Quick guide to Buddhist symbols and what they mean

Author: Lily Shanker
Date: 2019-01-14

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What do the eyes on the stupas signify? Do the colors on a Buddhist flag mean something? How is the swastika related to Buddhism? Here’s a quick guide to a few Buddhist symbols you may encounter while visiting monasteries or depicted in the souvenirs you buy.

1. Dharma Wheel

The 3 swirling segments symbolize (1) Buddha, (2) Dharma (teachings), and (3) Sangha (spiritual community).  The wheel can also be divided into 3 parts, each representing an aspect of Buddhist practice. These are (1) hub: represents discipline, (2) spokes: represents wisdom, and (3) rim: represents concentration.

2. Bodhi Tree (Palior Sanskrit word for enlightment)

After wandering for about 6 years, the Buddha finally came to rest in a forest beside the Naranjara River, not far off from modern day Bodh Gaya. After ardently practicing meditation under the Bodhi tree (fig tree), he finally realized his true nature.

3. Lion

It is one of Buddhism’s most potent symbols. Traditionally, the lion is associated with regality, strength, and power. It therefore makes it an appropriate symbol for the Buddha, who according to tradition was a royal prince. Buddha’s teachings are sometimes referred to as the “Lion’s roar.”

4. Buddha’s eyes