Tibetan Buddhist Pendants - History and Symbolism
Here is a brief history of Tibetan Buddhist pendants and a brief description of their symbolism.
Talismans and amulets have been worn by many different cultures around the world for thousands of years. Often completely unique and personal, utilizing auspicious materials and symbolism, amulets were made for various purposes, e.g., to avert evil or disease, or to bring good luck in harvests, journeys, or war. Yet a theme that unites them is that the people who created and used them often believed they had the power to alter or affect the world around them. In this sense talismans and amulets can help us understand the human need for well-being and the universal concepts of hope and belief.
Tibetan Buddhists are also known to have used such items for hundreds of years. Windhorse Imports stock a large variety of Tibetan style jewellery, paticularly pendants and amulet boxes.
Tibetan amulet boxes or “ghau” are generally made from metal in a repousse style of construction. The purpose and function of these is for protection when travelling. They sometimes have a small window on the front with a Buddha image inside, which can provide a travelling shrine. Typically the front is very ornate and decorated with one or more of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and other motifs. Amulet boxes are also commonly used to store all manner of sacred materials such as small texts, blessing cords, consecrated medicine, relics, and the like. Objects such as this were generally carried when travelling some distance away from home, such as on pilgrimage, or for extended business trips.
Such was the Tibetan belief in the power of amulets and talismans that they would wear them in battle, believing they would be protected from harm. This was witnessed during the military invasion of Tibet by Britain in 1903. The essentially medieval Tibetan army suffered a massacre by the British, who were armed with maxim guns and bolt-action rifles. Tibetans wore amulets, which their lamas had promised would protect them magically from any harm. After the battle, surviving Tibetans showed profound confusion over the ineffectiveness of these amulets.
Below we give the explanation of some of the Buddhist imagery you might find on Buddhist pendants, rings or earrings and what they mean.
1) The Buddha Image
Wearing items bearing the Buddha image can remind us to be like Buddha follow Buddhist teaching in our daily life. Such items also encourage us to be more patient, kind in nature and cultivate thoughts of peace and non-violence. We also stock pendants portraying other Buddhist dieties.
2) – Lotus
The lotus flower has been a respected symbol of purity, beauty, and rebirth. It shows us how difficulties can bring forth transformation. By wearing a lotus pendant we are reminded of the opportunities that each day gives us for our qualities like wisdom, compassion, happiness and love. Just like the lotus grows from a muddy pond, spiritual qualities can also blossom from the mud of suffering.
Often Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are portrayed as being seated or standing on the lotus. This symbolizes that just like the muddy water does not interfere with the lotus petals, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can remain in Samsara or universe to benefit the living beings without being polluted by their faults.
3) - Om
Om The mystical syllable Om or A-u-m is venerated by both Buddhists and Brahmans. The history of the syllable is described in the Hindu religious texts of the Vedas and Upanishads.
It is regarded as the syllable of the supreme Reality and is sometimes called the mother of mantras. It is often found at the beginning of prayers, mantras, and scriptures as a word of invocation and adoration. In Hinduism its three Sanskrit phonemes (transliterated a, u, and m) symbolize the triad of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer, or the three levels of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. At the same time they are also connected with the triatna (the three jewels) of the Buddha, the dharma (the doctrine) and the sangha (the order), so that the whole Buddhist philosophy is concealed behind this simple sign. In Buddhism it is often understood as symbolizing the true empty character of reality.
4) – Wheel of Dharma
The wheel of Dharma or the Dharmachakra is a symbol of Buddha’s teachings. It is a wheel with eight spokes that indicate the Noble Eightfold Path. The circular shape of the wheel symbolizes the doctrine of continued rebirth until one attains awakening.
The Buddha is believed to have an impression of a thousand-spoke wheel on each of his soles of his hands and feet. The Dharmachakra is considered as one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols associated with the Buddha.
5) – Vajra
According to the Hindu mythology, Vajra is the weapon of Indra, the thunder deity. In Sanskrit, the word ‘Vajra’ means both thunderbolt and diamond. It is told that the weapon Vajra possesses the indestructibility of the diamond and irresistible force of the thunderbolt. When two thunderbolts are crossed it is called a double vajra. This is the emblem of Amoghasiddhi. In Buddhist Tantra this is a powerful symbol of absolute stability connecting with the earth element. The word generally designates void which cannot be cut or destroyed but destroys all evils. This image is often found on temple shrine hangings.
6) - Kalachakra
The seed syllable of the Kalachakra Heruka, the powerful mantra for peace and reducing suffering by calming negativity and conflict.The Kalachakra symbol means 'The one with ten powers'. It consists of seven individual syllables intertwined and crowned by symbols of the moon , the sun, and the flame, making a total of ten very powerful elements within the image.The Ten Powers are described as ten existences - body, awareness, space, wind, fire, water, earth, stable, moving, and the gods unseen and uncreated. This ‘sign of the ten mighty ones’ has occupied a central place in Tantric Buddhism for many centuries, and has become a symbol of good fortune and protection for the wearer.
7) Om Mani Padme Hum
Om Mani Padme Hum (Hail the jewel in the lotus) is a six syllable invocation of Avlokitreswara, one who is invoked as the saviour and protector from danger. One who recites this mantra will be saved and protected from danger. This mantra is widely found in Mahayana Buddhism. In addition to Buddhist pendants it can be found inscribed on rocks, prayer wheels, Chaitya walls, loose stones heaped as Mani (jewels) on roads, paths and approaches to villages. One can find it inscribed on the outside of prayer wheels and hundreds of times on the scrolls within them. When worn as a pendant or on a ring, it is seen as a protector. Here it appears on a silver amulet box.
8) Eternal Knot
The Eternal Knot is one of the eight auspicious symbols associated with the Buddha. It represents Buddha’s mind and the eternal continuity of mind. It indicates that our mind has neither any beginning nor any end.
9) - Eight Auspicious Symbols together.
These are believed to represent the gifts given by celestial beings to Sakyamuni on his attainment of Enlightenment of Buddhahood. These symbols are usually displayed during the performance of certain ceremonies, such as the consecration of a house and an elaborate fire sacrifice ceremony. On Buddhist pendants these are more usually seen separately and some have already been described, but here they are in brief.
From top to bottom:
- 1. White Umbrella - protects from all evil
- 2. Golden Fish - happiness, beings saved from the sea of suffering
- 3. Vase - containing the nectar of immortality
- 4. Lotus - purity and spiritual unfolding
- 5. Conch Shell - proclaims the teachings of the enlightened ones
- 6. Knot of Eternity - the meditative Mind
- 7. Victory Standard - proclaims the victory of Buddhism
- 8. Dharma Wheel - symbol of spiritual law.