Signs and Symbols

What has the swastika got to do with Buddhism?

A revolving cross with bent cross-beams, the swastika has been a symbol of longevity and success throughout eastern Asia for millennia. Buddhists inherited the symbol from Hindu tradition, in which it referred to different forms of cosmic energy, depending on whether the symbol rotated to the right or to the left. The symbol appears often in Chinese sculpture on the upper chest of the Buddha. There it is a reminder of the eternal validity of his teaching, a meaning attached to the Chinese use of the swastika as the number ten thousand. In some Japanese temples (such as the Asakusa Kannon temple in Tokyo) the swastika even functions as the central icon on the main altar, replacing the image of the Buddha. Zen tradition sees the swastika as a symbol of the “buddha-mind” handed down from teacher to disciple. It may have become associated with the Buddha as a result of his identification with solar imagery and power. Some suggest that the swastika symbolizes the Buddha’s teaching as an abstract stylized version of the Wheel of Dharma.

Worshippers circumambulate large stone pagoda near Po Mun Sa temple, Seoul, Korea. Worshippers walk in a clockwise direction, past the swastika on the wall beyond the pagoda.


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