The Eight Auspicious Symbols
The Eight Auspicious Symbols are signs of good fortune, success, and spiritual victories. The use of eight auspicious symbols is a widespread practice in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.
These auspicious symbols are also known as Tashi Takgyé or Aṣṭamaṅgala (Astamangala). Both terms refer to the eight auspicious signs. These symbols are also used as teaching tools, appearing together or independently in manuscripts and artwork, as well as a decorative motif on relics, sculptures, architecture, and jewelry. They are printed on prayer flags, as well as painted on the house, temple, or monastery walls and carved onto altars, wooden furniture, embellished metalwork, ceramics, carpets, and silk brocades.
There is a practice of painting these auspicious symbols on the ground with scattered flour or colored powders to welcome visiting religious dignitaries to monastic establishments. The eight Auspicious symbols found in Buddhist art are a parasol, a pair of golden fish, a vase, a lotus, a right-spiraling white conch shell, an endless/ eternal knot, a victory banner, and a golden wheel.
The eight auspicious symbols form the most well-known collection of Buddhist emblems. Their origin can be traced back to the establishment of Buddhism in India. It has always been customary to use auspicious symbols since the past.
In the past, the majority of early Buddhist art was aniconic, or formless, hence Buddha was frequently represented in non-representational form such as an empty throne beneath a parasol and Bodhi tree, as a wheel or as footprints. In the Buddhist tradition, it is believed that eight symbols of good fortune were offered to Shakyamuni Buddha by celestial beings upon his attainment of enlightenment.
The eight auspicious symbols were personified as the Astamangala Devi in early Vajrayana Buddhism. These are the deities of good fortune and carry one of the Astamangalas as an attribute.
The interpretation of these symbols is explained as follows:
1. Parasol (Chhatra)
The Parasol is a sunshade made of a circular canopy of fabric supported by folding frames and a central rod. It is also referred to as a Chhatra or an umbrella. The parasol was formerly considered to be a symbol of enlightenment or royalty. The emblem of thirteen royal parasols was adopted by Early Indian Buddhism as a symbol of the sovereignty of the Buddha as universal monarch. It is also believed that when the Buddha attained enlightenment, the king of the nagas (serpents) offered him a jewelled umbrella.
A parasol embellished with precious jewels represents the head of the Buddha. Its silken fabric, golden shaft, and jewels reflect various aspects of the teaching of Buddha, which provide tranquility and protection from the heat of worldly suffering, desire, delusions, fears, obstacles, illnesses, and harmful forces. It is also a symbol of wisdom and compassion/skillful means.
A parasol is usually positioned at the top of thirteen conical spires of the Buddhist stupa. Similarly, Buddhist deities such as Ushnisha Sitatapatra (Tib. gDugs-dKar) and Vaman avatar of Vishnu (Hindu God) are commonly portrayed carrying a parasol.
2. Pair of golden fish (Suvarna Matsya)
Fish is associated with creation in various cultures, whereas in Buddhism, it represents liberation from the cycle of rebirth and determination. In many cultures, it is also the symbol of perception, and longevity. The attribute of great Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa is a golden fish, which signifies both his realization and his ability to liberate beings from the worldly ocean of suffering (Samsara).
The pair of golden fish is a symbolic representation of the eyes of Buddha, which symbolize compassion and clairvoyance. It also represents happiness and spontaneity, fertility and abundance, conjugal unity and fidelity, prosperity and good fortune, as well as the symbol of the balance of mind and body that leads to higher consciousness. In Buddhism, it signifies the ability of the Dharma to ensure the salvation of beings from the cycle of Samsara.
3. Vase (Kalasha)
In various cultures, the Vase is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, however, in Buddhism, it is a symbol of liberation and spiritual abundance. It signifies the wealth of knowledge and wisdom and is also known as the Vase of Inexhaustible Treasure or Plenty. It represents the throat of the Buddha. When the Buddha attained enlightenment, the earth goddess Sthavara (Tib. Sa’i Lha-mo) is said to have presented him with a golden vase filled with the nectar of immortality. It is also a symbol of various wealth deities such as Jambhala, Vaishravana, and Vasudhara, and often appears beneath their feet as an attribute.
4. Lotus (Padma)
The Lotus flower is a symbol of purity, renunciation, divinity, and rebirth. The lotus is the emblem of Buddha Amitabha of the West (direction), also known as the ‘Lord of the Padma or Lotus Family’.
There is mention of four, eight, sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two, sixty-four, a hundred, or a thousand petaled lotus in Buddhism. These numbers symbolically represent to the internal chakras of the subtle body, as well as to the numerical components of the mandala.
Lotus is a symbol of purity of mind and heart. It also reflects human consciousness and awareness, which rises from the muddy roots of lower consciousness towards the higher awareness of enlightenment. The lotus flower represents the perfected tongue of the Buddha. It is associated with deities such as Tara, Guru Padmasambhava, Avalokiteshvara and so on. There is also a custom of depicting seven lotus steps to reflect the seven steps taken by Buddha when he was born.
5. White conch shell (Sankha)
It is a symbol of power, authority and sovereignty, whose sound is believed to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters, and keep poisonous creatures at bay. The clockwise-spiraling conch shell represents the deep, melodious, and pervasive voice of the Buddha. It also represents the sound of Dharma, which awakens sentient beings from the slumber of ignorance.
It is believed that the white right-spiraling conch shell was presented to the Buddha by Indra. This conch represents right speech as the proclamation of the Dharma. It is associated with spiritual awakening and truthful speech, fearlessness and resounding victory. It is associated with the wisdom deities.
6. Endless/ eternal knot (Shrivasta)
It represents the infinite wisdom and compassion of Buddha. It is a symbol of longevity, continuity, love, harmony and infinite wisdom. Similarly, it is supposed to represent the spiritual journey, and the passage of time. This intertwining symbol without beginning and end represents the dependent origination (twelve links) and the underlying reality of Samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth). It also reflects the inner duality of human consciousness.
7. Victory Banner (Dhwoja)
The victory banner represents the body of the Buddha and his triumph against Maras, and his attainment of enlightenment. In Tibetan Buddhism, there are eleven forms of the victory banner. They are said to represent eleven methods for overcoming defilements. Vaishravana (Tib. rNam thos sras), the great guardian king of the North is generally portrayed carrying a victory banner. They are also commonly seen in the procession, and roofs of Buddhist monasteries. Victory Banner is the symbol of victory over death, ignorance and obstruction.
8. Wheel (Chakra)
The wheel, also known as the dharma chakra or ‘wheel of the law,’ is a symbol of the teaching of Buddha. In early Buddhist art, the wheel represented the Buddha himself. It signifies the motion, continuity and rapid spiritual transformation in Buddhism. As a weapon, it symbolizes the victory over all obstacles and illusions. Several Buddhist wrathful deities are depicted brandishing a wheel as a part of their attribute.
The hub of the wheel symbolizes moral discipline that stabilizes the mind. Similarly, the eight spokes represent the eightfold path that destroys ignorance while the rim signifies Dharma practice.
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- Beer, Robert (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Shambhala Publications.
- Jansen, R.E. (2002). The Books of Buddhas-ritual symbolism used on Buddhist Statuary and ritual objects. New Ages Books.
- Short Description of Gods, Goddesses, and Ritual Objects of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal. Handicraft Association of Nepal.
- Feature Photo by Lotus Ryan Eight Auspicious Buddhism Religion