Color Symbolism In Buddhist Art (2022)

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Esoteric Buddhism is unique in presenting through visual images, the most abstract of concepts, which then acquire an intuitive simplicity, graspable by all. Thus there exists in Buddhism the concept of a rainbow body. The 'rainbow body" is the penultimate transitional state of meditation in which matter begins to be transformed into pure light. It is said to be the highest state attainable in the realm of 'samsara' before the 'clear light' of Nirvana. Indeed as much as the spectrum contains within itself all possible manifestations of light, and thus of color, the rainbow body signifies the awakening of the inner self to the complete reservoir of terrestrial knowledge that it is possible to access before stepping over the threshold to the state of Nirvana. Understandably, when depicted in the visual arts, due to the profusion of colors, the result is spectacularlyunique.

Rainbow Padmasambhava: A Source of Strength and Inspiration for Devotees

Further, one often comes across references to five colors (pancha-varna). These colors are white, yellow, red, blue and green. That these colors were canonized as rich in symbolism is borne by the following quotation from the Chandamaharosana Tantra:

- Black symbolizes killing and anger
- White denotes rest and thinking
- Yellow stands for restraining and nourishing
- Red for subjugation and summoning and
- Green means exorcism

The enumeration of the colors may change but the number remains five. Thus the five transcendental Buddhas, personification of the abstract aspects of Buddhahood, are each endowed with a different color in their sadhanas:

1. Vairochana - White bodied
2. Ratnasambhava - Yellow bodied
3. Akshobhya - Blue bodied
4. Amitabha - Red bodied
5. Amoghasiddhi - Green bodied

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Here it is relevant to note that each of these five Buddhas and their associated colors are said to further the transformative process whereby specific human delusions are changed to positive qualities. Specifically it is believed that by meditating on the individual colors, which contain their respective essences, the following metamorphosis can be achieved:

- White transforms the delusion of ignorance into the wisdom of reality
- Yellow transforms pride into wisdom of sameness
- Blue transforms anger into mirror like wisdom
- Red transforms the delusion of attachment into the wisdom of discernment
- Green transforms jealousy into the wisdom of accomplishment

Hence we find that ancient Buddhism thought placed much emphasis on the spiritual significance of colors, which naturally influenced the development and practice of Buddhist aesthetics.


The Gracious Mandala Of The Buddha Ratnasambhava

A further investigation into the five colors takes us to the Mahavairochana-Sutra, which states that a mandala, the quintessential symbol of Tibetan Buddhism should be painted in five colors. It further prescribes that one should start at the interior of the mandala with white and to be followed by red, yellow, blue and black.

The Chakrasambhara-tantra prescribes that the walls of a mandala should be painted in five colors and should maintain the order of black in the interior followed by white, yellow, red and green. In certain mandalas, the four directions within the palace are indicated by different colors. The east is indicated by white, west by red, north by green and the south by yellow while the center is painted blue. The Kalachakra-tantra, however, prescribes a completely different color scheme to indicate different directions: the color black indicates east, yellow west, white north, and red stands for the south. Whatever the color association with directions, the protecting circle of a mandala is usually always drawn in red.

The reference to the five colors has been made also in an altogether different context, namely the process of the purification and empowering of sense organs. This occurs during meditation on goddess Tara:

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- White for eyes
- Blue for ears
- Yellow for the nose
- Red for the tongue
- Green for the head.

--------- (Sadhana of Goddess Tara)

In a spectacular visualization, the Tibetan tradition states that the syllable hum (part of Om Mani Padme Hum) although blue in color radiates five different colors. The dot (drop) on the crescent should be blue, the crescent is white, the head is yellow, the syllable 'ha' is red and the vowel 'u' is of green color.

The four elements air, fire, water and earth are also identified in the Kalachakra-tantra with four different colors: blue (or black), red, white and yellow, respectively. These four elements are further depicted as semi-circular, triangular, circular, and square respectively. This is a precursor to Tantric imagery where color and geometry (not mutually exclusive) are the basic building blocks making up the whole edifice of Tantricsymbolism.

Kalacakra Tantra (Kalachakra Tantra)

Thus even though the context may vary, Buddhism identifies the significance of a few principal colors with their import being propounded in a variety of circumstances. These Colors are:

1. White
2. Black
3. Blue
4. Red
5. Yellow
6. Green

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White

White is not necessarily thought of as a color. It occurs when the whole spectrum of light is seen together or when red, yellow and blue colors are mixed. Everything is present in white; nothing is hidden, secret or undifferentiated. Thus too Saraswati the goddess of learning and knowledge is shown white in color. Indeed knowledge and learning should not be hidden, but be open and available toall.

Scarlet-Haloed Devi Sarasvati

White color is thought to have a very cold quality, as in snow, or an extremely hot quality, such as a burning metal. Either can be life threatening and can remind us of death and the end of things. Fittingly thus the goddess Tara in her form which grants longevity to worshippers is depicted as white hued (White Tara). She also denotes purity, holiness and cleanliness and is 'the one who leads out beyond the darkness of bondage'.

White is a color that both incorporates, and set things apart from the rainbow spectrum of everydaylife.

Maya Devi (Mother of the Buddha Child -Rearing with Love)

The color white appears in numerous Buddhist episodes one of the well known being the birth of Buddha. Legend states that Queen Maya, mother of Buddha dreamt of a white elephant that flew through the air and touched her right side with its trunk. Now elephants are well known for their strength and intelligence, and are also associated with gray rain clouds and fertility. Indeed rainwater means that the seeds will be able to germinate and vegetative life will be able to spring forth. The white color of the majestic animal adds to this narrative an element of purity and immaculacy. In his former lives the Buddha had been an elephant several times, as mentioned in the Jatakas, or tales of his previous births. The white elephant is believed to have been the future Buddha himself who descended from heaven so that he could be born. It thus also represents for queen Maya a chaste birth, or the element of the triumph of spirit over the flesh.

Black

Black signifies the primordial darkness. In the realm where it is dark, because there is no light reflected, there is also a sound which we cannot hear as it is so high on the scale of harmonics that it is inaccessible to the hearing capacity of any physical being. The wonders of creation may be manifested through the gradual slowing down of vibrations. The darkness becomes light, the shadows colors, the colors sound, and sound createsform.

Mahakala Panjaranatha (Lord of the Pavilion) -Tibetan Buddhist

One of the most interesting examples is represented by the so-called black paintings. The special genre of the black thangkas, the potent, highly mystical paintings portraying shimmering, brilliant forms appearing out of a translucent darkness, came to full fruition in the second half of the seventeenth century.

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Their aesthetic power derives from the contrast of powerful lines against a black background, making them one of the most effective means to appreciate the Tibetan mastery of line work.

There is a range of variations in the technique, beyond the boldness of gold lines over a black background, to large figures and settings and a variety of colors, and orange, flamed haloes.

Black paintings, a relatively late appearance in Buddhist art, have added yet another means by which artists can conjure up visions of mysterious transcendent worlds. Like the fierce deities who are often the subject matter of these thangkas, the blackness signifies the darkness of hate and ignorance as well as the role these qualities have to play in the awakening of clarity andtruth.

Dhyani Buddha Ratnasambhava - Tibetan Buddhist (Brocadeless Thangka)

Thangkas with black background form a special category of contemplative paintings. They are a highly mystical and esoteric type, usually reserved for advanced practice. Black is the color of hate, transmuted by the alchemy of wisdom into compassion. Darkness represents the imminence of the absolute, the threshold of the experience. It is used for terrific ritual actions, the radical conquest of evil in all its forms - conquest not by annihilating, but by turning even evil into good. Thus, in the black paintings (T. nagtang) the black ground casts forth deities in luminous visions of translucent colors.

Blue

Eternity, truth, devotion, faith, purity, chastity, peace, spiritual and intellectual life, these are some of the associations that appear in many different cultures and express a general feeling that blue is the coolest, most detached and least "material" of all hues. The Virgin Mary and Christ are often shown wearing blue, and it is the attribute of many sky gods including Amun in Egypt, the Sumerian Great Mother, the Greek Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans), the Hindu Indra, Vishnu and his blue-skinned incarnation, Krishna.


Inspired by Radha and Krishna. . . .

In Buddhism both light (sky blue) and dark aspects of this mysterious color are important. The significance of the light shade is reflected in the supremacy of the semi-precious stone turquoise in the daily spiritual and religious life of the devout Buddhist, who holds various beliefs about this stone. In general terms turquoise is a symbol of the blue of the sea and the sky. Infinity in the sky speaks of the limitless heights of ascension. The stone is opaque as the earth, yet it lifts the spirit high, laying bare to us the wisdom of both the earth and thesky.

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FAQs

What color is the symbol of Buddhism? ›

Colour in Tibetan Buddhism
ColourSymbolisesBuddha
WhitePurity, primordial beingVairocana
GreenPeace, protection from harmAmoghasiddhi
YellowWealth, beautyRatnasaṃbhava
Blue (light and dark)Knowledge, dark blue also awakening/enlightenmentAkṣobhya
2 more rows

What is Buddhism favorite color? ›

An ancient story tells how yellow became the sacred color of Buddhism.

What does the color orange mean in Buddhism? ›

Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky described orange as “red brought nearer to humanity by yellow.” It is a sacred color in many Eastern religions. Hindu and Buddhist monks wear orange robes, and in Hinduism, orange represents fire and therefore purity; impurities are burned in fire.

What does purple mean in Buddhism? ›

Eastern religions have their own interpretations of the color purple. In Buddhism, purple symbolizes mysticism, and Hindus associate purple with peace.

What is a blue Buddha? ›

The Blue Buddha, or Medicine Buddha, comes from an interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism posits that the mind is the source of suffering, imbalance, and illness. Angela was particularly moved by the Medicine or Blue Buddha's expansive aspiration for all living beings.

What does a pink Buddha mean? ›

Meaning 'one who is awake', the Buddha shows us a way of living that is free from the stresses and worry that can often overcome us. The colour pink is universal in representing harmony and inner peace, compassion, love of oneself and of others as well as approachability.

What does the green Buddha symbolize? ›

Buddhist green is a symbol of balance, youth, harmony, vigor and karma. The green Buddha is Amoghasiddhi. Buddhists believe that if you meditate on green, your jealousy will turn into wisdom. In addition, they represent the element of nature in green.

What do the colors of Buddhist robes mean? ›

Tibetan monks are known for the deep red colour of their robes, the colour is worn by ordained monks and nuns but red is also a highly spiritual colour in Tibet. Red is the colour of all that is divine and sacred, with many temples also clad in the same red and yellow colours that monks wear.

What is the color of enlightenment? ›

Yoga practitioners are likely to perceive violet as a symbol of enlightenment, as it is the color of the crown chakra.

What does gold mean in Buddhism? ›

In Buddhism, the golden fish symbolises the auspiciousness of all living beings in a state of fearlessness, while the gold lotus flower represents the ultimate achievement of enlightenment. So, the next time you find yourself surrounded by gold, don't just think bling. Close your eyes and enter your sacred place.

What color do monks wear? ›

The saffron (for a more appropriate name for the color) robes monk wear dates back centuries. Orange was chosen mainly because of the dye available at the time. The tradition stuck and orange is now the color of choice for Theravada Buddhist followers in Southeast Asia, as opposed to a maroon color for Tibetan monks.

Why is Medicine Buddha blue? ›

While depicting Medicine Buddha in Buddhist arts, he is depicted with blue skin color with the halo behind the head. The blue color is associated with the master healing stone, Lapis Lazuli.

What does green represent in art? ›

Green is for nature, growth and harmony—but also wealth and stability.

What does yellow represent in art? ›

Yellow typically is a symbol of happiness, enlightenment, joy, positivity, and clarity. It can also symbolize being critical, judgmental, or cautious. Orange typically is a symbol of enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination, success, and stimulation. Its negative meaning can be abrasive and crass.

What does red represent in art? ›

Often thought to be the most emotionally charged colour, red tones carry heavy symbolism and meaning. One of the boldest colours in the spectrum, red stands out in any work of art, hence it's use to signal danger or warning. Red is used to contrast with its surroundings, drawing the viewer's attention.

What does purple lotus mean? ›

The purple lotus flower symbolizes spiritual enlightenment as well as faithfulness and innocence. The Buddha is often depicted sitting serenely on a pink or purple lotus flower.

Is a lotus flower purple? ›

It is represented by the eight petals and how the lotus flower grows from first the deep mud to the sunlight, and then blooming for three days is a beautiful fragrant purple flowers.

What is the spiritual meaning of the color purple? ›

Purple also represents wisdom and spirituality. 6 Its rare and mysterious nature perhaps causes it to seem connected to the unknown, supernatural, and divine.

What does a yellow string bracelet mean? ›

Yellow to represent joy and friendship.

Why is Amitabha red? ›

In Vajrayana, Amitābha is the most ancient of the Dhyani Buddhas. He is of red color originating from the red seed syllable hrīḥ.

What does the white scarf mean in Buddhism? ›

Uses and types. The khata symbolizes purity and compassion and is worn or presented with incense at many ceremonial occasions, including births, weddings, funerals, graduations and the arrival or departure of guests. When given as a farewell gesture it symbolizes a safe journey.

What does a blue lotus represent? ›

The Blue Lotus in Buddhism is the symbol of the victory of the spirit over the senses, of intelligence and wisdom, of knowledge. It is generally represented as a partially opened bud, whose center is unseen, the embodiment of the “perfection of wisdom”.

What does a green lotus flower mean? ›

Lotus Flower Colour Meaning

A pink Lotus shows a devotion to Buddha while purple represents spirituality. Green is the colour of rebirth, white represents purity and blue signifies wisdom, logic and enlightenment.

What does a yellow lotus flower mean? ›

The yellow lotus, also referred to as a golden lotus in Buddhism, symbolizes the joy that can be attained from non-attachment to things and outcomes. It also symbolizes the intellectual pursuit of spiritual growth.

Why do Tibetan Buddhists wear red? ›

In Tibet, red is the color of the sacred realm. While all shades have their place in temples and monasteries, burgundy belongs to the ordained monks or nuns, of whom there are thousands spread over the whole plateau.

Why is the Emerald Buddha important? ›

The power of the Emerald Buddha gives legitimacy to the king and protection to the nation. The image's significance is built upon its long history and symbolism as an object of power for those able to possess it. During the Bangkok period not all who desired the Emerald Buddha were of royal lineage.

Which color Laughing Buddha is good for home? ›

Yellow Golden Laughing Buddha Statue: The yellow golden color laughing buddha statue is the most popular statue. This laughing buddha statue as per Vastu symbolises prosperity and abundance.

Why do Buddhists wear red and yellow? ›

Sacred color of the monk costume

It tells us that yellow was an exclusive color for monks. Monks wore yellow costumes to distinguish themselves from the “Zan” and “Zanpu,”,government officials who wore red uniforms. An ancient story tells how yellow became the sacred color of Buddhism.

What color do Buddhist nuns wear? ›

Theravada nuns wear light pink or white robes. Typically only seen during morning almsgiving rituals, alms bowls are worn around the neck. In Bhutan and Nepal, both monks and nuns generally wear only maroon robes, with some variation of red. Both countries practice Buddhism that is closely-related to Tibetan Buddhism.

Which monks wear blue robes? ›

In 1983, Ashin Nyar Na began wearing blue-coloured robes to set himself apart from monks who are either Theravada or Mahayana, the form of Buddhism that predominates in North and East Asia.

What does each color symbolize? ›

Red: Passion, Love, Anger. Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality. Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Deceit. Green: New Beginnings, Abundance, Nature.

What color means unity? ›

A color commonly utilized to represent unity is blue. Different spiritual practices, and other types of traditions, utilize other colors to represent unity as well, including green and brown. Green and brown are used because of their association with the Earth.

What color means protection? ›

Black. Black is the color of protection, banishing, grounding, and safety.

Which colours to wear on which day? ›

Day-wise colours to wear on weekdays are White for Mondays, for Tuesday – shades of red, for Wednesdays – green, Thursdays can go with yellow, and Fridays can go with Pink shades.

What is the lucky color of the day? ›

Color of the day
DayColor of the dayGod of the day
TuesdaypinkMangala
WednesdaygreenBudha
Thursdayorange / yellowBrihaspati
FridayblueShukra
3 more rows

What is Tuesdays color? ›

Tuesday. Pink is the color linked with Tuesday. In Hindu culture, this day is associated with the Monkey God or Lord Hanuman and people who fast and pray to this Lord can also wear red. The day is also linked with Mars – the angry planet – which can be appeased by wearing pink.

What color should you paint a Buddha? ›

Green is associated with the Buddha Amoghasiddhi. Yellow is the colour that possesses the highest symbolic quality because of the saffron colour of the monks' robes. Previously a colour worn by criminals, it was chosen as a symbol of humility and separation from materialistic society.

What are the 3 main symbols of Buddhism? ›

The Symbol of Buddhism: The Dharma Wheel, or Dharmachakra

The wheel represents the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. In the center of the wheel are three swirls that represent the three jewels of Buddhism, which are the Buddha (or the teacher), the Dharma (teachings of Buddha), and the sangha (the community).

What is a blue Buddha? ›

The Blue Buddha, or Medicine Buddha, comes from an interest in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism posits that the mind is the source of suffering, imbalance, and illness. Angela was particularly moved by the Medicine or Blue Buddha's expansive aspiration for all living beings.

What does a blue Buddha mean? ›

Buddhist blue color meaning

The Blue Buddha is Akshobhya. Buddhists believe that if you meditate on this color when you are angry, that anger will turn into wisdom and intelligence. They also believe that the use of blue stones prolongs life and absorbs one's sins.

What is the color of enlightenment? ›

Yoga practitioners are likely to perceive violet as a symbol of enlightenment, as it is the color of the crown chakra.

What does a pink Buddha mean? ›

Meaning 'one who is awake', the Buddha shows us a way of living that is free from the stresses and worry that can often overcome us. The colour pink is universal in representing harmony and inner peace, compassion, love of oneself and of others as well as approachability.

What symbols are used in Buddhism? ›

In Buddhist traditions, the eight symbols are a white parasol, a conch shell, a treasure vase, a victory banner, a dharma wheel, a pair of golden fish, an endless knot, and a lotus flower. These symbols can be found and are used throughout the religion.

What is the Buddhist symbol for peace? ›

The once universal symbol of the world. The swastika has been used by virtually every culture at one point in time. It is still used by the Buddhists to this very day. It is a symbol of peace, harmony and wellbeing.

What does gold mean in Buddhism? ›

In Buddhism, the golden fish symbolises the auspiciousness of all living beings in a state of fearlessness, while the gold lotus flower represents the ultimate achievement of enlightenment. So, the next time you find yourself surrounded by gold, don't just think bling. Close your eyes and enter your sacred place.

What does a yellow string bracelet mean? ›

Yellow to represent joy and friendship.

Why is Amitabha red? ›

In Vajrayana, Amitābha is the most ancient of the Dhyani Buddhas. He is of red color originating from the red seed syllable hrīḥ.

What is the color of 5? ›

Grapheme-color synesthesia is believed to be the most common. Grapheme-color synesthetes perceive numbers and letters as colors: a five may be a blue number, while the number two is green.

What do the colors of Buddhist robes mean? ›

Tibetan monks are known for the deep red colour of their robes, the colour is worn by ordained monks and nuns but red is also a highly spiritual colour in Tibet. Red is the colour of all that is divine and sacred, with many temples also clad in the same red and yellow colours that monks wear.

Is it OK to wear a Buddha necklace? ›

While it is OK to wear Buddhist jewelry, Buddha forbade his disciples from creating pictures of him. Buddha is the subject of the most statues and images in existence.

Videos

1. Transcendent Specifics: Buddhist Arts of Tibet, Japan, Korea, and China
(Kimbell Art Museum)
2. Tibet Sand Painting of Mandala and Its Profound Philosophy
(Tibet Travel ( Tibet Vista ))
3. The Circle in the Zen Tradition, Kazuaki Tanahashi
(Science and Nonduality)
4. Splendor of Color Kaleidoscope Video v1.3 (Hypnotic Visuals to Relaxing Ambient Meditation Music)
(HDCOLORS - Colorful Kaleidoscopes with Added Value)
5. Sand mandala: Tibetan Buddhist ritual
(Wellcome Collection)
6. Tibetan Monks Create Sand Mandala at Clark College in Vancouver, WA
(Clark College)

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