This Egyptian symbol represents eternal life and provides magical protection, also represents the regeneration of life through water. Many other wisdom traditions use this symbol with some variation in the vertical and horizontal cross. Often the loop at the top is used to represent holy water circulating the body.
The concept of a sacred tree, also known as the Tree of Life, can be found in creation myths from all over the world. The Tree of Life has been spotted in art, architecture, and iconography from different cultures.
The Tree of Life is a symbol of unity, representing the idea that all life on earth is connected: though we may branch out in various directions, each of us is part of something bigger. It honors the diversity of creation while celebrating our shared origins. It is no wonder the Tree of Life is regarded as a timeless, legendary icon.
Spotted in paintings and statues, skulls feature prominently in Eastern iconography. In both Buddhism and Hinduism wrathful deities are often depicted wearing necklaces of human skulls known as munda malas. In Tibetan Buddhism, certain tantric rituals require the use of vessels made from human skulls. These are known as Kapalas and were traditionally used to make offerings to the gods.
In Tibetan Buddhism, skulls represent bliss, the limits of human knowledge, and the Buddhist concept of emptiness, or the idea that nothing has an inherent essence. Denoting death, skulls are also a reminder of impermanence and life’s malleable nature. Because nothing is fixed and all is fleeting, one sees a skull and is reminded to embrace empathy: live today, for tomorrow is not guaranteed.
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).
The 8 spokes of the Dharma Wheel represent the 8 paths of Enlightenment which can help you achieve Nirvana. It is one of the oldest Buddhist symbols that details wisdom in the Buddhist tradition.
Each spoke of this Dharma Wheel represents exclusive teaching as follows: right livelihood, right speech, right intention, right action, right efforts, right mindfulness, right consciousness, and right view. Also known as the ‘Wheel of Law’, it’s existence dates back to 2500 B.C. which is older than Buddhism itself.
Om Mani Padme Hum is a mantra of benevolence and is often recited to inspire compassion. The syllable “Om” represents the body, spirit, and speech of Buddha; “Mani” is for the path of teaching; “Padme” for the wisdom of the path, and “Hum” indicates the union of wisdom and the path to it. Though commonly associated with Tibetan Buddhism, meditators across various practices find this mantra inspiring. Compassion, after all, isn’t exclusive to any one belief system.
A ritual tool used for spiritual worship, the Vajra scepter is a combination of two powerful symbols: the diamond and the lightning bolt. The diamond, a substance which cuts but cannot be cut, represents resolute spirit. The lightning bolt, with its overwhelming force, represents great power. Together they represent compassion, the most powerful force of all and the ultimate path to enlightenment.
The Vajra sometimes appears as a Double Vajra, also known as Visvavajra. Depicted as an X or shown in vertical form (like a plus sign), it represents the indestructible foundation of the universe. The Double Vajra also stands for protection, harmony, and all-knowingness.
Jizo is a Bodhisattva in Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, originally known in Sanskrit as Ksitigarbha. He is worshipped primarily in East Asia, where statues of his likeness can be spotted on roadsides. He is often depicted as a shaven-headed monk with child-like features and a large cloak.
Revered for his self-sacrifice, Jizo is said to have delayed nirvana in order to help others. He is a guardian of travelers and firefighters. He keeps watch over the souls of children, especially those who pass away before their parents.
Visitors to Buddhist stupas in Nepal cannot help but notice the huge pair of eyes painted around the main towers. These are the “Eyes of the Buddha” that stare out in all four directions, a dramatic symbol of the Buddha’s all knowing, all seeing gaze.
Between the Wisdom Eyes, as they are also known, is a curving symbol that resembles a question mark. This is Nepali for the number 1. It symbolizes the oneness of the universe and denotes the one path towards enlightenment – this being the teachings of the Buddha. The mark is also the Buddha’s ‘third eye’, a symbol of his wisdom and infinite perception.