The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism

Images and What They Mean

The Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism originated in Indian iconography. In ancient times, many of these same symbols were associated with the coronations of kings, but as they were adopted by Buddhism, they came to represent offerings the gods made to the Buddha after his enlightenment.

Although westerners may be unfamiliar with some of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, they can be found in the art of most schools of Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhism. In some monasteries in China, the symbols are placed on lotus pedestals in front of statues of the Buddha. The symbols are often used in decorative art, or as a point of focus for meditation and contemplation 

Here is a brief overview of the Eight Auspicious Symbols: 

01
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The Parasol

The Parasol

The parasol is a symbol of royal dignity and protection from the heat of the sun. By extension, it represents protection from suffering.

The ornate parasol usually is depicted with a dome, representing wisdom, and a "skirt" around the dome, representing compassion . Sometimes the dome is octagonal, representing the Eightfold Path . In other used, it is square, representing the four directional quarters.

02
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Two Golden Fish

Two Fish
Two Fish. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The two fish were originally symbolic of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna, but came to represent general good fortune for Hindus, Jainists and Buddhists. Within Buddhism, it also symbolizes that living beings who practice the dharma need have no fear to drown in the ocean of suffering, and can freely migrate (chose their rebirth) like fish in the water.

03
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The Conch Shell

A Conch Shell
A Conch Shell. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

In Asia, the conch has long been used as a battle horn. In the Hindu epic The Mahabharata, the sound of the hero Arjuna's conch terrorized his enemies. In ancient Hindu times a white conch also represented the Brahmin caste.

In Buddhism, a white conch that coils to the right represents the sound of the Dharma reaching far and wide, awakening beings from ignorance.

04
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The Lotus

The Lotus Blossom
The Lotus Blossom. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The lotus is an aquatic plant that roots in deep mud with a stemp that grows up through murky water. But the blossom rises above the muck and opens in the sun, beautiful and fragrant. So perhaps its no surprise that in Buddhism, the lotus represents the true nature of beings, who rise through samsara into the beauty and clarity of enlightenment.

The color of the lotus also has significance:

  • White: Mental and spiritual purity
  • Red: The heart, compassion and love
  • Blue: Wisdom and control of the senses
  • Pink: The historical Buddha
  • Purple: Mysticism

05
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The Banner of Victory

The Banner of Victory
The Banner of Victory. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The victory banner signifies the Buddha's victory over the demon Mara and over what Mara represents--passion, fear of death, pride and lust. More generally, it represents the victory of wisdom over ignorance.  There is a legend that the Buddha raised the victory banner over Mount Meru to mark his victory over all phenomenal things.

06
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The Vase

The Vase
The Vase. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The treasure vase is filled with precious and sacred things, yet no matter how much is taken out, it is always full. It represents the teachings of the Buddha, which remained a bountiful treasure no matter how many teachings he gave to others. It also symbolizes long life and prosperity.

07
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The Dharma Wheel, or Dharmachakra

Dharma Wheel
Dharma Wheel. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The Dharma Wheel, also called the dharma-chakra or dhamma chakka, is one of the most well-known symbols of Buddhism. In most representations, the Wheel has eight spokes, representing the Eightfold Path. According to tradition, the Dharma Wheel was first turned when the Buddha delivered his first sermon after his enlightenment. There were two subsequent turnings of the wheel, in which teachings on emptiness (sunyata) and on inherent Buddha-nature were given. 

08
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The Eternal Knot

Eternal Knot
Eternal Knot. Image courtesy of Osel Shen Phen Ling, copyright by Bob Jacobson

The Eternal Knot, with its lines flowing and entwined in a closed pattern, represents dependent origination and the interrelation of all phenomena. It also may signify the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular life; of wisdom and compassion; or, at the time of enlightenment, the unions of emptiness and clarity.