Important Tibetan Symbols and Meanings - Buddhatooth.com

Important Tibetan Symbols and Meanings

Tibet is a great country that is located in the Himalayas. Although it was a nomadic nation at first, it was greatly influenced by Indian Buddhism. From there, the religion along with Tibetan symbols and meanings have become part of its rich culture.

Although a bit different from Indian Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism preserves the Tantric status quo of eighth-century India. Like its origin, it pursues Enlightenment. The religion spread over this vast country. The country has a rich tradition of symbolism, thus Tibetan Buddhist symbols flourished.

Tibetan Symbols and Meanings

Tibetan culture has many important symbols, and they have corresponding meanings:

  • The Eight Auspicious Symbols
  • The Kalachakra “Tenfold Powerful” Logo
  • Prayer Flags and Mani Wheels
  • The Four Dignities

 

Apart from other symbols, these are the most important, because they are central to Tibetan Buddhism. The combination of these symbols encompasses the “Wheel of Life”, which symbolizes the universe.

Let’s go through them in detail.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols

The Eight Auspicious Symbols or the Ashtamangala is the center of their beliefs. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that these symbols are printed on Tibetan prayer flags. You can also see them on their houses.

Here are the Eight Auspicious Symbols:
  1. The Parasol – The parasol or the chattri stands for “protection” and “royalty”. It protects the faithful from the “heat of defilement”. It is a protective symbol from earthly emotions such as desire and suffering. The parasol also depicts the importance of the person below it. According to Buddhist beliefs, the person or symbol under the parasol is the center of the universe. There are many pictures of Lord Buddha where he has a parasol over his head.
  2. The Golden Fish – Also known as the suvarnamatsya, this symbol consists of two fish, standing with their heads turned inwards, towards each other. Buddhists think that the two golden fish are the holy Indian rivers of Ganga and Yamuna. These rivers depict man’s breathing pattern. They are also about happiness and fertility. They are free to live and reproduce when they are in water.
  3. The Treasure Vase – The treasure vase or kalasha is a fat vase with a short, but slim neck. It has a jewel at its mouth, which means that it’s full of treasure. The treasure vase is a symbol of abundance and wealth. Moreover, this symbol has a harmonious effect on its surroundings. It is a common Buddhist practice to bury similar treasure vases in mountains and water springs. It is also placed at altars.
  4. The Lotus Flower – The lotus flower or padma captures one of the founding beliefs of Buddhism. The symbolic plant takes root in mud, grows along the water level and blooms into a beautiful flower with a fascinating scent. Buddhists believe that the lotus flower is about the progress of a human soul. Just like a lotus is born in mud, we are born in a world of materialism. Just as the lotus flower rises through the water level, we grow with experience. And just as the lotus blooms, we ultimately attain enlightenment.
  5. The Conch Shell – This symbol is also known as the sangha. The conch shell is a respected object in Indian culture. They believe it is a ward against evil, and a symbol of authority and power. The Conch shell is also an emblem that proclaims the truth of the dharma. You’ll notice that Buddhists use of conch shell for announcing important assemblies.
  6. The Endless Knot – Also known as the shrivasta, the endless knot has never-ending loops. It has no beginning or end. Upon close inspection, you’ll see that its lines are intertwined, and all are at right angles. The endless knot is a symbol of the endless wisdom of Lord Buddha.
  7. The Victory Banner – Also known as dhvaja, this stands for the victory of knowledge over ignorance. It is a symbol of Buddha’s enlightenment. It is also a symbol of overcoming hardships and abuse.
  8. The Wheel of Life – The Wheel of Life or dharmachakra is the most important auspicious symbol. It is the symbol of Buddha’s teachings. The wheel stands for spiritual change. His first teaching, which took place at the Deer Park in Sarnath, is said to be the “first turning” of the Wheel. The second and third turnings are about the discourses given by Buddha in Rajgir and Shravasti. The eight spokes of the Wheel of Life depict the Eightfold Path. This is the path to Zen.

The Kalachakra “Tenfold Powerful” Logo

Along with other Tibetan symbols and meanings, the Kalachakra logo can be found in Tibetan Buddhist temples. And it has many forms. The Tenfold Powerful logo stands for the teachings of the Kalachakra tantra. This is one of the most complex tantric systems. The symbol was developed in Tibet and is a symbol of Lantsa script letters. It refers to the outer world, the human body at its gross and subtle levels, and the practice of Kalachakra.

Prayer Flags and Mani Wheels

Prayer flags are typically found in temples, houses and mountain passes. Buddhists believe that they have a special blessing power that is spread all over the world by the wind. These custom symbols have a combination of mantras and special prayers. The flags are hung from one or two poles.

Prayer flags come in five different colors. Blue corresponds with the sky, green with water, red with fire, white with clouds, and yellow with earth.

One particular flag is the Wind Horse. This is a mythical Tibetan creature that stands for the speed of the wind and the strength of the horse. The Wind Horse carries prayers from earth to the heavens. It stands for success and the space element. The Wind Horse carrying the “Wish Fulfilling Jewel of Enlightenment” is the most dominant symbol. It stands for good fortune, the uplifting life force energies and good events.

The Wind Horse prayer flag has an ancient design. The Wind Horse is at the center of the flag. The “Four Dignities” are in the corners, and the Eight Auspicious symbols are around the perimeter. At the top center are the three main Bodhisattvas and they are symbols of compassion, power and wisdom. At the bottom center are the figures called “the union of enemies”. These figures stand for friendship. The two swastikas signify eternal life.

Mani wheels are similar to prayer flags. They stand for certain mantras, and Buddhists believe these mantras are spread when the wheel is turned. Mani wheels usually contain the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.

The Four Dignities

The Four Dignities are mythical animals among Tibetan symbols and meanings. They stand for various aspects of Boddhisattva life.

  1. Dragon – The Dragon is a thunderous creature with the sound of compassion. It awakens us from delusion and increases our knowledge through hearing. Dragons are related to power, dominance over the sea and the water element. 
  2. Tiger – This mystical creature is a symbol of confidence, disciplined awareness, modesty and kindness. It is relaxed, but is full of energy. Its resting state is a symbol satisfaction, fulfillment and enlightenment. The Tiger stands for dominance over the forest and the air element.
  3. Snow Lion – The Snow Lion stands for cheerfulness, doubtlessness, and clarity of the mind. This creature is a symbol of youth, vibrant energy and a natural sense of delight. Sometimes, the throne of Buddha has 8 snow lions on it. They depict the 8 main Bodhisattva disciples. The Snow Lion also stands for fearlessness, dominance over mountains, and the earth element.
  4. Garuda – The fourth dignity is daring and fearless. The Garuda’s strength makes it soar without holding back. Tibetan Buddhists believe the Garuda is a strong antidote to negative influences of Nagas (spirits), which cause harm and disease. The Garuda stands for freedom from hopes and fears. It is also a symbol of wisdom, dominance over the sky, and the fire element.

These are the most important Tibetan symbols and meanings, and each helps us understand our existence. The symbols are connected to each other and are central to Tibetan Buddhism. Their meanings stand for their core beliefs. Through them, we can better understand and appreciate Buddha’s teachings. Want to learn more? Check out an article about hand symbol meaning in Buddhism.

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