The Astamangala are the eight auspicious signs of Buddhahood that often adorn finely carved statues of Shakyamuni and other Buddhas. The symbols are depicted in other kinds of art as well, such as the sculptured ornaments shown above. According to legend, celestial beings gave the items depicted by the Astamangala to Shakyamuni in recognition of his victory.
• The Precious Parasol – Honor & Respect
The parasol or umbrella is an ancient symbol of royalty and protection, which is similar in ritual function to the baldachin or canopy. It symbolizes honor and respect, and also the protection of beings from harmful forces and illness. It represents the canopy or firmament of the sky and therefore the expansiveness and unfolding of space and the element æther. It represents the expansiveness, unfolding and protective quality of the sahasrara. All take refuge in the dharma under the auspiciousness of the parasol.
• The Golden Fish – Happiness & Spontaneity
Golden fish, often seen in pairs, symbolize spiritual realization and an enlightened teacher’s ability to liberate beings from the ocean of cyclic existence. They also represent happiness and spontaneity, symbolise the auspiciousness of all sentient beings in a state of fearlessness without danger of drowning in samsara.
The two fishes originally linked with two main sacred rivers of India – the Ganges and Yamuna. These rivers are associated with the lunar and solar channels, which originate in the nostrils and carry the alternating rhythms of breath or prana. They have religious significance in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions but also in Christianity. In Buddhism, the fish symbolize happiness as they have complete freedom of movement in the water. They represent fertility and abundance. Often drawn in the form of carp, which are regarded in the Orient as sacred on account of their elegant beauty, size, and life-span.
• The Treasure Vase – Health, Longevity, Wealth, Prosperity & Wisdom
The “vase of inexhaustable treasures” represents health, longevity, wealth, prosperity, wisdom and the phenomenon of space. No matter how much treasure is removed, the vase remains perpetually full. It also symbolizes the inexhaustible wish-fulfilling treasure of enlightenment. The iconography representation of the treasure vase is often very similar to the kumbha, one of the few possessions permitted a bhikkhu or bhikkhuni in Theravada Buddhism. The wisdom urn or treasure vase is used in many empowerment (Vajrayana) and initiations.
• The Lotus – Purity, Power, Renunciation & Awakening
The lotus flower, which grows from dark watery mire, but is unstained by it, signifies emerging from desire, hatred and self-grasping ignorance to unfold the pure Buddha nature. It represents purity, power, renunciation and awakening, also represents the primordial purity of body, speech, and mind, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire.
• The Conch Shell – Power, Authority & Sovereignty
A conch shell spiraling to the right in a clockwise direction relates to the mighty conchshell horns of ancient heros, which were blown to proclaim valor and victory in battle. The shell symbolizes power, authority and sovereignty, and also represents the beautiful sound of the Dharma teachings, which awakens disciples from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own welfare and the welfare of others.
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”. In Hinduism, the conch is an attribute of Vishnu along with the Sudarshana Chakra. Vaishnavism holds that Gautama Buddha is an avatar of Vishnu.
• The Endless Knot – Wisdom & Compassion
The eternal, endless, or mystic knot has no beginning and no end, denoting the auspicious mark represented by a curled noose emblematic of love, symbolizing the interweaving of the Buddha’s endless wisdom and compassion. It also represents the karmic law of cause and effect, which holds that all phenomena are interrelated.
Moreover, the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs, the union of wisdom and method, the inseparability of sunyata “emptiness” and pratityasamutpada “interdependent origination”, and the union of wisdom and compassion in enlightenment (see namkha). This knot, net or web metaphor also conveys the Buddhist teaching of interpenetration.
• The Victory Banner – Overcoming Defilement
Traditionally carried into war, the banner signifies victory over defilements and negative influences that create obstacles to liberation. It further represents the Buddha’s ultimate conquest of death and rebirth, and the indestructibility of his teaching. The Dhvaja “banner, flag” was a military standard of ancient Indian warfare. Within the Tibetan tradition, a list of eleven different forms of the victory banner is given to represent eleven specific methods for overcoming defilement. Many variations of the Dhvaja’s design can be seen on the roofs of Tibetan monasteries to symbolise the Buddha’s victory over four maras.
• The Wheel of Dharma – Spiritual Awakening
In general, wheels represents motion, continuity, and change, ceaselessly turning onwards. The Dharmachakra, or Wheel of Dharma, literally means the “wheel of spiritual transformation”, and its swift motion represents the rapid spiritual awakening engendered by the Buddha’s teachings. Great masters are often described as “turning the Wheel of Dharma” when they reveal a profound teaching. This symbol is commonly used by Tibetan Buddhists, where it sometimes also includes an inner wheel of the Gankyil (Tibetan). Nepalese Buddhists don’t use the Wheel of Law in the eight auspicious symbols.
These symbols may be found as a group or individually. When alone, the meaning of the symbol still corresponds roughly to that given above. Some deities and gurus take just one symbol as a special emblem that best expresses their nature. For example, the great teachers Tilopa and Naropa usually hold golden fish, the Bodhisattvas Chenrezig and Tara hold lotus blossoms, Buddha Amitayus holds a treaure vase, and the Wheel of Dharma often adorns Buddha Shakyamuni.