Buddhist Symbols and Their Meanings

You have certainly seen in Buddhist temples and monasteries, various objects that represent a deity or other. Whether for religious practices or simply as decoration, these objects contain a whole meaning. Discover here different Buddhist symbols and their meaning.


Why Buddhist symbols?

In the 4th to 6th century BC, Prince Siddharta Guatama began to spread his teaching on Buddhism. In particular, he evoked his sufferings and experiences until the attainment of enlightenment. As he was opposed to accepting images of himself, he used many different symbols to deliver his teaching. This is how Buddhist symbols came into being. While some of them refer to the religious stream that resulted from these teachings, most of them represent symbols of spiritual awakening and enlightenment that are outside of this religious context.


The eight auspicious signs of Buddhism

The eight auspicious signs of Buddhism, or Ashtamangala, are symbols of offerings made by the gods to the Buddha once he has received enlightenment. They are symbols, energy signatures, teaching tools that point to qualities of enlightened mind. These eight signs are in particular :

The parasol or umbrella

The parasol or umbrella protects from rain and the heat of the sun. It is the symbol of royal dignity, but also of protection against the forces of evil, suffering and various dangerous obstacles. It protects against accidents, problems, illnesses, bad spells, etc.

The parasol can also mean a shelter to enjoy the pleasure of being in the shade. It brings joy, freshness and satisfaction to be free from suffering. It can represent a haven of peace.

The two golden carps

In ancient times, the two fish symbolize the Yamuna River and the Ganges River. Later, they became the symbol of good fortune, luck, but also prosperity and fertility among Hindus. Buddhists also adopted it as a symbol of courage and valour.

Indeed, in Buddhism, the two golden fish that practice the dharma represent living beings who are not afraid to drown in the ocean, in suffering or in life's trials. Like fish in water, these beings are free and can migrate wherever they want. It is the symbol of rebirth.

The conch or shell

Taking the shape of a shell, the conch has been used in many countries as a traditional fighting horn. In ancient times, the white conch symbolized the Brahmin caste among Hindus.

In Buddhism, the white conch symbolizes the sound of the dharma. It was used to awaken disciples during teachings. It could also be used as a bell to incite disciples to come out of their spiritual ignorance and do good. This symbol represents the awakening to ignorance and non-knowledge.

The lotus flower

The lotus is a symbol in its own right of Asia. This flower has many positive meanings. The lotus flower represents the purification of body, speech and mind.

The lotus flower is exceptional. It grows in swamps or dirty places, unlikely. Its roots are deep in the mud. Its stem grows through dark, muddy water. But its flower, of great beauty, floats majestically on the water.

In the Buddhist teaching, the lotus flower represents the elevation of the soul from suffering to enlightenment. It symbolizes materialism through muddy water, then experience through the stem and enlightenment through the flowers.

The lotus can represent awakening, elevation of the soul and beauty. It reveals the true nature of humanity. Each lotus color represents a meaning:

White Lotus: Symbol of mental and spiritual purity
Red Lotus: Symbol of heart, compassion and love
Pink Lotus: Symbol of the Buddha
Purple Lotus : Symbol of mysticism
Blue Lotus: Symbol of wisdom, control and mastery of the soul

The dharma wheel or Dharma chakra

The Dharma chakra, also called the wheel of dharma, is the symbol of the Buddha. Later it became the universal symbol of Buddhism and is the most important symbol in this teaching. The Dharma Wheel also symbolizes the laws and precepts of Buddhism.

The dharma wheel is a wheel with eight spokes. These spokes symbolize the eightfold path taken by the Buddha from birth to rebirth. When the Buddha spoke of his first teachings, he represented them through four noble truths and eight steps. This is why in some drawings the wheel has four or eight branches.

The banner of victory

The Victory Banner symbolizes the victory of the Buddha over the demon Marra. During these experiences, the Buddha had to deal with the demon Marra. He represented luxury, pride, but also passion and fear of death. This symbol also represents the ability to overcome obstacles and the triumph over ignorance.

In the Buddhist teachings, the banner of victory is there to remind people that pride and lust are not important and that one must concentrate on soul awakening and enlightenment.

The treasure vase or the urn of wisdom

The treasure vase is filled with precious things. In Buddhism, this vase contains precious and sacred elements for intellectual and spiritual prosperity. It contains wisdom and prosperity.

The vase also refers to abundance. It contains health, longevity, spiritual wealth and the nectar of immortality. On the mouth of the vase is a sparkling jewel that closes it.

The Eternal Knot or the Endless Knot

The eternal knot takes the form of an endless knot. The interlacing of the lines of this knot represents the connections of all objects and beings on earth. The lines are linked in a closed structure.

In religion, the eternal knot represents the connections between religion and secular affairs. But it can also symbolize the connection between cause and effect and the union of wisdom and compassion. It can also represent the emptiness and interdependence of phenomena. In other contexts, it represents karma and the connection between past and future.

The eternal knot is the symbol of samsara. The world of samsara is a world of suffering where one is born and dies in a loop. One must leave it in order to reach this nirvana.




Divinities in Buddhism

In addition to the auspicious eight, Buddhism also emphasizes several deities that it considers sacred. These deities represent very important symbols.

The Buddha

Buddha statues are very representative in Buddhist temples and monasteries. They are also well represented in houses or gardens that aspire to well-being, to zenitude. Buddha statues have several meanings depending on the position of the hands of the Buddha. Some symbolize meditation, concentration or teaching, others mean protection, wealth, wisdom, benevolence and many others.


Tara is a female character who possesses miraculous powers. Considered a bodhisattva, she is liberating and protective of physical dangers. She helps to understand the inner and outer teachings. Among Tibetans, she is considered the mother of all Buddhas. Tara has 21 forms and can be a symbol of benevolence, comfort, longevity, health, etc.


Ganesh is a divination present in Hinduism and Japanese Buddhism. It takes the form of a red child's body with 4 arms and an elephant's head. He is accompanied by his vehicle which can be a rat or a mouse.

Ganesh, among Hindus symbolizes the union of the divine and the human. He is the god of intelligence, wisdom, prudence that allows to overcome different obstacles of life. Among Japanese Buddhists, he was introduced into the esoteric school.


Shiva is a Hindu god. Quite complex, he represents the end and death. But in Hindus, death is not the end. It allows them to rebuild a new world. Shiva has three eyes that represent fire, the sun and the moon. When his eyes close, it means that the universe ends and a new cycle begins. Thus, Hinduists consider him as a benevolent god who allows to get rid of everything that is not good in order to better rebuild oneself.




Other important symbols in Buddhism

Buddhism is characterized by representations. That is why we find many symbols in both teaching and religion. Here are some practical objects that we find a lot among Buddhists.

Prayer wheels

They are cult objects very present in Tibetan Buddhism. It is an object of cylindrical shape and rotating according to an axis. It exists in different sizes. Tibetans often place mantras or prayers on it. It is believed that the prayer wheel should be turned clockwise with the right hand. This is similar to quoting a prayer.

Om or Aum

Om is a mystical syllable taken from Hindu belief. It is also common to all Buddhism as well as certain religions such as Hinduism or Jainism. In this one Om represents the first sound of creation. It then symbolizes the stages of life that are birth, life and death. It also represents the divine and original energy with which the universe was created. This is why it appears as the most important symbol in the sacred texts of India.

In Buddhism, Aum consists of three letters A, U and M. They represent the body, mind and speech of the Buddha. In the practice of Yoga, Om is the mantra often sung at the beginning of the class. Om Mani Padme hum is the most famous mantra in Mahayana Buddhism. It is the mantra of compassion.

The three jewels

Also called the three refuges, the three jewels are jewels that each have particular meanings. First of all, when a person accepts the teaching of Buddhism and wants to integrate it into his life, he must follow the path traced by the precious elements.

The first jewel represents the Buddha, enlightened. It symbolizes the true human nature of each person, which is to be a Buddha. The second jewel represents the Dharma. It symbolizes the path to enlightenment and enlightenment. The third jewel represents the Sangha which means sacred or precious.

The three jewels are associated with three colors: yellow (Buddha), blue (dharma) and red (sangha). They also symbolize the spirit of the diamond.

The Vajra

Vajra means lightning or diamond. It is a ritual object that allows to destroy ignorance and easily reach enlightenment. It symbolizes one of the three branches of Buddhism: Vajrayana. The object takes the form of a club with a slightly ribbed spherical head. It symbolizes at the same time the purity and the indestructibility of the diamond as well as the energy of a lightning bolt. In everyday life, the Vajra represents endless creativity or skillful and powerful activity.


In Zen Buddhism, Enso is a sacred symbol. Also called the "circle of lights", it is hand drawn as a rough circle, but it represents many things like strength, elegance, beauty in imperfection, uniqueness, the inner self. It can also symbolize the perfect meditative state or enlightenment.

The Malas

Malas are small objects of a religious nature. They are composed of 108 grains used by Buddhists for the recitation of mantras in prayers. They are made of wood, glass or semi-precious stones. The number 108 represents the number of trials overcome by the Buddha. During meditation, the beads are changed with the fingers without disturbing concentration.



Conclusion on Buddhist symbols

There are other symbols related to the Buddhist teaching and religion. While some are inseparable from religious practice, others are used for a practice of well-being, to bring calm and Zen. Buddhist symbols now go beyond this religious practice and can accompany daily life.