Koi Fish in Buddhism

Flowing with Fortune: The Buddhist Meaning of Koi Fish

Koi fish are renowned for their vibrant colors and unique markings, making them a popular choice for keeping in fish tanks, as well as for decorating garden ponds and parks. While koi fish are widely known and loved, many may not be aware of their association with Buddhism.

In this blog, we will explore the role of koi fish in Buddhism, including whether they are considered sacred and if they are believed to bring luck.

In Buddhism, the image of koi fish can be found across many temples and artworks.

Koi fish are a symbol of good fortune and prosperity in Asian culture, but the history and symbolism of this fish is often misunderstood and overlooked.

The Meaning and Symbolism of the Koi Fish

Koi fish are popular ornamental fish which have been bred for color and pattern. They are beautiful, majestic and symbolic.

While these are all valid reasons to have a love for koi fish, it would be interesting to dig deeper and understand why all these different people had an interest in koi in the first place.

Koi fish is a symbol of abundance, courage, and transformation. As a matter of fact, Chinese words for “abundance” and “fish” have a striking similarity.

Koi fish mean much more in some cultures than simply ornamental fish because they represent the “unity of opposites” – an important concept in many religions and philosophies.

In China, people use them to illustrate “yin yang”: a universal symbol for all things which contain within them both good and evil.

They have a very intricate importance in Asian cultures to the point where they are essentially viewed as mythical.

The fish was used to represent a fight against the currents to attain one’s objectives, something that became especially relevant in turbulent times.

As a result, this quality has gained reverence in Japanese and Chinese folklore as the koi fish is able to become a dragon when overcoming challenges or going beyond normal limitations.

The ideal that comes along with this is enough to motivate anyone in overcoming even the greatest of adversities.

The Significance of Koi Fish in Japanese and Chinese Culture

Japan and China both have myths relating to Koi fish, but the way that they each decided to portray them is what makes things interesting.

While ornamental carps were bred in Japan, these fish were originally domesticated by Chinese, who used them as a food species. However, if referring to the colorful koi fish kept in garden ponds, then a proper term would be “nishikigoi.”

People in both Japan and China feel intimately connected to these animals. They represent traveling upstream – facing your fears head-on despite whatever difficulties arise.

The Japanese have come up with many different symbolic meanings for this type of fish.

One such meaning stands out among the many others and pertains to love. They represent romantic love specifically when talking about the opposite sex.

Other meanings in Japan include the fact that koi signify love between friends and family in addition to so much more!

The Koi fish is also one that symbolizes perseverance – staying strong even when in a rut, and continuously pushing on no matter how strong the current or flow is, making it their own trail down the river so to speak.

Video: The Mystique Surrounding Koi Symbolism
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In Japan, May 5th is celebrated each year as “Boys’ Day,” a holiday that originated from the custom of celebrating boys who are finally old enough to take part in the yearly koi kite fighting tournament. 

In Japan, it’s called “Tango no Sekku” or “Kodomo no Hi” (Children’s Day). The event has now become part of “Golden Week of Japan.”

During this time, families build kites in the shape of koi that get sent up into the sky for being a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

Koi kites are not only a symbol of success but also associated with good fortune.

Are Koi Fish Considered Good Luck?

Koi fish are believed to bring good luck to their owners.

In many Asian cultures, koi fish is viewed as very auspicious. There is a myth which says the fish swim upstream to spawn, which means to survive all the hardship and to finally reach the success that they deserve.

Japan and China have considered koi fish good luck for centuries. The Japanese have a long history of keeping koi fish in their ponds for decorative purposes and as a symbol of good fortune.

There’s no denying the symbolic significance of koi fish. However, the modern view on koi fish is very different from the traditional Japanese view.

What Do Koi Fish Represent in Buddhism?

For Buddhists, Koi Fish is a sign of courage and represents one who can be fearless in traversing through the “ocean of suffering.” It is quite reminiscent of an old Japanese legend about a carp that ultimately become a dragon.

Photo: Two Golden Fish

According to the Zen tradition, the koi fish is an ancient Asian symbol of fertility and happiness.

Koi fishes are just one example of the many symbols associated with the spiritual tradition of Zen in Japan.

Koi fishes were also used to represent mystery, harmony and even a representation of the soul.

In traditional Buddhist culture, a pair of golden koi fish are symbolic of courage, abundance and wealth.

The fish also signify a state of happiness, freedom of movement and fertility.

It is believed that freedom is only achieved when you overcome a sense of fear because it’s your inner fears that will stop you from being able to move freely like the fishes which can be translated as an analogy for fear in general holding you back from reaching out to take what life has to offer.

I have covered these two golden fish in a previous post:

Buddhist Symbol for Courage

Are Koi Fish Sacred?

According to the Japanese Buddhist tradition, koi fish do hold a special significance. We can therefore say that the koi fishes are somewhat sacred in Japan and their origins are explainable in legends.

However, other Buddhist countries may not consider them sacred.

Video: Koi fish feeding at Mt.Bagua Buddhist temple
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Using Koi Fish in Meditation

Buddhists use koi as a source of driving energy to use it for meditation. Since koi fish has a lot to offer in terms of positivity, focus and determination, thus, Buddhists use it to elevate their meditation.

So, you can use below points to inspire practitioners to overcome focus challenges. 

  • Visualization: Close your eyes to imagine a koi fish swimming upstream against a powerful stream.
  • Meditation: Focus on key attributes of koi fish like perseverance, transformation, serenity and growth.
  • Affirmation: Repeat and stay affirm these qualities for consistency to reinforce your meditation practice.

The Symbolic Connection between Koi Fish and Buddhism

As we have seen the importance of koi fish in Buddhism, the multicolored fish has a lot to play for in Buddhism. So, let us have a closer look at different meanings, qualities and symbolic connection between the koi fish and Buddhism.


Buddhism extracts koi’s fighting spirit in achieving their destination. Since, koi have this ability to keep on climbing against rushing streams and waterfalls until it reaches its destination. Therefore, giving a sense of purpose to go against all odds to Buddha followers.

Wealth and Abundance

Koi is also attributed with success and financial advancements. Since koi are largely expensive, thus their forms and colors deliver richness and opulence. Thus, Buddhism tries to get to a point where they are as rich in their spiritual wealth as the koi.


Koi fish have a good fortune in Asian cultures especially where Buddhism is followed. Therefore, we see an abundance of emblems and logos having koi fish in them as it presents the symbol of attracting positive energies.


Koi is believed to be courageous in addition to being beautiful. They never back away and face challenges with resilience, until they overcome their obstacles. Thus, providing a meaning to Buddha followers to keep on fighting the rough times and come out clean and successful.

Family Strength

Koi is highly social and loves to stay around its family. Moreover, they also help each other in difficult times. Therefore, it plays a significant role in delivering positive messages to Koi followers including Buddhism.


An old story from China reflects on how a koi fish climbed the Yellow River fall near the Dragon Gate and transformed into a dragon herself. Thus, it symbolizes the evolution, growth and transformation of Buddhism.

Feng Shui

The Buddhism community tries to have a Koi pond in their household, as it brings positive energy. Therefore, offering optimal flow of universal flow energy. 

Uniqueness and Non-Conformity

Koi also symbolizes uniqueness; it is always distinguishable in the pond. Such non-conformity embodies them with a creative self-expression.

Koi Fish Color Meaning

Since koi fish come in a number of colors, thus every color has a different meaning. Here are some of the popular koi fish colors and their meaning in Japanese and Buddhism culture.

  • Black koi fish symbolizes career luck
  • Silver koi fish symbolizes business luck
  • Gold koi fish symbolizes wealth
  • White body with red spots symbolizes life transformation
  • Black and white pair of koi fish represent balance in life
  • A koi fish having red coloring around its mouth symbolizes love and strong relationships

How to Use Koi Fish?

You can use koi fish in a number of ways to get the positive results as we have mentioned previously.

  1. You can place a koi fish statue or painting at your home or office for success and prosperity
  2. Hang a koi fish wind chime to attract good luck into your home
  3. Arrange a koi fish pond in your backyard for creating a peaceful and relaxing environment
  4. Use koi fish jewelry or clothing for love and beauty

Frequently Asked Questions

What does the koi fish mean in Buddhism?

In Buddhism, the koi fish has a significant importance as it symbolizes courage. Moreover, in Japan koi represent good fortune, friendship and love. ‘Koi’ is a Japanese word meaning ‘carp’.

What do koi fish represent spiritually?

In Japanese and Buddhism cultures, koi fish has both material and spiritual importance. Since, koi fish are always against the high streams and seem calm in water, thus Buddhism follows inspiration to stay calm in life against all odds.

What does the fish symbolize in Buddhism?

Fish symbolizes happiness in Buddhism as it depicts complete freedom and control in water. Moreover, they also represent fertility and abundance. Likewise, they are regarded as orientated due to their elegant beauty, size and life-span. 

Is koi a sacred fish?

Koi is considered a sacred fish as it is now considered as a universal symbol of peace worldwide. Moreover, in Japanese culture, each koi color has a particular meaning. Likewise, Buddhism has adopted koi as a symbol of peace and love.

Parting Words

The koi fish is a truly amazing creature. One must see them first hand to truly appreciate their graceful movements.

They are majestic, beautiful fish with bright luminous colors that shine under sunlight.

The colorful fish have now become popular with pond owners throughout the world, regardless of whether they’re called koi or nishikigoi.

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