14 Types Of Buddhism Symbols With Meanings

Buddhist symbols serve to communicate the core ideas of Buddhism as well as the Buddha himself. Buddha lived in the sixth century BCE, but it wasn’t until the third century BCE that Buddhist symbols started to emerge. These Buddhist symbols first appeared in India before beginning to spread throughout Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. The practices and expressions of Buddhist life were impacted by various cultures as Buddhism expanded. We will discuss Buddhism symbols and their significance.

We are all familiar with Buddhism symbols and the teaching of peace from Buddha. The teachings of Buddha have spread all over the world and impacted the lives of a multitude of people. In the contemporary era, Buddhism has followers not only in Asia but also in the Western world. You too may have encountered the Buddhist symbols at some time and wondered what they mean.

The essential ideas of Buddhist teachings were communicated through symbols in each of these civilizations, albeit the meanings of these symbols varied among Buddhist sects. As we shall see, enlightenment, which has enormous significance in Buddhism, is represented by a number of symbols. The goal of enlightenment is to achieve freedom from suffering by pushing out the thoughts of the worldly mind. The objective of the eight-fold path is nirvana. Here is the list of Buddhism symbols and their significance,

Buddhism Symbols and their Meanings

1. The Dharma Wheel, or Dharmachakra

The most significant Buddhist emblem is the Dharmachakra or Dharma Wheel. The Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment at Varanasi, according to Buddhist legend, when the wheel was first rotated. The traditional Buddhist symbol is an eight-spoked wheel, but its early iterations varied in appearance. The Dharma, or the Buddha’s teachings, is symbolized by the wheel. The three swirls in the center of the wheel stand for the Buddha (or teacher), the Dharma (Buddha’s teachings), and the Sangha, the three jewels of Buddhism (the community).

The dharma wheel has eight spokes representing the eightfold path or the eight teachings of Buddha. The dharma wheel is one of the earliest symbols of Buddhism part of the core and is included in the oldest scriptures and monuments. The wheel allegory to the progress of time and the progress of the mind from being illusioned in the world to attaining enlightenment. It represents the revolution of the mind. In its earliest forms, the dharma wheel of placed on top of pillars called chakrastambhas. The wheel was also representative of kings in ancient India, and Buddha was a king both literally and figuratively. According to some historians, the meaning of spokes was only later attributed.

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The Dharma Wheel, or Dharmachakra

2. The Lotus Flower

A significant and meaningful Buddhist symbol is the lotus flower. In ponds, lotus flowers bloom. The lotus flower develops through the murky, filthy lake waters, but keeps growing until it emerges and blooms. This cycle of development serves as motivation for persevering through pain and one’s spiritual path. The lotus flower is a symbol of human nature and the purity of enlightenment for Buddhists. In Buddhist art and texts, lotus flowers have evolved into significant Buddhist emblems. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, images of Guanyin or Kanon are also accompanied by lotus flowers.

Lotus is an ancient symbol of purity that is widely used in Buddhism. The character of the flower is such that it rises in muddy water and blooms unstained which is an allegory of Budhha. The lotus represents how being surrounded by ignorant people he was a beacon of enlightenment. One can find lotus engraved in stones in stupas and monasteries. In Buddhist scriptures also, the lotus can be found in all the important symbolisms. The pose in which monks and meditators sit is also called the lotus pose. The word for lotus is ‘padma’ in Sanskrit which is also a common name in the Buddhist tradition.

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The Lotus Flower

3. The Bodhi Tree

Buddhism uses the Bodhi Tree as a representation of enlightenment. The location where the Buddha reached Nirvana or Enlightenment is symbolized by this Buddhist icon. The original Bodhi tree is a fig that may be found at Bhod Gaya, India, a revered destination for pilgrims. According to Buddhist tales, cuttings from the original Bodhi Tree evolved to form numerous sanctuaries and centers of devotion. Buddhism uses the Bodhi tree as a symbol of both the Buddha and the Enlightenment.

The bodhi tree or the ficusa religiosa was the tree in whose shade Buddha meditated and attained enlightenment. The name bodhi itself means awakening. The symbolism of the bodhi tree goes as far back as buddha and is one of the original symbols of Buddhism. In imagery, the tree can have a seat or throne below it and its branches which represents nirvana. Needless to say, the tree is highly revered in Buddhism and is considered a gift fit for kings.

The Bodhi Tree

Image Source: Wikimedia

4. Conch Shell

Another sign derived from Hindu nations is the conch shell. The conch shell was frequently blown during wars to signify victory or to declare war. The conch shell is a Buddhist symbol for the loud sound of Buddha’s teachings. The sound of the shell is loud and lively enough to rouse those who are dozing off or shrouded in ignorance. Fearlessness is a quality associated with the battle horn because soldiers are encouraged to show bravery and courage in combat. The shell might so stand in for Buddha’s fearlessness in pursuing the truth and enlightening the world with it.

Conch is another Buddhist symbol common in Asian traditions which stands for auspiciousness. In early times the conch was blown at the beginning of wars and at the time of victory. The sound of the shell blown is said to symbolize the awakening of people as they remove the blanket of ignorance. The conch shell can be heard in ceremonies and festivals and marriages.

Conch Shell

Image Source: Kandukuru Nagarjun

5. Chhatra or the parasol

In Hindu nations, parasols were traditionally employed to shade the royal and noble classes. The more parasols someone had to protect them, the higher their social standing. Buddha is sometimes portrayed holding thirteen parasols, signifying his power and influence over society. The parasol can also be seen as a cover for protection, though. A person can be protected from the sun and rain by using an umbrella. In a metaphorical sense, the parasol shields people from suffering and the whims of life.

The chhatra or parasol is like an umbrella held over important people in ancient times in the subcontinent. The chhatra provides protection from sunlight or rain but most importantly it is a symbol of royalty. In numerous depictions of buddha, you can find a chhatra over him or just the chhatra over the empty throne. You can guess now that it is a symbol of status and thus more elaborate it is the higher the person’s status. In some depictions, buddha is shown with 13 chhatras!


Image Source: Wikimedia

6. A Pair of Golden Fish

The Ganga and the Yamuna, India’s two rivers, were traditionally represented by two golden fish. The fish is a symbol of freedom of movement in Buddhist teachings. A person should make an effort to be joyful if life is going well and oppose its tide if facing challenges, just as fish freely swim in and against the direction of the tide. The carefree attitude of the fish is a metaphor for emancipation from the cycle of birth and death.

A Pair of Golden Fish

Image Source: Wikimedia

7. A Vase

The vase is a potent representation of prosperity, wealth, and good health. In Buddhist architecture, it is frequently represented as a gold-painted object with elaborate decorations. While many people link wealth and prosperity to material possessions, the vase is a symbol of the depth and breadth of meaning that the teachings and prayers of the Buddha possess.

A Vase

Image Source: Wonderlane

8. The Banner of Victory

The banner of victory, a common victory sign in Indian combat, symbolizes Buddha’s triumph over worldly aversion, passion, desire, temptation, and pride. Buddha had to defeat the four maras—Devaputra Mara, Skandra Mara, Klesha Mara, and Yama Mara—on his path to enlightenment. Each mara represents a distinct fear, such as fearing death, preferring pleasure over pain, cowering in the face of difficulty, or shrinking in the face of difficulty. The victory banner instructs followers to recall Buddha’s victory over the four maras and his tenacity in the pursuit of truth.

The Banner of Victory

Image Source: Wonderlane

9. The Eternal Knot

The infinite knot often referred to as the eternal knot, represents the enduring value of the Buddha’s teachings and discourses. Prince Siddhartha’s tale took place many years ago, but Buddha’s lessons and teachings are still applicable and still taught and practiced worldwide today. Because they can be used in human cultures and civilizations from any time period, his principles are ageless. The eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth is another metaphor represented by the infinity knot.

This is a knot that is well… eternal, in the sense that it has no start and no end. The symbol does not have a defined meaning but it is used to signify endless thoughts in the teachings of Buddhism. Some people also say that it represents the dependent origin, a core tenet of all sects of Buddhism which means that all dharmas are dependent on one another. Other general interpretations are that it signifies that the teachings of buddha or buddha himself are eternal. The symbol can be found in scriptures and is also used as a decorative pattern in jewelry, paintings, or greeting cards.

The Eternal Knot

Image Source: Wikimedia

10. Alms Bowl

Buddhist monks and followers ask for food, water, and cash in an alms bowl. Since the early Buddhist practices in India, this tradition has persisted. It serves as a reminder of the monks’ rejection of worldly possessions. On the other side, when people give to the begging bowl or put food and money in it, they show respect for the dharma of the Buddha and the monk’s tenacity in his or her search for enlightenment.

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Alms Bowl

Image Source: Ben30

11. Stupas

The spread of Buddhism in India and its neighboring nations was significantly aided by stupas. Buddha’s artifacts and items that may have been utilized by him while he lived on Earth are kept in stupas, which are buildings. They serve as a reminder to followers of Buddha’s actual presence on Earth as well as his immaterial presence revealed in his teachings.

Stupa refers to the dome that can be found in many Buddhist monuments. Many ancient stupas can be found spread across the Northern part of the Indian subcontinent. It is believed when buddha died and was cremated, his remains were buried in funerary mounds on the ground as was the practice in the region. This is thought to have been adapted as dome architecture in stupas as the stupa represented the power or presence of buddha.

As Buddhism spread and became popular among influential people the architecture became more elaborate, acquiring more intricate patterns and forms and works of marvels. The stupas were adapted in each region according to the cultural preferences and so we get Tibetan stupas which seemingly do not contain the dome shape at all.


Image Source: Wikimedia

12. Buddhist Flag

The Buddhist flag consists of six vertical-colored bands and small horizontal stripes on the end. The colors of the flag are said to emanate from the aura of the Buddha. These colors include blue yellow, red, white, and orange. The last orange color is often interpreted differently in different regions including maroon, pink, purple, or even entirely different colors like green as in Japan or Laos. These colors can also be found in decorations used in Buddhist festivals or around monasteries and temples. The most widely used version was developed in Sri Lanka in 1880 by a committee.

Buddhist Flag

Image Source: Wikimedia

13. Elephant

The elephant is a majestic animal and thus is often used as symbolism in Buddhism. Elephants were royal rides in ancient times. Budhha’s elephant is shown as a white elephant. Elephant carvings and statues are commonly found on entry gates of temples and monasteries.

Elephant Buddhism symbol

Image Source: Pinterest

14. Swastika

This is the most widely known symbol of Buddhism and perhaps the most misunderstood one also. The symbol is derived from ancient Indian traditions which represent auspiciousness and good fortune. It was inculcated in the Buddhist tradition also and then traveled over the world. The symbols are also part of the Chinese alphabet, 卍 and 卐 respectively.

The main difference in the Nazi symbol that is so hated is that it is tilted at an angle while the Buddhist swastika is not. The swastika can be found drawn in scriptures as well as engraved on monasteries and temples and stupas. It can also be found on the chest or palm of Buddha in many statues.


Image Source: Wikimedia

These are the most important Buddhism symbols and significance you should know about. Kindly share and do post your comments.

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