Greatly revered across different Buddhist traditions, Kuan Yin is an example of the “sacred feminine”. Also known as Kwan Yin and Guan Yin, Kuan Yin first appeared in Chinese scriptures around 400 CE. She is believed to be the female manifestation of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Depicted as an ethereally lovely Goddess, Kuan Yin is a symbol of unconditional love, kindness, and mercy. She shields and cares for the sick, the unwanted, the unlucky, and the poor. As one who protects women and children, she is also linked to fertility. Followers turn to her in times of need, fear, or misfortune. With just a glance at her graceful countenance, you too may find her to be a source of calm and comfort.
Yin and yang represents masculine and feminine, light and dark, and the law of polarity. It’s been around since before the third century B.C. in China, and the idea of opposing forces has echoed in many cultures and schools of thought since. Ultimately, yin and yang demonstrate balance and the inherent harmony of nature.
Teacher, philosopher, leader: Buddha was many things. But at his core, Buddha was a man who sought to understand suffering, and in the process, founded an entire spiritual movement. Born in 563 BCE in Nepal, Buddha was originally referred to as Siddhārtha and lived a rich, pleasant life as the prince of the Sakyas. After seeing suffering for the first time as a young man, he renounced his title and embraced asceticism. He eventually achieved enlightenment after meditating under a Bodhi tree. From there on, Buddha sought to teach others about the nature of suffering and the path to liberation. Characterized by unique features–long ears, spiraling curls–Buddha’s image and his story continue to inspire Buddhists and laymen alike.
A combination of symbols from various spiritual traditions, it shows how we can live peacefully as one. Though our differences may seem vast, when we stand together, we are beautiful, united, and whole. There have been many variations of the Coexist symbol. However, the major icons used are fairly consistent. These include a star and crescent moon (for Islam), a peace sign, Om (Hinduism), the Star of David (Judaism), a silhouette of Buddha (Buddhism), the Yin Yang (Taoism), and a cross (Christianity).
A symbol of wisdom, Ganesh is one of the most revered Gods in Hinduism. Known for his kindness, he is recognized by his elephant head and rotund belly. With his ability to remove obstacles and ensure success, Ganesh is often called upon at the beginning of new ventures.
Though Ganesh is a Hindu deity, he also appears in Buddhism and is the only Hindu God regarded as a Bodhisattva. He takes many different forms. Some Tibetan scriptures depict him as Vinayaka, a demon who must be propitiated in order to avoid destruction. Other times, he is Nrtta Ganapati, the dancing God and destroyer of obstacles who made his way into Tibet through Nepal.
The evil eye is related to the hamsa, and it’s a pervasive theme in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even ancient Greek and Roman cultures. “The idea is that the evil eye is somebody putting too much emphasis on you,” explains Sundaram. “They’re paying too much attention to you.” The symbol dates back to sixth century B.C., and today it is often worn or displayed as a talisman to ward off any ill will from people.
A traditional greeting, Namaste is a combination of two Sanskrit terms: namah (“I bow respectfully to you.”) and aste (“Let there be.”). Namaste is often spoken with a corresponding gesture. In this gesture, the head is slightly bowed and the palms are pressed together against the heart.
For many, Namaste is deeply spiritual. It refers to the belief in a divine spark that exists in all living beings. In the West, Namaste is often heard at the end of a yoga session. It translates to “The divine in me honors the divine in you.”
Namaste is more than a mere formality. It is a heartfelt expression of love and compassion. Saying Namaste with a sense of grace and humility gives birth to something beautiful: a moment in which one soul recognizes another.
Full of exuberance, Happy Buddha is often mistaken for Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. But the image of Happy Buddha is actually based on a wandering Chinese monk, Budai (Hotei, in Japanese), who lived centuries ago.
Happy Buddha is believed to be Maitreya, or the Buddha to come. His plump figure and benign countenance suggest magnanimity and plenitude. Also called Laughing Buddha, his signature smile is symbolic of pure joy. Happy Buddha is considered a symbol of good luck, and it is thought that rubbing his big head or belly brings fortune and wealth. At the same time, his walking stick and satchel remind us to pay attention to the journey before us, not just the destination.
A Jewish symbol which was originally known as the Shield of David with two triangles overlapping each other in either direction ultimately forming a star. These two triangles symbolize the connection between God and Man or union between male and female.
Widely used in occult circles and Kabbalistic practices, the Star of David represents the union of opposites like fire and water. There are various studies that defy this significance of divine connection and believe that it instead represents the 6 directions in space: Up, down, east, west, north, south, and center (the space in the center of the star).