The eight auspicious symbols of good fortune used across Asia by practitioners of the Mahayana Buddhist faith have become increasingly popular emblems for adornment, as well as for display as decorative items for the home. They were widely used in Tibet to adorn temples and monasteries and in recent years, with the increasing popularity of Tibetan Buddhism, they have become globally accepted as general symbols of good fortune, displayed and worn to attract prosperity and harmony.
In Tibet, the eight auspicious symbols are regarded as sacred objects and are extremely popular. Many believe their presence in homes and buildings attract good fortune; so they can be seen everywhere, in temples, monasteries, private homes, palaces and public buildings. They are depicted individually and in pairs, or as a group of eight. They are sometimes painted as a collective group assuming the simulated form of a vase shape (see main picture above). There are many different styles and designs of the eight objects, depending on whether they are used on furniture, in paintings, as wall panels or embroidered onto clothes and robes.
Tibetans also draw these symbols on the ground with coloured chalk or powder to welcome visiting high lamas or religious dignitaries to monasteries and temples.
Practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism also incorporate these symbols into their prayer sessions. This they do by hanging colourful brocades sewn with the eight objects and also by making mystical hand mudras as they chant special prayers. The hand mudras that signify the eight objects are shown above. It is a hugely moving experience watching monks perform these mudras as they chant their prayers.
1: The Lotus
This is a universally loved symbol of purity. The beautiful lotus rising serenely from the mud signifies renunciation of worldly pleasures and suggests incredible beauty and purity hidden within the depths of the darkest and muddiest of situations. The lotus signifies the divine nature of the Buddhas and has a very special place in the iconography of many Asian cultures. Planting a lotus in one’s home is said to enhance the harmonious chi that filters through our doorways. When the lotus blooms, it signifies the advent of a happy occasion. White, pink or cream – coloured lotus blooms suggest someone or something of great beauty is coming. The lotus stalk and its root, when cut, show the empty compartments, signifying the wisdom of understanding emptiness.
2: The Mystical Knot
The Indians believe the knot is the favourite emblem of the Goddess Shri (also known as the Goddess Lakshmi, the Indian Goddess of Wealth), the consort of the God Vishnu. It adorns the breast of Vishnu, usually depicted as an eight-looped knot. These associations surround the mystical knot with mysterious powers said to bring happiness and attainments. The mystical knot overlaps, suggesting no beginning and no end. From a religious viewpoint, this signifies the Buddha’s endless wisdom and compassion. As a secular symbol, it represents an assured continuity of love. The knot is also the infinity symbol shown thrice. The infinity symbol also corresponds to the symbol of 8.
3: The Pair Of Golden Fishes
These have their origins in the two sacred rivers of India the Ganges and the Yamuna. Symbolically, these rivers signify the lunar and solar channels of the human body, originating in the nostrils and carrying the alternating rhythms of breath, or chi, also known as prana. So the golden fishes bring life and happiness. They represent fertility and abundance as they multiply rapidly. Fish often swim in pairs, and in China, a pair of fish signifies conjugal fidelity and unity.
Giving a pair of fish as a wedding present is regarded as very auspicious. This signifies a fervent wish for the couple to find happiness together and be blessed with many children. The Chinese word for fish yu also means great wealth, so material prosperity is also wished for the couple.
The fish used in the symbolism here is usually the carp, which is regarded as sacred to many Asian cultures because of its beauty, its size and its long lifespan. In India and Tibet, the golden carp is regarded as being exceptionally auspicious. Even in ancient Egypt, a pair of fish is regarded as a sacred icon as it symbolizes the life – bringing waters of the River Nile. Having fish in one’s home especially in pairs is thus very auspicious.
4: The White Umbrella
Also known as the parasol, this is a traditional symbol of protection. It is also an emblem of being royal. The white umbrella is regarded as a symbol that brings great honour and recognition. The parasol protects against the blazing heat of the sun and its shade cools the heated breast.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a very powerful deity emanated from the forehead of the Buddha known as the White Umbrella Goddess. This Goddess protects against every form of black magic and it is her white umbrella that signifies this protection.
In the old days, the parasol signified royalty and 13 umbrellas signified the status of a king. Thus, the symbolism of 13 umbrellas, one stacked on top of another, is very popular. Another depiction of this symbol is the thousand-spoked umbrella.
5: The Banner of Victory
In Sanskrit, the banner or sign of victory is known as the dhvaja, meaning standard, flag or ensign. Originally, the victory banner was a military standard carried in ancient Indian warfare, and bore the specific insignia of its champion. In Buddhism, the flag of victory also denotes Buddha’s triumph over the four Maras (evil), who personifies hindrances on the path to spiritual realization. The four Maras are: Mara of emotional defilement, Mara of passion, Mara of death and Mara of divine pride and lust. It was adopted as an emblem of the Buddha’s victorious enlightenment and his vanquishing of the armies of Mara.
The victory banner symbolises the victory of the activities of one’s own and others’ body, speech and mind over obstacles and negativity. It also stands for the complete victory of the Buddhist Doctrine over all harmful and pernicious forces, all disagreements, disharmonies and hindrances, so that it can bring about permanent, enduring happiness. It is also said to denote triumph over anger and aggression.
6: The Treasure Vase
This is the vase of inexhaustible treasures. It has a flat base, a round body, a narrow neck and a fluted upper rim. A typical auspicious vase is ornately decorated with auspicious symbols with lotus petal motifs radiating outwards. The great treasure vase is decorated with a multitude of gemstones. Around its neck is a silk cloth. From the vase spouts forth several bejewelled branches from a wish-granting tree. Inside the vase are longevity waters that create all varieties of inexhaustible treasures.
This is the description and significance of the golden treasure vase, and over time, there have been many different versions of the vase.
The Chinese have always regarded the vase with great fondness, assigning to it all manner of auspicious meanings. Thus, the vase is also said to bring contentment and harmony, peace and prosperity to households. The size of vases should not overwhelm the rooms and entrances of houses, but having large vases is said to be auspicious.
7: The Right-Turning Conch Shell
To Indians and Tibetans, the white conch shell is precious and drenched with meaning. Used originally as a horn trumpet, ancient epics describe the conch as the indispensable amulet of brave warriors. Thus, Vishnu’s conch and Arjuna’s conch are legendary for their mystical powers in subduing foes and generating terror in the hearts of enemies.
The conch has been regarded as an emblem of power, authority and sovereignty. The sound from the conch has the power to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters and scare away poisonous creatures. There are male and female conch shells. The male variety have thicker shells. Conch shells are found in the Indian ocean and the Arabian sea. Ancient shells have been found in the Himalayas and the Tibetan mountains, and of course, these mountains were once the ocean floors!
Tibetans favour the right-turning conch shell, believing it to be especially sacred. This conch has the lower opening placed to the right of the spiral tip. Tibetans use only right turning conches for their religious ceremonies and rituals. They believe the right spiralling movement echoes the celestial motion of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars across the heavens. The hair spirals on Buddha’s head also turns to the right. If you ever come across a natural right-turning conch or other white shell, keep it as lucky charm. Who knows what kind of power and good fortune it will bring you!
8: The Golden Wheel
This is the most sacred symbol of all. In India, the wheel symbolizes creation and protection. It is regarded as a solar symbol associated with the Gods. Tibetans view the wheel as signifying transformation and spiritual change. It is thus a weapon to overcome all obstacles and hindrances through rapid spiritual transformations, through effecting a change in our attitudes and to the way we respond to negative people and aggravating situations.
The term turning of the wheel always means Buddha giving teachings. When Buddhists request their lamas or gurus to give teachings, they use the term “turn the wheel of dharma”.
The first turning of the wheel given by Buddha after he attained enlightenment in Bodhgaya was in Deer Park, near the town of Sarnath in India. That was when Buddha taught the four noble truths – the truth of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the truth of the eight noble path which leads to the cessation of suffering. The wheel symbolizes Man’s moral discipline, while the eight spokes of the wheel symbolizes the eight noble ways to end all suffering, i.e. through having right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Thus, the magical golden wheel signifies the attainment of the highest form of happiness. The wheel encompasses the way to permanent happiness, or put another way, it brings about the cessation of all sufferings. Placing the magical golden wheel in one’s home is the best way of attaining lasting happiness.
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The content of this article is taken from the “Feng Shui World (Mar/Apr 2005)”.