In this article, I will take you through some of the most significant Buddhist courage symbols and explain what they mean.
The idea of courage can take various forms at different times, depending on the turn of events that take place around us. The same approach is found in the Buddhist scriptures as the symbol of courage is depicted by a number of things; but the four main things used are:
1. The lion
2. Two symmetrical golden fish
3. The lotus flower
4. The horse
01. The Lion
The use of the lion as a symbol of courage is very common in Buddhism. Lions across the world have always been known for their strength and courage. Siddhartha Gautama was a prince and as such, the lion is considered to be the symbol of Gautam Buddha’s royal lineage and heroic deeds.
We believe the Buddha’s voice to be compared to the roar of a lion. On the other hand, the pair of lions seen at the entrances to Buddhist shrines, temples, and monasteries are called the “Buddha’s lions”.
02. The Fish
In Ancient India, rivers were considered to be an important part of human life as they signified the source of luck and fortune. Amongst other rivers, the two main sacred rivers, known as The Ganges and The Yamuna were represented as a pair of golden fish reflecting that good fortune.
In the 3rd Century B.C, after the advent of Buddhism as the religion of India, the significance of the pair of golden fishes took a different perspective. They signified happiness with credence to their complete freedom of movement in water, fertility and abundance.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the pair symbolized a state of fearlessness amongst self-aware beings oblivious to the danger of drowning, with the sea depicting a world of suffering. The sea can also be translated to ‘The Cycle of Samsara’ in Sanskrit.
03. The Lotus Flower
With its roots in Hinduism, the lotus flower is the most recognized symbol of Buddhism. The flower is mainly a symbol of purity and beauty that is often found in Buddhist art.
However, many Buddhists hold this flower in high regard because of its resiliency to the mercurial nature of weather (storms and frosts), and its ability to grow in muddy waters. So, the flower represents endurance and courage for many people.
04. The Horse
Horses around the world are known to be a symbol of loyalty, diligence, strength and enthusiasm. However, in Buddhism, the horse is also used as a symbol of courage.
On his quest to find salvation, Prince Siddhartha Gautama left the royal palace on a horse named Kanthaka. The horse was so loyal to his master that he could not bear the pain of separation from his master and soon fell into the arms of death. Kanthaka was later reborn as a human being and was able to devote himself anew to the service of his master.
As a character, Kanthaka is not only a symbol of loyalty, but also a symbol of courage. Many people consider the horse neigh as a sign of the exalted call of the Buddha’s solemn voice as the Buddha called on the people to stand up against all the superstitions prevalent in the society at the time with courage and solemnity. The neigh of the horse reminds us of that call from age to age.
It is generally believed that these symbols protect the lives and activities of the surrounding as we see the portraits of these symbols in any religious ceremony, wedding ceremony, New Year ceremony and even in secular ceremonies.
The religion of ancient India was Hinduism or Brahmanism before the advent of Buddhism about 2600 years ago by Siddhartha Gautama, a Hindu Rajput prince of the Kingdom of Kapilavastu, whom we now know as Gautam Buddha.
Therefore, the influence of Indian traditional ideology on various practices of Buddhism is clear. Evidence of this can be found in the various symbols of Buddhism. But later on, elements of Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese culture also came to be known as symbols of Buddhism over time.
Of the four symbols of courage mentioned above, the lion, the golden fish and the lotus flower can be directly related to ancient Indian culture but the symbol of the horse is considered to be a unique symbol of Chinese/Tibetan Buddhism.