Buddhist Symbols


In the earliest centuries of Buddhism, statues of the Buddha were not used. Instead, Buddhist art consisted of images symbolizing the Buddha and his teachings, such as the lotus, the Wheel of the Law, the Bodhi tree and the Buddha's footprints.

Eventually, the Buddha image became one of the most popular representations in Buddhism, but these early symbols remain important and are frequently used to this day. They are especially important in Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand.

As Buddhism spread, Buddhist symbolism was enriched by the cultures it came into contact with. This is especially true of Buddhism in Tibet, which has developed a rich symbolic tradition. The central symbols of Tibetan Buddhism are the Eight Auspicious Symbols, known in Sanskrit as Ashtamangala (ashta meaning eight and mangala meaning auspicious).

The Eight Auspicious Symbols are printed on Tibetan prayer flags, incorporated into mandalas and thangkas, and used in other forms of ritual art. Another important symbol is the Wheel of Life, a symbolic representation of the universe as understood by Tibetan Buddhists.

Other important types of symbolism in Buddhism include colors, especially the five colors of white, yellow, red, blue and green, and symbolic hand gestures called mudras. The articles in this section explore these Buddhist symbols, providing information on their history, meaning and use in Buddhism today.


  • Black in Buddhismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors/black

    In Buddhism, black signifies the primordial darkness. In the realm where it is dark, because there is no light reflected, there is also a sound which we cannot hear as it is so high on the scale of harmonics that it is inaccessible to the hearing capacity of any physical being...

  • Blue in Buddhismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors/blue

    In Buddhism both light and dark aspects of the color blue are important. The significance of the light shade of blue is reflected in the importance of the semi-precious stone turquoise in the daily spiritual and religious life of the devout Buddhist, who holds various beliefs about this stone...

  • Buddhapada Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/buddhapada

    The footprints of the Buddha (Buddhapada) are one of the early representations of the Buddha in the anticonic (no statues) stage of Buddhist art...

  • Buddhist Color Symbolismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors

    In Buddhism, color symbolism is used in a wide variety of fascinating ways in Buddhist art and ritual. In Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, each of five colors (pancha-varna) symbolizes a state of mind, a celestial buddha, a part of the body, a part of the mantra word Hum, or a natural element...

  • Conch Shell Symbolshttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/conch-shells

    In Buddhism, the conch shell (Sanskrit shankha; Tibetan dung dkar) has survived as the original horn trumpet since time immemorial. Ancient Indian epics describe how each hero of mythical warfare carried a mighty white conch shell, which often bore a personal name...

  • Endless Knot Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/endless-knot

    In Buddhism, the endless knot (Skt. shrivatsa; Tib. dpal be'u) is a closed, graphic ornament composed of right-angled, intertwined lines. It overlaps without a beginning or an end, symbolising the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion...

  • Buddha Eyes, Wisdom Eyes Symbolshttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/eyes

    On virtually every stupa, which is a shrine of Buddhism, in Nepal, there are giant pairs of eyes staring out from the four sides of the main tower...

  • Golden Fishes Symbolshttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/golden-fishes

    In Buddhism, he Golden Fishes symbol (Skt. suvarnamatsya; Tib. gser nya) consists of two fishes, which usually appear standing vertically with heads turned inwards towards each other...

  • Green in Buddhism - Color Symbolismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors/green

    In Buddhism, green is in the middle of the visible, seven-color spectrum and thus epitomizes the qualities of balance and harmony. It is the color people relate to in nature, trees and plants...

  • Lotus Flower Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/lotus

    What is the meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism? The lotus is one of the most well-known symbols of Buddhism. The lotus flower is one of the "Eight Auspicious Symbols" in the religion, and is one of the most important images in the faith...

  • Buddhist Mudras - Hand Gestureshttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/mudras

    Mudras are symbolic gestures, used symbolically in Buddha images and in practice to evoke particular ideas or buddhas in the mind during Buddhist meditation or ritual...

  • Buddhist Parasol Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/parasol

    Above the mountain is the dome of the sky. This is symbolized by the umbrella, whose important function is to cast a shadow, the shadow of protection...

  • Red in Buddhism - Color Symbolismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors/red

    In Buddhism, red throughout the development of civilization has had connotations with life and those things considered sacred in some way. It has developed as synonymous with the preservation of our life force, as in the symbols of the Red Cross and Red Crescent...

  • Swastika Symbol in Buddhism - Buddhist Swastikahttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/swastika

    In Buddhism, the swastika (Sanskrit svastika, "all is well") is a cross with four arms of equal length, with the ends of each arm bent at a right angle...

  • Tibetan Wheel of Life Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/tibetan-wheel-of-life

    The Tibetan Wheel of Life symbolizes the Buddhist perspective on life and contains within it numerous symbols of Buddhist themes and teachings...

  • Treasure Vase - Buddhist Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/treasure-vase

    In Buddhism, the vase (Skt. nidhana kumbha; Tib. gter gyi bum pa) is a fat-bellied vessel with a short, slim neck. On top, at the opening, there is a large jewel indicating that it is a treasure vase...

  • Triratna - Buddhist Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/triratna

    The triratna symbol represents the Triple Gem or Three Jewels of Buddhism, which are the three core values of: Buddha Dharma (the teachings) Sangha (the monastic community) These are also known as the Three Refuges, which are recited as part of Buddhist ordination ceremonies: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha...

  • Victory Banner - Buddhist Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/victory-banner

    The victory banner was adopted by early Buddhism as an emblem of the Buddha's enlightenment, heralding the triumph of knowledge over ignorance...

  • Buddhist Wheel Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/wheel

    In Buddhism, the wheel (Skt. chakra; Tib. 'khor lo) is one of the most important Buddhist symbols, as it represents the teachings of the Buddha...

  • White in Buddhism - Color Symbolismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors/white

    In Buddhism, white is not really a color. It occurs when the whole spectrum of light is seen together or when red, yellow and blue colors are mixed...

  • Yellow in Buddhism - Color Symbolismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/colors/yellow

    In Buddhism, yellow is has the highest symbolic value in Buddhism through its link with the saffron robes of monks. This color, previously worn by criminals, was chosen by Gautam Buddha as a symbol of his humility and separation from materialist society...

  • Zen Circle Symbolhttp://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/symbols/zen-circle

    In Buddhism, the Zen circle, a popular motif in Zen art, represents the entire universe in a single, perfect stroke. Although simple, images like this are difficult to paint successfully and thus must be done with a clear mind focused on the task...