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Buddhist Symbols

As in Islam, the early Buddhists did not use symbols of Buddha. They did however use images that symbolize Buddha’s teachings, such as the lotus flower and the wheel. Later on, more images of Buddha appeared and became popular representations of Buddhism (Rinpoche, 1996, p. 10). During the spread of Buddhism, the symbols got more influenced by other cultures and countries. The most important symbol is the wheel as it represents Buddha’s teachings. Buddha turned the ‘wheel of the dharma’, and so it is also known as the Dharmachakra, or wheel of law.

Tibetan Buddhists also have a ‘wheel of life’, which represents the universe (Rinpoche, 1996, p. 30). Buddha’s eyes, as found on every stupa (temple or shrine), are big pairs of eyes staring out from every side. These eyes are also known as ‘wisdom eyes’. They represent the omniscience, all-seeing, of Buddha. The eyes even became a symbol of Nepal. The nose is made of the Nepali character for the number 1, which symbolizes the unity of all things. Above the two eyes, there is the ‘third eye’. This stands also for the all-seeing wisdom of Buddha (Rinpoche, 1996, p. 93).

Another Tibetan Buddhist symbol, which is very famous, is the endless knot, composed of right-angled, intertwined lines. It has no beginning or end and it symbolizes the Buddha’s endless wisdom and compassion (Rinpoche, 1996, p. 25). Hindu Symbols The most known Hindu symbol is probably the ‘om’. Most known through the spreading of yoga around the world. It is the Sanskrit letters for the sacred Hindu sound om (or aum). The four parts symbolize the four stages of consciousness: awake, sleeping, dreaming and trance. It also represents the essence of the whole universe.

It is the root of the universe, everything that exists (Fontana, 1994, p. 65). The lotus flower represents beauty and non-attachment. The flower grows in mud, but floats on the water without becoming wet. This symbolizes how the people should life in the world. “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water. ” (Bhagavad Gita 5. 10). A similar meaning is given to the lotus symbol in Buddhism. Other (semi-)Religious Symbols

The symbols that we find in the five great religions are not the only ones. Sometimes we even find the same symbol, with another meaning, in other religions or cultures. Many religious symbols are now also found in ‘fashion’. Through new religious feelings and many new quasi-religions, more and more old symbols have found their way back again. The ankh is an Egyptian cross symbolizing a mythical eternal life, rebirth, and the life-giving power of the sun (Cooper, 1987, p. 13). Double-headed Eagle is a Masonic seal and initiation symbol.

The number inside the pyramid over the eagle’s head is 33. The eagle is a universal symbol representing the sun, power, authority, victory, the sky gods and the royal head of a nation (Brent Morris, 2006, p. 237). The dragon is a mythical monster made up of many animals, such as a serpent, lizard, bird and lion. It may have many heads and breaths fire. To mediaeval Europe, it was dangerous and evil, but people in Eastern Asia believe it has power to help them against more hostile spiritual forces. In the Bible it represents Satan, the devil (Fontana, 1994, p. 80-82).

The four basic elements for many pagans are earth, water, air (wind or spirit) and fire. Many consider the first two passive and feminine – and the last two active and masculine. In Wiccan or Native American rituals, the “quartered circle” represents a “sacred space” or the sacred earth. The four lines represent the spirits of the four primary directions or the spirits of the earth, water, wind and fire (Fontana, 1994, p. 108-115). The eye of Horus, found in almost every souvenir shop in Egypt, represent the eye of Egyptian sun-god Horus who lost an eye battling the god Seti.

Pagans use it as a charm to ward off evil (Fontana, 1994, p. 57). The Masonic symbol of the compass and the ruler represents movement toward perfection and a balance between the spiritual and physical which resembles Egyptian and oriental mysticism. The compass represent the spirit, the ruler represent the physical forms (Brent Morris, 2006,p. 219-220). The peace sign, or Nero’s cross, is another very often seen symbol in our daily life. To the Roman emperor Nero, who hated and persecuted the early Christians, it meant destruction of Christianity.

It was revived in the sixties by hippies and others who protested nuclear weapons, Western culture, and Christian values (Fontana, 1994, p. 72). Through revival of the ‘earth religions’ as Wicca and Neo-paganism, the use of the pentagram is widely spread. It is a standard symbols for witches, freemasons and many other pagan or occult groups. To witches, it represents the four basic elements (wind, water, earth and fire) plus a pantheistic spiritual being such as Gaia or Mother Earth.

The pentagram is also used for protection, to banish energy, or to bring it to you, depending on how it’s drawn (Fontana, 1994,p. 59). The last symbol explained here has to be the yin and yang. It is a Chinese Tao picture of universal harmony and the unity between all opposites: light/dark, male/female, etc. Yin is the dark, passive, negative female principle. Yang is the light, active, positive principle. Since it represent monism (all is one) and pantheism (all is God), it opposes Christianity, which shows us that there is only one God (monotheism), and only in Christ can we be one (Fontana, 1994, p. 129).

Nowadays, it is a very famous and wanted symbol, which we can therefore find on many accessories, shirts and other daily life things. It fits the consensus process, the vision of global unity, and the blending of opposing energies at the heart of holistic health.


Brent Morris, S. (2006). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry. New York, NY: Alpha Books. Chaikin, M. (1990). Menorahs, Mezuzas, and Other Jewish Symbols. New York, NY: Clarion Books. Cooper, J. C. (1987). An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

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