this reason, wind bells are often hung on the eaves of stupas and temples to create peaceful and meditative spaces with their tinkling sounds.

The ringing of the bell is a symbol of the Buddha's voice. It also represents wisdom and compassion and is used to call celestial beings for protection and to ward off evil spirits. Many old temples have bells at the entrances that need to be rung before entering. Bells are available in a wide range of sizes and styles.

Learn more about The Meaning of Buddhist Bells

Buddhist Flag

Les Symboles Bouddhistes et Leurs Significations

The six colors of the Buddhist flag represent the six colors of the Buddha's aura when he attained enlightenment. Blue represents universal compassion, yellow for the middle path, red for blessings, white for purity and liberation, and orange for wisdom. The sixth color is the combination of the other colors and is not displayed.

The flag was designed in 1880 by an American journalist, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott. The horizontal stripes represent harmony between races, and the vertical stripes represent peace between nations, all under the shield of the Buddha's wisdom.

Learn more about the: Buddhist Flags | History and Meaning

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