The parasol (in Sanskrit chattra, in Tibetan gdugs) is a symbol of regal dignity and spiritual power.
High-standing religious figures in Tibet were always provided with a silk parasol: it was used to shade them from the sun during ceremonial processions and for this very reason, stands for compassion and protection from pain, illness and ignorance.
It comes in different forms and variations: simple or triple, sometimes with ribbons decorating the top edge.
The shell (in Sanskrit Śaṅkha, in Tibetan: dung gyas ‘kyil) is known in Hindu iconography as an attribute of Vishnu, often held by other divinities too as if it were a weapon. In Buddhist tradition it is considered a wind instrument used to spread in every direction the pervasive melody of the Dharma of Buddha. It is usually shown in the colour white, spiralling anticlockwise and with a pointed tip.
The endless knot (in Sanskrit Śrīvatsa; in Tibetan Dpal be’u) stands for the unbreakable link between wisdom and compassion, masculine and feminine energy. Since it has no beginning or end, it also symbolises the immense wisdom of Buddha and the eternal value of his teachings, as well as our spiritual path, the cycle of life and infinite love. Due to the importance and complexity of its meaning, as well as its graphic simplicity, this symbol is also tattooed and used on its own. It has the shape of a knot with right angle corners: it is a visual representation of the way in which all phenomena are interdependent and derive from causes and conditions which intersect.
The lotus (in Sanskrit: padma, in Tibetan ka dag) represents purity, because of its abilityto bloom in muddy ponds without any trace of impurity on its petals. Iconographic representations of the Buddha and Bodhisattva are almost always seated on open lotus flowers. The fact that this flower does not grow in Tibet is probably why it is drawn in a much simpler manner or stylised in comparison with how it is depicted in Indian or Japanese art. The symmetry of the petals of the lotus blossom, normally eight or ten, stand for the order of the cosmos and the design is often used as a model for creating mandalas.
Pair of Golden Fish
The fish (in Sanskrit Gaur-matsya, in Tibetan gser nya) represent the absence of fear and capacity to move through the ocean of suffering that is Saṃsāra, aware of the path that leads to salvation, victory over all suffering and attainment of liberation. It is a religious symbol which has been used since ancient times. The two fish are shown in a vertical position, facing one another and slightly entwined. In Tibet they are only ever found together with the other symbols.
The vase (in Sanskrit kalasa, in Tibetan gter-chen-po’i bum-pa) symbolises spiritual realisation, the perfection of Dharma, long life and prosperity, and refers to the idea of obtaining and satisfying material desires. It is shown as a round vessel with a short narrow neck which widens out into a decorated border. The opening of the vase is covered with a large gemstone.
The victory banner (in Sanskrit dhvaja, in Tibetan rgyal-mtshan) refers to a number of objects in Tibetan culture: it serves as a decoration and generally is to be found inside temples and monasteries, suspended from the ceiling as an ornament or at the end of long prayer poles. It is sometimes used on the roof of a private dwelling. It symbolises the victory or Buddhist teachings, of knowledge over ignorance and fear, of Dharma over all obstacles and therefore the attainment of happiness. It is traditionally represented as a narrow cylinder decorated with ribbons.
Wheel of Dharma
The wheel of Dharma (in Sanskrit chakra, in Tibetan ‘khor-lo) is composed of a central hub with eight or more spokes and an external rim. The image of the wheel is a universal symbol and is present in all cultures. It was already very widespread in pre-Buddhist India, and had a dual meaning: weapon or sun. in Buddhist culture, the wheel is immediately associated with the concept of the Dharma wheel, put in motion by Buddha on the occasion of his first public sermon. The Wheel of Dharma has many meanings: in Buddhism, the hub represents training for moral discipline which makes the mind stable; the spokes represent understanding of the emptiness of all the phenomena which allows us to weed out our ignorance; the outer rim stands for the concentration which allows us to hold firm to the practice of Buddhist doctrine. It also symbolises the Noble Eight-fold Path which leads to liberation, Dharma and Buddha Shakyamuni. In a more general sense, of all the eight auspicious symbols, the Wheel of Dharma is the one which symbolises Buddhist teaching as a whole. It reminds us that Dharma embraces all things, that is has neither beginning nor end, that it is in movement and standing still.