The mystery of eight auspicious Buddhist symbols
Asthamangala Buddhist Symbols have always fascinated mankind since eons. Prehistoric Indus civilization and cave paintings of Eurasia have revealed symbols such as Asthamangala have been carbon dated back to the ice age. In southern Russia and Ukraine, archeologists have uncovered ancient artifacts with rudimentary engravings of swastikas. Many such symbolic artifacts have been discovered in the Harrapa and Mohenjo Daro areas of Indus civilization .
Buddhist Symbols such as pair of golden fishes, conch shell, lotus , dharmawheel etc which are the part of asthamangala or eight auspicious symbols have been uncovered in archeological sites in India, Nepal and Tibet. These relics predate the Aryan invasion of the sub-continent of Asia. This confirms the theory that civilization was created in South Asia and spread east and west. South Asia is truly the cradle of civilizations. Nepal was the transit point by which ancient Hindu and Buddhist culture spread to Tibet and China. As a result, there are many ancient archeological sites in Kathmandu valley and Lumbini area which reveal ancient and prehistoric artifacts. Asthamangala is significant among them.
Asthamangal is an ancient Sanskrit word which literally means “Eight Auspicious symbols” . Hindu , Buddhist, Jain and Tibetan Bon Po religions have deep cultural significance for Asthamangala. The eight auspicious symbols include the following items:
- The Parasol ( Dharma Umbrella)
- A Pair of Golden Fishes
- Kalasha - A Vase of Treasure
- Lotus Flower
- Conch Shell
- Endless Knot or love knot
- Dhvaja or Victory Banner
- Dhamarchakra or Dharma Wheel
Engravings of these symbols in ritual objects are believed to bring good luck to the devotee. That’s why Nepali, Indian and Tibetan devotees often wear jewelry items with signs of Astamangala. Millions of religious households use Astamangal as decorations on their living room walls, doors and prayer altar. There is no other force as powerful as faith. There is an old English proverb which says “Faith moves a mountain”. So devotees wearing Astamangal amulets and jewelry believing in the positive vibrations of the Eight Auspiciuous Buddhist symbols will indeed become benefitted. People feel serenity and strength when they are attached to Astamangal crafts in everyday life. They feel safe and secure.
“Ignorance is the root cause of man’s suffering” as Buddha once foretold millennia ago. The five evil daughters of Mara once were trying to disturb Buddha while he was deep in meditation in Bodh Gaya. The five evil daughters of Mara were Ignorance, Desire, Attachment, Ego and Anger. But our Siddhartha Gautam Buddha was well protected by Angels of Heaven. Buddha was surrounded by divine rays of light displaying dazzling Eight Auspicious Buddhist symbols. The aura of divine light was so intense and pure that the evil daughters of Mara were immediately vanquished. Soon afterwards, Siddhartha Gautam achieved Enlightenment and became world renowned as Buddha-The Enlightened one. The divine rays of light which destroyed evil represents Astamangala.
All the eight auspicious symbols representing Astamangala have specific meanings. They are covered in detail as follows:
- The Parasol ( Dharma Umbrella)
As the name suggests Dharma Umbrella protects us from all the evil weathers such as raga, dwesha, moha and ignorance. The parasol has protective quality to banish the evil influence of Mara
- A Pair of the Golden Fishes
A pair of the golden fishes represents a mother figure. It represents a fertility and abundance of happiness and freedom. The symbol is of mother nature.
The Vase of Treasure is an inexhaustible source of long life, wealth, and prosperity, which fulfills one’s spiritual and material wishes. Needless to mention, wealthy businessmen in India have always coveted Astamangala jewelry.
- Lotus Flower
The Symbolic Lotus Blossom Purity of body, mind and the soul. Non attachment to earthly pleasures and objects. The eight auspicious signs represented by Astamangala is believed to create positive vibrations in the body which dispels evil spirits and bad omens associated with evil karma.
The sound of Conch Shell is said to awake people the slumber of ignorance. Karma, the universal law of cause and effect is also symbolized by the Buddhist symbols of Asthamangala. According to Karma, every action has a reaction. So our good deeds will be rewarded, our bad deeds will be punished. Either in this life, or in the next re-incarnation.
- Endless Knot
The Endless Knot also called love knot is symbol of ultimate unity of everything in the universe. It represents the disconnectedness of wisdom and compassion, endless relationship of cause and effect phenomenon.
It ultimately denotes the endless cycle of life after death which Buddha broke with his enlightenment to achieve "Nirvana".
- Dhvaja or Victory Banner
The Ultimate Banner of Victory is used most often by ancient rulers , kingdoms and in war victories. Ashoka, the great emperor of India who was from Maurya dynasty also flaunted Astamangal in his victory banner (Dhvaja) . During the epic battle of Khalinga, it is believed that his army annihilated a vast and superior army of the Khalinga (in present day Orissa) by using a military tactic inspired by Asthamangala Buddhist symbols.
Dharma Wheel represents the teachings of Buddha. The symbol represents the path and lessons Buddha has taught to achieve the ultimate state of "Nirvana"
Coronation of kings, royal weddings, temple rituals and similar auspicious ceremonies were organized in ancient times. Asthamangal Buddhist symbols were applied in variety of artifacts like bracelets, amulets, necklace, ring, chariot, victory banner, swords, armor. The protective and positive energy radiating from Asthamangala engraved artifacts were recognized by holy scriptures and saints.
After the victory, Ashoka was greatly dismayed and depressed witnessing huge loss of lives. And the story goes, he renounced all royal titles and privileges and choose to become an ascetic. He converted to the religion of Buddhism, supported by his wife Supriya.
Together, the couple spread the message of Buddhism across Asia. Relics of Buddha were distributed all over his vast Mauryan empire. Monasteries and stupas were constructed everywhere containing the relics of Buddha. Those stupas and monasteries also used Asthamangala as the sacred symbol of Buddhism.
Nowadays even western society has taken a keen fascination with this ancient symbol, perhaps inspired by Madame Blavatsky and other western writers whose theories of secret mysticism of the east captivates many westerners. In recent years, millions of western individuals have converted to Buddhism due to inspirations from Hollywood stars like Richard Gere. Along with Tibetan and Nepali Buddhist heritage, handicrafts made by local artisans of Kathmandu valley also have been popularized in the western society.
Handicrafts with Eight auspicious Buddhist symbols are becoming fashionable among elite men and women of high class family. In today’s consumerist and materialistic society driven by pop culture, it is deeply pacifying to be surrounded by beautiful Nepali handicrafts which has a deeper spiritual meaning.
Negative emotions like pride, ego, jealousy, fear, ignorance, anger create disturbance in our normal life, in private and public life. Human beings are not naturally capable of handling the stress of busy urban life. Anxiety and depression are rising globally due to urban living where one cannot find solace of spiritualism. In such urban modern context, having a piece of jewelry which has spiritual symbolism will definitely create a positive vibration over the mind and body.
Astamangal jewelry and handicrafts are a great way to remind ourselves that we are more than just flesh and bones, we are immortal souls who have been reincarnated thousands of times since ancient –prehistoric times. We are the universe. The universe is within us. The truth is within us. Astamangal will guide us all to the universal truth.
Eight Auspicious Buddhist symbols are not about superstitions. They are about science. It’s mystical effect on our body and mind is not proven by science …yet. But one day science will definitely discover that eight auspicious Buddhist symbols have some positive vibrations within them which promotes health and harmony in our life.
Ancient ascetics had discovered millennia ago that certain symbolic representations were divine in origin, and so are the effects. There are cosmic mysteries which remain unsolved and undiscovered by modern scientists due to their arrogance and ignorance. Ancient astrologists also had deep knowledge about cosmic effects. Our ancestors have passed down the sacred wisdom about Asthamangala Buddhist symbols for our own benefit. We need to have faith in ancient wisdom and not reject them by calling it just superstitions. Lets rediscover Astamangala. Lets revive the ancient eight auspicious symbols. Let us all benefit from the positive vibrations created by these 8 auspicious symbols.