PREPARED BY: Patrícia Nascimento, PhD
In Tibetan Buddhism, we use a set of symbols that represent some of the core aspects and principles of its teachings, including compassion and wisdom, and some qualities of enlightenment. They are eight auspicious symbols that remain very meaningful and relevant today, and are used as teaching tools, in artwork, rituals items, architecture, and jewelry.
When we visit a monastery or a dharma center, we can see them on the ground and in walls and they are also used to create auspicious conditions to everyone, to the organization in working and benefiting others. They can also be used in private homes. Each symbol has a unique intangible meaning and communicates a different message. And each one can inspire and help us in our journey. Each of the auspicious Tibetan symbols represents one aspect of the Buddha’s teachings and it is believed that when they appear together their powers are potentiated. In general, symbols represent something difficult to explain with words, they are not only a way to communicate the philosophy, teachings, values and principles, but the imagery speaks to us in a deeper and more spiritual level and help us to reflect profound concepts through it. They may invoke awaken states of mind, calmness, serenity, contentment, and can inspire us for core values. Symbols carry much latent and deeper meanings behind the apparent ones. Did you already feel calm, or recalled your strength or some teaching while looking to certain symbols? These auspicious symbols go beyond aesthetics and words! They can convey different meanings, which are all applicable to our daily lives and seek for human development.
So, what is new? We now have some new mandalas with 4 auspicious symbols here in our stupa at Ratna Ling Retreat Center! You can see them in the pictures below or, much better, you can come and visit us! You will directly experience how these symbols can speak to you!
1. The Lotus Flower
Lotus flowers have a core use in Tibetan Buddhism. As they emerge from muddy waters, they represent the rising regardless the challenges, the overcoming of obstacles and our moving towards more awareness and wisdom. It represents our movement towards spiritual awakening. In Buddhist teachings, the mud in which the lotus flower roots has a special meaning: it means our messy human life with all its confusion and imperfections as we go through our challenges and as we search for freedom from suffering and from the overload of our daily regular demands. The lotus flower rises above the mud to blossom clean and fragrant. While it arises from the water to the surface and bloom above the mud, the roots and stem remain in the mud, also meaning our groundedness. Accordingly, in Buddhism, the lotus flower is related to help the spirit become pure, to purify body and spirit, to spiritual unfolding and development, enlightenment and purity. Each part of the process of the lotus flowers’ unfolding and blossoming means our path to attain more wisdom and spiritual development. When a lotus bud is fully opened, that symbolize that we have attained wisdom and spiritual awakening. When it is partially opened with its center not visible yet, it means that achieving wisdom and spiritual awakening is beyond our ordinary sight, it is beyond our capacity. When the lotus bud is closed, it expresses the time before people achieve wisdom and spiritual awakening. We also have lotuses of different colors with different meanings. The white lotus depicts spiritual perfection and mental purity. Additionally, in Tibet, the lotus flower is associated with the number eight; it is frequently illustrated with eight petals. The number eight is globally the number of cosmic harmony. As we can see, in Buddhism, the lotus flower and its beauty are beyond aesthetics, involving deep symbolic meaning. How can we connect this symbol meaning to our daily life? We can think that of each of our significant baby steps towards our spiritual development and awakening, in our search for more wisdom would be a stage of growth of our lotus flower! For arising above the “mud” and bloom it is required some deep work, faith in ourselves, in teachings (in Buddhist teachings for those who are Buddhist) and in our practice. Together with the meaning of ‘purity’, in Buddhism the lotus flower also symbolizes faith.
2. The Conch Shell
The conch shell is widely used in Tibetan rituals. It is a large, oval and spiraled shell with pointed ends. The right turning conch (the shell turns clockwise from the center) has been used in Tibetan Buddhism “as a horn and as a container in religious rituals” (4). Such conch is very rare, considered to be especially sacred were, and considered particularly auspicious. In Tibetan Buddhism it represents Buddha’s resonant voice, by which he called to work in benefit of others and introduced his followers to dharma. The conch shell is blown in monasteries to announce meetings and to bring the monks together. Additionally, it can be blown as a sonorous offering to the universe. It can also be used as a musical instrument during rituals and like a container for holy water as well. When we see it on top of an altar it represents a gentle reminder of the greatness of Buddha’s teachings.
3. The Endless Knot
The Tibetan endless or eternal knot is one with no beginning or end, which is interpreted as an interconnected network of knots. This interconnection could be related to, for example, situations or emotions. In Tibetan Buddhism it represents the interconnectedness of all things, the interdependence of all events, situations, and circumstances, reminding us that the cause and effect of our actions, that we are all interconnected beings; a significant alert of the connections among all of us. The endless knot is a symbol of wisdom as well, as it has no beginning or end. It is also a symbol of the interconnection and inseparability between wisdom and compassion, and a symbol of birth, death, and rebirth. How can we apply this symbol meaning to our daily lives? The endless knot can be clearly connected to our daily lives because it a strong reminder that all our actions and words have consequences and that everything we do (or not do) and say (or not say) matters. In this sense, it is a cue for us to be attentive and sensitive to the interconnectedness of all things and people, of events and actions.
4. Double Dorje (visvavajra)
The double dorje is a Buddhist symbol, and it symbolizes one of its three main branches, Vajrayana. In Tibetan Buddhism it is a ritual tool used with a bell by lamas and other practitioners of sadhana. Whether vertical or in X-form, is also considered a symbol of protection that dissipates ignorance, deception and temptation, and bring on wisdom. It also symbolizes endless creativity, skillful activity and potency. It is a ritual sceptre that also represents compassion, enlightenment and the qualities of a diamond – purity and indestructibility – along with the attributes of a thunderbolt – irresistible energy. Whether single or double, the Vajra can be said to denote the great power and firmness of spirit.
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