Tashi Takgyé (བཀྲ་ཤིས་རྟགས་བརྒྱད་) or aṣṭamaṅgala are the eight signs of auspiciousness, which are known in Indic religions including Buddhism. The signs are further associated with different parts of the Buddha’s physical body and can also appear as hand implements (ཕྱག་མཚན་) of eight offering goddesses. No matter their form, they symbolize auspicious topics and enlightened qualities. The images are commonly carved, printed, or painted and found throughout Bhutan.
Jewelled Parasol (རིན་ཆེན་གདུགས་མཆོག་)
A parasol decorated with precious jewels symbolises the Buddha’s head. It also signifies the many umbrellas, parasols and canopies offered to the Buddha by celestial beings and human kings, which the Buddha blessed as a symbol of protection from the heat of suffering. The parasol with its silken cloth, golden shaft, and jewel ornaments represents the various aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, which give peaceful solace and protection from suffering.
Auspicious Golden Fish (བཀྲ་ཤིས་སེར་ཉ་)
A pair of golden fish represent the Buddha’s compassionate and clairvoyant eyes, and the agility and swiftness of the Buddha’s enlightened spirit. They symbolize the two types of penetrating and transcendental wisdom of the Buddha. They are also said to symbolize the two great rivers Ganga and Yamuna, the power of the sun and the moon, fertility and abundance, and wisdom and compassion.
Wish-fulfilling Vase (འདོད་འཇོའི་བུམ་བཟང་)
The wish-granting vase represents the Buddha’s throat, considered an inexhaustible treasury of vast and profound teachings. It also symbolizes the wealth of spiritual qualities, a container of nectar for immortality, and in the worldly sense, a receptacle filled with the essence of various riches.
Beautiful Lotus (ཡིད་འོང་ཀ་མ་ལ་)
The lotus flower represents the tongue of the Buddha that is free from flaws of speech, is endowed with the eloquence and other good qualities, and which relishes the profound taste of the dharma. Just as the lotus is not sullied by its muddy environment but thrives in it, the Buddha thrives in the world yet is unaffected by it. Thus, it symbolizes purity and immaculate existence.
The clockwise-spiraling conch shell represents the deep, melodious, and pervasive voice of the Buddha and the sound of dharma that awakens sentient beings from the slumber of ignorance. Indra offered the Buddha a conch shell to request he ‘to turn the wheel of dharma’, meaning teach, and hence blessed by the Buddha as an auspicious sign. It symbolizes fearlessness and resounding victory.
Eternal Knot (ཕུན་ཚོགས་དཔལ་བེའུ་)
The endless knot represents the profound and mystical nature of the Buddha’s heart or mind. Its intertwining symbolizes the interdependence and interpenetration of reality and the complex and intricate nature of all phenomena. The eternal design indicates the immutable and adamantine state of enlightenment, and ultimate nature of things.
Victory Banner (མི་ནུབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་)
The banner of victory represents the Buddha’s body and his victory over the four kinds of evil forces and other opponents. Originally based on banners used in warfare, the victory banner in the Buddhist context symbolizes how positive virtuous forces prevail over negative ones, and the invincibility of an enlightened being.
Wheel of Dharma (དབང་བསྒྱུར་འཁོར་ལོ་)
The wheel of dharma represents the Buddha’s feet, on which are clearly embossed the pattern of a wheel, and are one of thirty-two marks of an enlightened being. In addition, Brahma is said to have offered a thousand-spoked wheel to the Buddha in order to ask him to teach, known as turning the wheel of dharma. The Buddha blessed the wheel as an auspicious symbol and used it as metaphor for his spiritual teachings. Just as a Universal Monarch is said to possess a wheel that both leads his military forces and subjugates his opponents, the Buddha used his teachings to lead his disciples and subdue negative forces.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”