About The Eight Auspicious Symbols
The eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism consist of: parasol, pair of fishes, treasure vase, lotus, white-spiraling conch shell, endless knot, victory banner, and golden wheel. Groupings of eight auspicious symbols were originally used in India at ceremonies such as an investiture or coronation of a king. An early grouping of symbols included: throne, swastika, handprint, hooked knot, vase of jewels, water libation flask, pair of fishes, lidded bowl. In Buddhism, these eight symbols of good fortune represent the offerings made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he gained enlightenment.
The Parasol (umbrella): This was a traditional Indian symbol of protection and royalty. The parasol denoted wealth and status - the more carried in a person's entourage, the more influential the person was; 13 parasols defining the status of king. This concept was adopted by Indian Buddhists who saw the Buddha as the universal monarch and 13 stacked parasols form the conical spire of the Buddha or Tathágata stupa. In Buddhist mythology, a jeweled umbrella is said to have been given to the Buddha by the king of the nagas .
Symbolically, the protection provided by the parasol is from the heat of suffering, desire, obstacles, illness and harmful forces.
A typical Tibetan parasol consists of a thin round wooden frame with 8,16 or 32 thin arched wooden spokes. Through its center passes a long wooden axle-pole embellished at its top with a metal lotus, vase and jewel filial. Over the domed frame is stretched white, yellow or multicolored silk and from the circular frame hangs a folded or pleated silk skirt with 8 or 16 hanging silk pendants attached. The parasol dome represents wisdom and the hanging skirt, compassion.
The Two Golden Fishes: The two fishes originally represented the two main sacred rivers of India - the Ganges and Yamuna. These rivers are associated with the lunar and solar channels which originate in the nostrils and carry the alternating rhythms of breath or prana. They have religious significance in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions but also in Christianity (the sign of the fish, the feeding of the five thousand). In Buddhism, the fish symbolize happiness as they have complete freedom of movement in the water. They represent fertility and abundance. Often drawn in the form of carp which are regarded in the Orient as sacred on account of their elegant beauty, size and life-span.
The Treasure Vase: This is known as 'the vase of inexhaustible treasures' - however much is removed from it, the vase remains perpetually full. In Tibet, wealth vases sealed with precious and sacred substances are commonly placed upon altars and on mountain passes, or buried at water springs. The symbol is often shown as a highly ornate, traditional-shaped vase with a flaming jewel or jewels protruding from its mouth.
The Lotus Flower: The lotus blossoms unstained from the watery mire; it is a symbol of purity, renunciation and divinity.
The Right-Spiraling Conch Shell: The conch shell is thought to have been the original horn-trumpet; ancient Indian mythical epics relate heroes carrying conch shells. The Indian god Vishnu is also described as having a conch shell as one of his main emblems; his shell bore the name Panchajanya meaning 'having control over the five classes of beings'.
The conch shell is an emblem of power, authority and sovereignty; its blast is believed to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters, and scare away poisonous creatures. In Indian culture, different types of conch shell were associated with the different castes and with male and female.
In Buddhism, the conch was adopted as a symbol of religious sovereignty and an emblem which fearlessly proclaimed the truth of the dharma. One of the 32 signs of a Buddha's body is his deep and resonant voice, which is artistically symbolized in images of the Buddha by three conch-like curving lines on his throat.
Shells which spiral to the right are very rare and considered especially sacred, the right spiral mirroring the motion of the sun, moon, planets and stars across the sky. Also, the hair whorls on Buddha's head spiral to the right, as do his fine bodily hairs, the long white curl between his eyebrows and the conch like swirl of his navel. A shell is made into Tibetan ritual musical instruments by cutting off the end of its tip and furnishing it with a mouthpiece and an ornamental metal casing extending from the shell's mouth.
The Endless Knot: This symbol was originally associated with Vishnu and represented his devotion for his consort Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune. It symbolizes the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion. It also can represent continuity or dependent origination as the underlying reality of existence.
The Victory Banner: These were traditionally carried in battle. Great warriors would often have banners with their own emblems, the banners being carried on the back of their chariots. Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) had a banner bearing the garuda bird. In early Buddhism, the banner represented Buddha's victorious enlightenment with his overcoming the armies of Mara (hindrances and defilements). The banner is said to have been placed on the summit of Mt Meru, symbolizing Buddha's victory over the entire universe. In Tibetan Buddhism, the banner represents eleven methods of overcoming Mara: the development of knowledge, wisdom, compassion, meditation and ethical vows; taking refuge in the Buddha,; abandoning false views,; generating spiritual aspiration, skilful means and selflessness; and the unity of the three samádhis of emptiness, formlessness and desire-less-ness.
The Golden Wheel: The wheel is an ancient Indian symbol of creation, sovereignty, protection, and the sun. The six-spoked wheel was associated with Vishnu and was know as the Sudarshana Chakra. The wheel represents motion, continuity and change, forever moving onwards like the circular wheel of the heavens.
Buddhism adopted the wheel as a symbol of the Buddha's teachings and his first discourse at the Deer Park in Sarnath is known as 'the first turning of the wheel of dharma'. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is understood as 'the wheel of transformation' or spiritual change. The hub of the wheel symbolizes moral discipline, the eight spokes represent analytical insight, the rim - meditative concentration. The eight spokes point to the eight directions and symbolize the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, mindfulness and concentration.