DESCRIPTION OF SYMBOLS
BUDDHA EYES (also Wisdom Eyes) look out in the four directions to symbolize the all-seeing of a Buddha. The curly symbol between the Buddha's eyes is the Nepali character for the number 1, which symbolizes unity of all the things as well as the one way to reach enlightenment—through the Buddha's teachings. Above this is a third eye, symbolizing the all-seeing wisdom of the Buddha. The Buddha eyes can be seen in so many places in Nepal that they have become a symbol of Nepal itself.
EIGHT AUSPICIOUS SYMBOLS (Ashtamangala in Sanskrit)
A group of lucky Buddhist symbols, especially popular in Tibetan Buddhism. Each symbol represents an aspect of Buddhist teaching and when they appear together, their powers are multiplied. The Eight Auspicious Symbols are ENDLESS KNOT, LOTUS, VICTORY BANNER, WHEEL OF DHARMA, TREASURE VASE, GOLDEN FISH PAIR, PARASOL, CONCH SHELL.
ENDLESS KNOT or SHRIVASTAVA (in Tibetan dpal be’u) has a design that has many lines overlapped; it has no end or beginning. The pattern symbolizes the Buddha’s infinite wisdom and compassion, and the interdependence of all things. It also is a symbol luck, love, simplicity, and total harmony. The endless knot design is apparent also in many other cultures, e.g. in Celtic culture.
LOTUS is also one of the the Ashtamangala symbols. The lotus flower in Buddhism is the symbol of the path of the soul; it represents the spirit of human beings, which is spotless. Just like the lotus flower that starts its growth in murky mud and blooms above the water into a majestic fragrant flower, the soul of humans moves from materialism to spiritualism to become one with the Universe.
VICTORY BANNER or Dhvaja. It is said that Buddha Himself placed a Victory Banner on Mount Meru, which is believed to be the axis that supports the world. By doing so, the Buddha indicated His victory over ignorance, which is the main obstacle in the path of spiritual realization.
WHEEL OF DHARMA (in Tibetan khor lo) is also known as the ‘Wheel of Law’, and the ‘Wheel of Transformation’ among others. Each part of the wheel has a deeper and spiritual meaning: 1) the hub means mental discipline 2) the 8 spokes mean the Noble Eightfold Path, the path to wisdom and 3) the rim symbolizes the concentration needed to keep them all together.
Dharma wheel symbolises the auspiciousness of the turning of the precious wheel of Buddha’s doctrine, both in its teachings and realizations, in all realms and at all times, enabling beings to experience the joy of wholesome deeds and liberation.
TREASURE VASE symbolizes spiritual abundance of the Buddha as the vase remains full no matter how much will be given away. The Treasure Vases, sealed with precious and sacred substances, are commonly placed upon altars and on mountain passes, or buried at water springs, where their presence is believed to attract wealth and bring harmony to the environment.
GOLDEN FISH PAIR originates as an ancient pre-Buddhist symbol of the two sacred rivers of India, Ganga and Yamuna. In Buddhism, the golden fishes symbolize happiness, as they are completely free in water. They represent fertility and abundance. Fish often swim in pairs, and in China they represented conjugal unity and fidelity, where a pair of fishes would often be given as a wedding present. Both Jesus Christ and Buddha are known as "fishers of men," because they save mortals from the ocean of suffering.
PARASOL is the coolness of its shade symbolizes protection from the heat of suffering, desire, and other spiritually harmful forces. The umbrella is carried above an important dignitary or the image of a deity, to indicate that the person or symbol below the umbrella is in fact the center of the universe, and also its spiritual support. Umbrellas seem to be especially important in processional rites, being like mobile temples. Thus, depictions of the Buddha often display an elaborate and large umbrella above his head.
CONCH SHELL represents the elegant, deep, melodious sound of Buddhism, which awakens disciples from ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own welfare and the welfare of others.
PRAYER WHEEL is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.
THE EYE OF SHIVA is the third eye in the middle of the forehead of the Hindu God Shiva. Representing wisdom it is thought to have the ability to look beyond the obvious. It symbolizes the creation, preservation and destruction of everything, the flow of life, the constant change of the universe, spiritual knowledge and creative visualization.
KALACHAKRA is a term used in Vajrayana Buddhism that means wheel of time or "time-cycles". Kalachakra is usually used to refer to a very complex teaching and practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Although the teaching is very advanced and esoteric, there is a tradition of offering it to large public audiences. In short Kalachakra referst to cycles of time, has many levels of symbolism, as all tantra practices do. Traditional texts explain the symbolism in terms of realizations of various aspects of the Kalachakra path to enlightenment. Kalachakra empowerment is associated with promoting world peace. Kalachakra refers to the union of opposites, creation of harmony and happiness through method (male) and wisdom (female).
VAJRA (in Tibetan DORJE) is the quintessential symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, which derives its name from the vajra itself. The Sanskrit term vajra means 'the hard or mighty one', and its Tibetan equivalent dorje means an indestructible hardness and brilliance like the diamond, which cannot be cut or broken. The vajra essentially symbolizes the impenetrable, immovable, immutable, indivisible, and indestructible state of enlightenment or Buddhahood.
VISHVAVAJRA (double Dorje) reminds the wearer of the indestructibility of knowledge. The symbol is often used as a stamp or a seal, and placed on the bottom of statues and pendant. Vishvavajra or the double thunderbolt has four heads representing the four dhyani Buddhas of the four directions (Amoghasiddhi - north, Akshobhya- east, Ratnasambhava - south, Amitabha – west).
SERPENT symbolize Kundalini energy, renewal and regeneration, fertility and wisdom. Represented as potent guardians of temples and other sacred spaces.
OM - most faiths have trinities in their roots and Hinduism, where om was born, is no different. Om is made up of three syllables: A, U, and M. These syllables can represent a various trios, including: the heavens, earth, and the underworld; the Hindu gods Brahma (creator), Vishnu (sustainer), and Shiva (destroyer); and the waking, dreaming, and dreamless states represent all of consciousness, and provide connection to Divine.
OM MANI PADME HUM mantra’s six syllables represent the purification of the six realms of existence. Om (generosity) purifies bliss and pride (realm of the gods); Ma (ethics) purifies jealousy and need for entertainment (realm of the jealous gods); Ni (patience) purifies passion and desire (human realm); Pad (diligence) purifies ignorance and prejudice (animal realm); Me (renunciation) purifies greed and possessiveness (realm of the hungry ghosts); Hum (wisdom) purifies aggression and hatred (hell realm).
OM AH HUM MANTRA – the syllables OM AH HUM have outer, inner, and "secret" meanings. At each of these levels, however, OM stands for the body, AH for the speech, and HUM for the mind. They represent the transformative blessings of the body, speech, and mind of all the buddhas. Externally OM purifies all the negative actions committed through your body, AH through your speech, and HUM through your mind. By purifying your body, speech, and mind, OM AH HUM grants the blessing of the body, speech, and mind of the buddhas.
YIN-YANG - in Chinese culture, Yin and Yang represent the two opposite principles in nature. Yin characterizes the feminine or negative nature of things and yang stands for the masculine or positive side. Yin and yang are opposite in nature, but they are part of nature, they rely on each other, and they can't exist without each other. It is believed that yin-yang exists in everything.
GANESHA is one of the most popular Hindu gods, and is mostly known as a god of wisdom, initiation, and the one that removes all obstacles. Each body part and article of Ganesh has a symbolic meaning. For instance, his broad crown is an invitation to think big. The small eyes speak of the importance of concentration and attention to detail to achieve success, big elephant ears symbolize importance to listen to others more, and talk less. Ganesh only has one tusk, the other has broken off, and this indicates the importance of holding on only to the good and discarding the bad. His large tummy shows that it is necessary to digest all that life has to offer – the good and the bad.
MANDALA meaning comes from Sanskrit word that means "circle." Even though it may be dominated by squares or triangles, a mandala has a concentric structure. Mandalas offer balancing visual elements, symbolizing unity and harmony. The meanings of individual mandalas is usually different and unique to each mandala. The goal of the mandala is to serve as a tool on our spiritual journey as it symbolizes cosmic and psychic order.
MAHAKALA is a wrathful deity and protector of dharma in vajrajana buddhism, he is a Dharmapala. Even though all dharmapalas have horrifying look, they are all bodhisattvas that protect through acting in a wrathful manner. The scary details of the way Dharmapalas look represent the transmutation of the negative and negative mind forms into positive ones. For instance, the Mahakala crown with five skulls points to transmutaion of the five poisons – hatred, desire, ingnorance, jealosy, greed – into five elements of wisdom.
MANJUSHRI is the bodhisattva of wisdom. He is often represented as a young and good looking prince. His youth and good looks point to the way an enlightened mind sees the world. If the unenlightened mind views the world as ordinary, than to the enlightened mind world is special, full of magic and potential. He is seated on a lotus flower, and as the lotus grows from mud in often foul water, and yet remains unstained, it represents the purity of wisdom, existing in the midst of delusion yet being unaffected by it.
BUDDHA’S HAND, ABHAYA MUDRA means in Buddhism, Abhaya in Sanskrit fearlessness, and the abhaya mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear. It also represents the spiritual power of the Buddha.The gesture is an ancient one, demonstrating that the hand is empty of weapons and thus indicating friendship and peace.
FLOWER OF LIFE can be found in all the major religions of the world. It can be found in Japan, Lebanon, India, Marrakech, Egypt, Holland, Austria, Israel, etc.. It is believed that Flower of Life embodies the fundamental forms of time and space. Many other symbols can also be derived from it. For instance, Seed of Life, Metatron’s Cube, Kabbalistic Tree of Life. For many, this symbol is a key to all secrets of universe as it is believed to contain a record of information about all living things. The Flower of Life is used to focus when studying and for meditation. It helps see the reality for what it is, and free from deep-seated fears.
TREE OF LIFE is a very old universal symbol present in many spiritual traditions. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life can be found within the Flower of Life. The columns of the tree symbolize equilibrium (central), male energy (right column), and female energy (left column). This symbol is known also as the center of the world and the basis of all processes of life. It also symbolizes the connection between heaven and earth. In addition, it represents the absolute reality and immortality. Tree of Life stands also for wisdom, creation, protection, abundance, fertility, beauty and redemption.
SRI YANTRA is a geometric form that was used during meditation already in ancient times. It signifies the presence of God. Yantras are formed of interlaced geometrical forms, and in the center is a dot (bindu). The dot can be surrounded by triangles that represent the unity of male and female energies. All other forms can be surrounded by squares symbolizing dynamics and four directions of universe. The word yantra comes from sanskrit and includes two words – „yan“ which means to "organize," and „tra“ meaning "protect." There are many yantras, but most powerful of them is Sri yantra.
FLEUR DE LYS is often used as a symbol of royalty in different cultures. Fleur de Lys is older symbol than many people know, appearing in Mesopotamian and Egyptian art. Symbol of purity, perfection, light, and life. Also, associated with the Holy Trinity, the dove symbolizing Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. For instance, the Song of Solomon mentions a "lily among thorns" (lilium inter spinas) that was interpreted as a reference to Mary.
INFINITY symbol originates from Arabic numerals that came initially from India. The loops reflect balance of opposites –male and female, day and night, dark and light. Because the circles are side by side, it refers to the equality of the opposing forces. The Infinity sign also stands for unity, wholeness, completion, and eternity.
UNICORN is a symbol of magic, miracles, purity, innocence, and enchantment. The Horse is a symbol of travel and movement. As the Unicorn is a spiritual horse, it has the ability to travel and appear throughout all realms and dimensions. White color refers to innocence, purity and perfection. White, symbolically similar to silver, represents the lunar, feminine aspect of receptivity, intuition and virginity. Virginity represents here above all the untainted mind, spirit, and wisdom. Unicorn's single horn refers to the realm of Unity – a realm that transcends the limits of matter and duality.
SEAL OF SALOMON is also known as Star of David, and the six pointed star. It is believed that this symbol adorned King Solomon’s ring that gave him an ability to understand birds and animals and do magic. In the Kabbalah, the two triangles represent the dichotomies inherent in man: good vs. evil, spiritual vs. physical, etc. The triangle pointing up symbolizes our good deeds, which go up to heaven and activate a flow of goodness back down to the world, symbolized by the triangle pointing down. The upward triangle refers to the male element fire, and downward triangle is for female element of water. It is symbolic of the phrase “as above, so below.” This sign is also known in Tibetan Buddhism as each of the larger and smaller triangles represent a certain aspect of Buddhist philosophy. For instance, the six smaller triangles stand for the six perfections – generosity, wisdom, concentration, effort, patience and discipline.
CELTIC CROSS - the cross as the meeting place of the Divine energies symbolizes hope, life, faith, unity, transition. The earliest versions of the Celtic cross are also known as the universal symbol Sun Cross, the Odin’s Cross. This sign first appears at the beginning of Bronze Age. In China it represents thunder, power, energy. Also appears in the Seal of the Babylonian Sun God, Shamash. Used in astrology to signify planet Earth, the cross depicts the four corners of the planet. As it was the symbol of the Sun, the King, and the highest spiritual powers, the early Christians easily adopted this pagan symbol and incorporated it into Latin Cross. It is also often interpreted as a spiritual compass guiding us through a spiritual sea, all energies emerging into exhilarating oneness in the middle.
LIZARDS are attracted to the heat of the Sun, and hence they are linked to light and represent the soul seeking spiritual knowledge. In Egypt lizard symbolized benevolence and abundance. Since lizards shed their skin, they are also symbolic of transitions and rebirth. Lizards are difficult to kill, have a tough armor-like skin, and therefore warriors liked to wear them as a protective talisman.
HAMSA HAND - in addition to averting the gaze of the evil eye, it brings its wearer or owner happiness, luck, health, and good fortune. Also known as the Hand of Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed. In Jewish religion, hamsa pendant symbolizes the Hand of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. Although the hamsa hand has been symbolic, with slightly different interpretations, in Islam and Judaism for centuries, there is proof that it pre-dates these religions and originated with the Phoenicians and was used as a protective symbol for an ancient Middle Eastern goddess. Five (“hamsa” or “hamesh”) represents the five books of the Torah for Jews. It also symbolizes the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, "Heh", which represents one of God’s holy names. In the Jewish religion, the Jewish hamsa hand also symbolizes the Hand of God. Many Jews believe that the five fingers of the hamsa hand remind its wearer to use their five senses to praise God.
SHIVA LINGAM - in the Hindu faith the lingam is an ubiquitous symbol representing the great Hindu deity, Shiva. The lingam is symbolic of the phallus and procreation, but the emphasis is on the creative energy and the spirit of life rather than eroticism. The lingam, separately belongs to the world of theory. Though, when represented together with a yoni that symbolizes the womb and female energy and creativity, the lingam becomes empowered. It is one of the many objects that represent the Axis Mundi.
PADMASAMBHAVA („born from lotus“ in sanskrit), also known as Guru Rinpoche was a master who brought the vajrana buddhism to Tibet. Later on Tibetan buddhism developed from this branch of buddhism. He was a renowned scholar, meditator, and magician. The Padmasambhava mantra Om Ah Hum symbolizes the enlightened body, mind and speech. Also symbolizes compassion, the energy, and purity of the enlightened mind.
RATNASAMBHAVA is the yellow Buddha of the southern quarter. His name means "jewel born". His emblem is the ratna jewel, symbolising the Bodhicitta, the highest value of the Buddhist. His mudra is dana that means generosity, the most fundamental Buddhist virtue. He represents, therefore, both the highest values and virtues of Buddhism. He is also associated with the Tantric rite of increase, and with prosperity generally.
TIBETAN PRAYER FLAGS have many different meanings. It is believed they bring happiness. Tibetan prayer flags were originally used as talismans to protect Tibetans during times of war. Originally the Bon people used prayer flags for protection, and put symbols such as the snow lion, the dragon, or a tiger on each flag. Tibetan prayer flags were eventually adopted into Tibetan Buddhism with prayers or messages of hope and peace written on each flag. Symbols on prayer flags include prayers for wealth, wisdom, and health, or the eight auspicious signs.
BUDDHA AMOGHASIDDHI i.e. FEARLESSNESS BUDDHA is known as the Buddha of unfailing accomplishment. Also represents wisdom and defeating envy. His name literally means infallible (amogha) success (siddhi). His hands are in the Abhaya (fearlessness) mudra. He is often depicted as green and radiating green light representing peace and tranquility of nature. When meditated upon, Amoghasiddhi helps to relinquish envy, calm anxiety and fear and reveal wisdom of accomplishment. Amoghasiddhi reverses the negative failing of envy into the positive wisdom of accomplishment. Amoghasiddhi wields the crossed vajra or double dorje, and rides the half-man, half-eagle Garuda known for fighting nagas, i.e. serpent-like negative delusions that afflict our mortal frames. The consort of Amoghasiddhi is Green Tara.
TARA - in Buddhism, Tara (Sanskrit, "star") is a Buddhist savior-goddess especially popular in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. In Tibet, where Tara is the most important deity, her name is Sgrol-ma, meaning she who saves. The mantra of Tara (om tare tuttare ture svaha) is the second most common mantra heard in Tibet, after the mantra of Chenrezi (om mani padme hum).The goddess of universal compassion, Tara represents virtuous and enlightened action. It is said that her compassion for living beings is stronger than a mother's love for her children. She also brings about longevity, protects earthly travel, and guards her followers on their spiritual journey to enlightenment. According to Buddhist tradition, Tara was born out of the tears of compassion of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. It is said that he wept as he looked upon the world of suffering beings, and his tears formed a lake in which a lotus sprung up. When the lotus opened, the goddess Tara was revealed.
GREEN TARA (Sanskrit: Syamatara; Tibetan: Sgrol-ljang), filled with youthful vigor, is a goddess of activity. She is the fiercer form of Tara, but is still a savior-goddess of compassion. She is the consort of Avalokiteshvara and considered by some to be the original Tara. In Buddhism, the color green signifies activity and accomplishment. Thus Amoghasiddhi, the Lord of Action, is also associted with the color green. In Buddhist religious practice, Green Tara's primary role is savioress. She is believed to help her followers overcome dangers, fears and anxieties, and she is especially worshipped for her ability to overcome the most difficult of situations. Green Tara is intensely compassionate and acts quickly to help those who call upon her.
GARUDA is a a mythical bird-like deity of protection symbolizing various elements of the Buddhist path. According to the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying the Garuda was born fully grown symbolizing our primordial nature, which is already completely perfect. The garuda chick has all its wing feathers fully developed inside the egg, but it cannot fly before it hatches. Only at the moment when the shell cracks open can it burst out and soar into the sky. Similarly, the masters tell us, the qualities of buddhahood are veiled by the body, and as soon as the body is discarded, they will be radiantly displayed.
Peacock is a symbol of openness, love and beauty. In Buddhism peacock represents wisdom and ability to transform all negative (ignorance, greed, hatred, attachment) into positive. According to buddhist view the peacock resembles bodhisattva (Compassion Buddha). Just as the bodhisattvas transform negative to positive, the beautiful peacock nurtures its body by eating poisonous plants without any harm. Also, the peacock symbolises purity and hence its feathers are often used in buddhist purification ceremonies.
DRAGON symbolize power, independence, spirituality, wisdom and protection. In Taoism the dragon is considered to be a symbol of changes and progress. In China and Japan dragon represents royalty.
Eagles symbolize freedom as well as being grounded and connected to the earth. Also, Eagle stands for resilience and living in harmony with spiritual aspects of life. Eagles are brave, and unafraid of the unknown. Those who have Eagle as their spirit animal face life’s challenges with courage and confidence.
Eagles are most often associated with wisdom and freedom, but can also refer to intuition, creativity, strength, courage, hope, resilience, healing, vision, healing, sexual power.
GA’U is a very popular piece of jewellery among Tibetans who believe it to have protective function. Ga’u was worn by men and women, but women’s gau’s had a more complicated and beautiful design. Gau’s were used when going to a dangerous and long journey over Himalaya to India. Ga’u contained mantras and amulettes that were to protect against dark powers and unfavourable influences of planets. In order to increase the protective functions of the Ga’u, many travellers wore gau’s in the front, back and on the side. Gau’s from different regions have different design and look.
Kati Tarma “Kivide tervendav toime”
Trilok Chandra Majupuria ja Rohit Kumar "Gods, Goddesses and Religious Symbols of Hinduism, Buddhism and Tantrism"
Judy Hall “The Encyclopedia of Crystals”
Cally Hall "Handbooks Gemstones"
Green Tara painting by Zeng Hao