In 2008, I took a trip to Tibet with my friend Khaled El Shalakany. It is by all means a fascinating destination and and intriguing culture. I will try here to present some of the most famous Buddhist symbols and there meanings.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Om, Ma-Ni, Pad-Me, Hum in Sanskrit, or "Om, Ma-ni, Pe-me, Hung," in Tibetan, is by far the commonest prayer formula seen or heard in Tibet, it literally means; Om! The jewel in Lotus! Hum – is addressed to the Bodhisat Padmapani, the patron-god of Tibet, who is represented like Buddha within a lotus flower.
Its utterance or just looking at it is believed to stop the cycle of rebirths and convey the reciter directly to paradise. The Om closes the rebirth amongst the gods; ma, among the titans; ni, as a man; pad as a beast; me, as a Tantalus; and Hum as an inhabitant of hell.
Each of these six syllables is given a distinctive colour of the six states of rebirth. Om the godly white; ma, the titanic blue; ni, the human yellow; pad, the animal green; me, the tantalic red; and Hum the hellish black.
These are strips of coloured cloth printed with Buddhists prayers. They can be seen hanging almost everywhere in Tibet; over passes, streams and houses. When the flags flutter, it is believed that the prayers are released to purify the air and pacify the Gods. Their colours are symbolic; blue for the sky, white for clouds, red for flame, green for water and yellow for earth.
They range in size from a hand-held wheel to huge sizes; they are filed with prayers as well as prayers engraved on their surface which are ‘recited with each revolution of the wheel. The ritual circuits (koras) around monasteries are lined with these prayer wheels; circumambulating pilgrims spin the wheels to gain merits (good karmas).
Endless (eternal) Knot
In the creative mythology of Buddhism all creatures have one origin hence they are all interrelated. This is symbolised by the Endless Knot where everything is interrelated and only exists as part of a web of karma and its effect.
Having no beginning or end, it also represents the infinite wisdom of
the Buddha and the union of compassion and wisdom.
The stupa represents the enlightened mind as it symbolises the Buddha. It is constructed in a way that every part shows the path to enlightenment.
Its parts consist of a platform above which there are a series of rectangular steps. A huge vase is placed above the steps with a tapering column of thirteen rings holding an umbrella.
The moon, the sun and a jewel symbolising the elimination of all sufferings, the radiating thousand lights of compassion and the fulfilment of all wishes can be seen on top of the stupa.
The name Swastika is derived from the Sanskrit language, from "su," meaning "good," and vasti"," meaning "being" (well being)
The good luck Indian symbol and the Nazi’s famous symbol has been a symbol to other religions and cultures as well; in Mesopotamia, Scandinavia and in early Christianity.
The Buddhists mark the beginning of their text with this symbol as it represents the footprints of Buddha. When facing right, it represents strength and intelligence. Facing left, it a symbol of love and mercy.
Followers of the Bon religion (the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet) draw it counter clock-wise.
The dharma wheel and the deer
The Dharma wheel or wheel of truth commemorates The God Brahma’s request to the Buddha to set a new cycle of teaching. The Buddha is also known as a wheel turner.
The eight spokes refer to the eight-fold noble path, the 3 segments represents the Buddha, Dharma (teaching) and sangha (Buddhist’s community)
The deer is a direct reference to Buddha’s first teaching in the deer park. Some also say that his peaceful presence attracted everyone to listen including animals.
Hand Gestures (Mudras)
The Gesture of Pressing the Earth
The right hand gestures pressing the earth. The position of the left hand symbolizes meditation. Also touching the earth symbolises the invocation of earth as a witness to the truth of his words.
The Gesture of Turning the Wheel of Dharma
Both hands are held at the level of the heart, the thumb and the index finger form a circle symbolising the wheel of law. The three raised fingers of the right hand represent the Buddhist’s doctrine. The position of the left hand symbolizes the beings of the three capacities, who follow the combined path of method and wisdom. When the left hand is held in a meditation gesture (the left hand of the blue Buddha), the two together symbolises teaching while meditating.
The hand is held at chest level and the thumb and index finger again form the Wheel of Law. This gesture symbolises Intellectual arguments, discussion and teaching.
Gesture of greeting, prayer, and adoration
The two palms are put together in front of the chest.
Gesture expelling demons
The thumb touches the middle and ring fingers (upper left hand in the picture)
The palm is open and facing forward (lower right hand in the picture)