Buddha Symbols

Buddhist Symbols

The earliest Buddhist art avoided showing the Buddha in human form, but instead indicated his presence through symbols such as the stupa, stylized footprints or the wheel, representing the Buddhist law, or Dharma. Reflecting ancient beliefs in mystical signs and symbols, the hands and feet of Buddhas are distinguished by special markings.

In the earliest periods of Buddhism, statues of the Buddha were not used to symbolize Buddha. Instead, the Buddhist art consisted Buddha Images and his teachings, such as the lotus, the Wheel of the Law and the Bodhi tree among the others.

Similarly, Buddha feet (buddhapada) from Amaravati can be identified by the fact that the toes are of equal length, one of the physical characteristics of a Buddha. At the center of each foot is a many-spoked Dharma wheel, while at the heel is a ‘Triple Jewel’ (triratna) representing the Three Jewels of Buddhism; the Buddha, his teaching (the Dharma) and the spiritual community (the Sangha). At the front is a large swastika, an auspicious symbol – the term svasti means all is well’. Each big toe is decorated with the Triple Jewel, the smaller toes with swastikas. Eventually, the Buddha images became one of the most popular representations in Buddhism, but these early symbols remain important and are frequently used to this day. They are especially important in Theravada Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand. As the religion spread across Asia, the symbols were enriched by the cultures it came into contact with which is especially true for Tibetan Buddhism. The central symbols of Tibetan Buddhism are Astamangala (Eight Auspicious Symbols in Sanksrit). These symbols are printed on Tibetan prayer flags and are also included in mandalas and thankgas.

Other major types of symbols in Buddhism include the five colors of white, yellow, red, blue and green. Even the symbolic hand gestures called Mudras  of Buddha statues also are the important symbols in the religion and the teachings of Buddhism.