eYongs :: Characters & Meaning

Characters & Meaning

Some symbols recur on the walls of almost every temple, shrine, and monastery, or on the walls of private houses.


Eight Sacred Buddhist Symbols(Ba Bao)

 
Conch Shell (dun) - used in Buddhist worship as a trumpet or offertory vessel and symbolizes the spoken word of Buddha.   Vase (bum-pa) - used as the storage urn of a sacred receptacle and thus symbolizes hidden treasures.
     
 
Umbrella (gdugs) - a token of loyalty and symbolizes the protection of the Dharma (faith).   Endless Knot (apal-be) - an auspicious geometric diagram, it symbolizes devotion.
     
 
Dharma Wheel (chakra) - represents the unity of all things and symbolizes Sakyamuni himself.   Golden Fish (gser-na) - as water allows fish to swim freely, so Buddhist belief emancipates the soul. They symbolize spiritual liberation.
     
 
Lotus flower (padma) - as the flower rises from muddy roots, so Nirvana arises from this shabby world; therefore it symbolizes purity.   Banner of Victory (dpal-be) - a unique Buddhist object, the cylindrical layered banner symbolizes victory over ignorance and death.
     

The eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism consist of: a parasol, a pair of fishes, a treasure vase, a lotus, a white-spiraling conch shell, an endless knot, a victory banner, and a golden wheel.

Groupings of eight auspicious symbols were originally used in India at ceremonies such as an investiture or coronation of a king. An early grouping of symbols included: a throne, a swastika, a handprint, a hooked knot, a vase of jewels, a water libation flask, a pair of fishes, and a lidded bowl.
In Buddhism, these eight symbols of good fortune represent the offerings made by the gods to Shakyamuni Buddha immediately after he gained enlightenment. The following expounds upon these symbols.

The Parasol (umbrella): This was a traditional Indian symbol of protection and royalty. The parasol denoted wealth and status - the more included in a person's entourage, the more influential the person was, with 13 parasols defining the status of king.

Indian Buddhists who saw the Buddha as the universal monarch adopted this concept. Besides, 13 stacked parasols form the conical spire of the Buddha or Tath¨¢gata stupa. In Buddhist mythology, the king of the nagas (serpent-like creatures) gave a jeweled umbrella to the Buddha.

Symbolically, the protection provided by the parasol is from the heat of suffering, desire, obstacles, illness, and harmful forces.

A typical Tibetan parasol consists of a thin round wooden frame with 8, 16, or 32 thinly arched wooden spokes. Through its center passes a long wooden axle-pole embellished at the top with a metal lotus, a vase, and the triple jewel. White, yellow, or multicolored silk stretches over the domed frame and a folded or pleated silk skirt with 8 or 16 hanging silk pendants attached hang from the circular frame. The parasol dome represents wisdom and the hanging skirt, compassion.

The Two Golden Fishes: The two fishes originally represented the two main sacred rivers of India - the Ganges and the Yamuna. These rivers are associated with the lunar and solar channels that originate in the nostrils and carry the alternating rhythms of breath or prana (life-sustaining force).

Fish have religious significance in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist traditions as well as in Christianity (the sign of the fish, the feeding of the five thousand). In Buddhism, the fish symbolize happiness as they have complete freedom of movement in the water. They represent fertility and abundance. They are often drawn in the form of carp, which are regarded in Asia as sacred on account of their elegant beauty, size, and lifespan.

The Treasure Vase: This is known as "the vase of inexhaustible treasures" - however much is removed from it, the vase remains perpetually full. In Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, wealth vases sealed with precious and sacred substances are commonly placed upon altars and on mountain passes, or buried in water springs. The symbol is often shown as a highly ornate, traditional-shaped vase with a flaming jewel or jewels protruding from its mouth.
The Lotus Flower: The lotus blossoms unstained from the watery mire; it is a symbol of purity, renunciation, and divinity.

 

The Right-Spiraling Conch Shell: The conch shell is thought to have been the original horn-trumpet; ancient Indian mythical epics relate heroes carrying conch shells. The Indian god Vishnu is also described as having a conch shell as one of his main emblems; his shell bore the name Panchajanya, meaning, "having control over the five classes of beings."

The conch shell is an emblem of power, authority, and sovereignty; its blast is believed to banish evil spirits, avert natural disasters, and scare away poisonous creatures. In Indian culture, different types of conch shells were associated with the different castes and with male and female.

In Buddhism, the conch was adopted as a symbol of religious sovereignty and an emblem that fearlessly proclaimed the truth of the dharma. One of the 32 signs of a Buddha's body is his deep and resonant voice, which is artistically symbolized in images of the Buddha by three conch-like curving lines on his throat.

Shells that spiral to the right are very rare and considered especially sacred, the right spiral mirroring the motion of the sun, moon, planets, and stars across the sky. Also, the hair curls on a Buddha's head spiral to the right, as do his fine bodily hairs, the long white curl between his eyebrows, and the conch-like swirl of his navel.

A shell is made into Tibetan ritual musical instruments by cutting off the end of its tip and furnishing it with a mouthpiece and an ornamental metal casing that extends from the shell's mouth.

The Endless Knot: This symbol was originally associated with Vishnu and represented his devotion to his consort Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune. It symbolizes the Buddha's endless wisdom and compassion. It also can represent continuity or dependent origination as the underlying basis of life.

The Victory Banner: This was traditionally carried in battle. Great warriors would often have banners with their own emblems, the banners being carried on the back of their chariots. Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) had a banner bearing the garuda bird (a bird deity).

In early Buddhism, the banner represented Buddha's victorious enlightenment with his overcoming the armies of Mara (hindrances and defilements). Legend says the banner was placed on the summit of Mt Meru, symbolizing Buddha's victory over the entire universe.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the banner represents eleven methods of overcoming Mara: the development of knowledge, wisdom, compassion, meditation, and ethical vows; taking refuge in the Buddha; abandoning false views; generating spiritual aspiration, skilful means, and selflessness; and the unity of the three sam¨¢dhis of emptiness, formlessness, and desire-less-ness.

The Golden Wheel: The wheel is an ancient Indian symbol of creation, sovereignty, protection, and the sun. The six-spoke wheel was associated with Vishnu and was know as the Sudarshana Chakra. The wheel represents motion, continuity, and change, forever moving onwards like the circular wheel of the heavens.

Buddhism adopted the wheel as a symbol of the Buddha's teachings and his first discourse at the Deer Park in Sarnath is known as "the first turning of the wheel of dharma." In Tibetan Buddhism, it is understood as "the wheel of transformation" or spiritual change.

The hub of the wheel symbolizes moral discipline, and the eight spokes represent analytical insight via rim-meditative concentration. The eight spokes point to the eight directions and symbolize the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, mindfulness, and concentration.

 


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Om Mani Padme Hum (Six-words Proverb)

Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer), Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect -- it is often carved into stones, wall, craftworks, and placed where people can see them.

Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel (or prayer wheel) is also believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found everywhere in the lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.

It is said that all the teachings of the Buddha are contained in this mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or sentence.

It is appropriate, though, to say a little about the mantra, so that people who want to use it in their meditation practice will have some sense of what they are doing, and people who are just curious will understand a little better what the mantra is and why it is so important to Tibetan Buddhists. We begin in the next section with some information about the mantra itself.
Play Mantra
The mantra originated in India; as it moved from India into Tibet, the pronunciation changed because some of the sounds in the Indian Sanskrit language were hard for Tibetans to pronounce.

The Common Mani Scripts
The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is found written in two different ways in (and on) Mani wheels and on jewelry, etc.: in the ancient Indian Ranjana script and in


Tibetan script:



Tibetan script Ranjana script:

 

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The Meaning of the Mantra

People who learn about the mantra naturally want to know what it means, and often ask for a translation into English or some other Western language. However, Om Mani Padme Hum can not really be translated into a simple phrase or even a few sentences.
All of the Dharma is based on Buddha's discovery that suffering is unnecessary: Like a disease, once we really face the fact that suffering exists, we can look more deeply and discover it's cause; and when we discover that the cause is dependent on certain conditions, we can explore the possibility of removing those conditions.

Buddha taught many very different methods for removing the cause of suffering, methods appropriate for the very different types and conditions and aptitudes of suffering beings. For those who had the capacity to understand it, he taught the most powerful method of all, a method based on the practice of compassion. It is known as the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, because practicing it benefits all beings, without partiality. It is likened to a vast boat that carries all the beings in the universe across the sea of suffering.

Within the Mahayana the Buddha revealed the possibility of very quickly benefiting all beings, including oneself, by entering directly into the awakened state of mind, or Buddhahood, without delay. Again, there are different ways of accomplishing this, but the most powerful, and at the same time the most accessible, is to link ones own mind with the mind of a Buddha.

In visualization practice we imagine ourselves to be a Buddha, in this case the Buddha of Compassion, Chenrezig. By replacing the thought of yourself as you with the thought of yourself as Chenrezig, you gradually reduce and eventually remove the fixation on your personal self, which expands your loving kindness and compassion, toward yourself and toward others, and your intelligence and wisdom becomes enhanced, allowing you to see clearly what someone really needs and to communicate with them clearly and accurately.

In most religious traditions one prays to the deities of the tradition in the hopes of receiving their blessing, which will benefit one in some way. In the vajrayana Buddhist tradition, however, the blessing and the power and the superlative qualities of the enlightened beings are not considered as coming from an outside source, but are believed to be innate, to be aspects of our own true nature. Chenrezig and his love and compassion are within us.

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The Powers of the Six Syllables

The six syllables perfect the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattvas.
Gen Rinpoche, in his commentary on the Meaning of said:

"The mantra Om Mani P?dme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. P?d, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.

So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?"

The six syllables purify the six realms of existence in suffering.

For example, the syllable Om purifies the neurotic attachment to bliss and pride, which afflict the beings in the realm of the gods.

 

Purifies

Samsaric Realm

Om bliss / pride gods
Ma jealousy /
lust for entertainment
jealous gods
Ni passion / desire human
Pe stupidity / prejudice animal
Me poverty /
possessiveness
hungry ghost
Hung aggression / hatred hell

 

"Behold! The jewel in the lotus!"

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This phrase is often seen as a translation of the mantra. However, although some mantras are translatable, more or less, the Mani is not one of them; but while the phrase is incorrect as a translation, it does suggest an interesting way to think about the mantra, by considering the meanings of the individual words.

"Thus the six syllables, Om Mani Padme Hum, mean that in dependence on the practice which is in indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech and mind into the pure body, speech, and mind of a Buddha."

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Dorje

The dorje is the symbol of enlightenment. The shape of the dorje symbolizes the two forms of truth, relative and absolute. The connection of the two truths in the middle is known as the sphere of actual reality. On the outer parts of the dorje there are two discs that represent the five Buddha families, the five elements, and the five skandhas. In Tibetan the word dorje means, “the indestructible stone.?The dorje is a spiritual weapon used to banish non-truths and bring in the truth. The dorje is often used in a Tibetan Buddhist ritual, where it is twirled in order to bring in truth.

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Singing Bowl

The method of designing and decorating singing bowls is only known by a few craftsman in Tibet and Nepal. The singing bowl contains several metals, one for each planet in Tibetan astrology, although not each bowl contains all seven metals, and the portions of metal is different for every bowl. Singing bowls were first used in Tibet over 1000 years ago. The method of using a singing bowl is like running your fingers over a crystal wine glass to make sound. To use your singing bowl, place the bowl in the palm of your hand, without touching the sides. Then roll the outside of the bowl with a hard wooden stick in a circular motion around the sides of the bowl. At the beginning you can hear the wood hitting the metal, but that sound soon fades until all you can hear is the continuous sound throughout the room. You must make sure that the wooden stick stays connected to the singing bowl even for a moment, because that will disrupt the sound. You can clean your bowl by putting hot water and a piece of aluminum or hot water with lemon juice inside the bowl. A piece of crocus paper or cloth will also clean the outside of the bowl.

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Klachakra symbol (Shi Xiang Zi Zai)

The Klachakra symbol means 'The one with ten powers'. It is very protective and dispels negativity. It consists of seven individual syllables combined together with three other components to make a total of ten very powerful elements within the image. - The Ten Powers are described as ten existences - body, awareness, space, wind, fire, water, earth, stable, moving, and the gods unseen and uncreated. Each part of the Kalachakra symbol has deep specific meaning, and is a great study unto itself.

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Garwoo(Gau)-Tibetan Periapt

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One of the most stunning pieces of Tibetan jewelry is the famed Ghau pendant. Also called a prayer box pendant, this jewellery piece often features rare and unusual gemstones and incredible carved silverworks.

In Buddhism, the Ghau is actually a portable shrine that holds an image wrapped in silk that represents the owner's personal deity. Some Ghaus have a small opening allow you to see the personality deity.

People of other faiths use the Ghau as a prayer box. Wearers write their prayer concerns on a slip of paper and place it in the box.

Tibetan jewelry is among the most finely crafted in the world today. Skilled artisans use the same techniques that have been used for generations to create the most gorgeous silverworks and gem cuts when producing Ghau pendants.

Asia is home to some of the worlds finest gemstones, so grand master artisans have a wide variety of stunning stones to work with. Ghau pendants are often set with green turquoise, red coral, butterscotch yellow amber, carnelian and deep blue lapis lazuli. Stunning emeralds, rubies, sapphires, amethysts, citrines and garnets are common as well. Look for Ghau pendants featuring hand-carved Buddhas and other ornate designs.

Ghau pendants often includes gemstone inlays. Artisans often use shells, like stunning abalone or mother of pearl, as well as turquoise, lapis lazuli and coral in intricate inlay designs.

Most Ghau pendants are usually created from sterling silver, but you'll find pieces in pure silver, bronze and gold. Some pieces feature more than one type of metal.

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