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The Eight Symbols and Their Meanings
The conch shell is said to represent Buddha's rich, resounding, and powerful voice, that draws his followers after him and to the teachings of the dharma. The conch is often found on Buddha's neck in sculptures and images.
The lotus flower is an important symbol because it plants its roots in the mud, but its fragrant blossoms reach above the surface of the water to bask in sunlight. It is a symbol of purity and of man's striving toward enlightenment.
Wheels, as represented in Buddhist art, have eight spokes, the same number as the number of significant symbols. The wheel as a whole embodies a complete and perfect form, being a circle, but the individual parts of the wheel have their own meanings as well. The rim signifies life's limitations, the hub stands for the axis of the world and the eight spokes correspond to the Eightfold Path spoken of by the Buddha.
The parasol represents the dome of the sky, the firmament, which reaches over and protects the world.
The endless knot embodies duality in all things, as well as the intertwining and interdependence of all things. The symbol of the knot with no evident beginning or end reminds us of our karmic fate, our connection to one another, and of how our actions in the present impact all in the future. The knot, because it has no end, also stands for the enduring knowledge and wisdom of the Buddha.
The two golden fishes signify the two sacred rivers of India, the Ganga and the Yamuna. These two rivers, in turn, signify the solar and lunar channels, which carry the alternating rhythms and energies of life and breath. They also embody happiness and abundance.
A symbol of enlightenment and spiritual knowledge overcoming ignorance and misunderstanding, the victory banner is one of the most straightforward of Buddhist symbols.
The treasure vase represents the physical world, the attainment of material wealth or desires, and general good fortune.
How to Draw the Eight Symbols
To draw the conch: Start with the basic shape, which is curved and larger at the top and comes to a point at the bottom. At a swirled piece on the top of shell that looks like a small snail shell. To make a right-turning conch (the most sacred), begin a line at the bottom of the snail shell piece that curves outward, following the outer edge of the shell about halfway down its length. At the point, bring the line horizontally just until it reaches the center of the shell, then draw it down to the point at the bottom. Small lines can be drawn, moving from the center line out to the right, to make this last piece appear curved.
To draw the lotus: Begin by drawing a faint circle, which will be the outline of the flower. Draw petal lines starting near the bottom of the circle, reaching both up and outward, so that the finished flower will appear three-dimensional. Using the lines, begin to draw in each lotus petal more solidly. Then, at the bottom of the circle, draw two arched lines, one going outward in each direction to represent the leaves of the lotus. If necessary, erase the guidelines (the circle you
started with) to complete the drawing.
To draw the wheel: Begin with a small circle, then draw a larger circle around the outside of it, leaving a gap of space between the two. Draw eight spokes at equal distances around the small circle and stretching to the inner edge of the larger circle.
To draw the parasol: The Tibetan parasol starts with a base like two lotus flowers, one flower facing down toward the ground and the second stacked on top, the flower open to the sky. A pole reaches straight out of the top flower to support the fabric dome of the parasol, which is flowing at the bottom and usually shaped into three large curves, one at the front and one to each side, to look something like a lady's skirt. In Indian depictions, the dome is often topped with a jewel.
To draw the endless knot: The endless knot is a geometric pattern. Start with a long line drawn at about a 45-degree angle. At the end of the line, draw another, shorter perpendicular line that juts from the corner, creating a sharp edge. The shorter line should be about a quarter the size of the long line. Continue in this way two more times, alternating between long and short perpendicular lines of exactly the same length as the first two, until you have maze-like pattern. Then draw two short lines (instead of a long and short), to create a corner to the pattern and allow it to fold back in on itself. Continue again as before, recreating the pattern in two more directions until you have completed the loop.
To draw the golden fishes: The two fishes should be drawn vertically, heads at the top and tails at the bottom, but with their backs arched severely enough that their heads tilt back and they are able to look one another in the eyes.
To draw the victory banner: The banner itself should be rectangular in shape and drawn hanging vertically from a straight pole. In Buddhist art, the pole often stands upright in a base decorated like two lotus flowers, one flower facing down toward the ground and the second stacked on top, the flower open to the sky. The pole reaches upward out of this top flower to support the banner. The banner is often shown with large curlicue shapes jutting out each of its sides, and/or with a tiered, circular topper.
To draw the treasure vase: The vase is habitually depicted as a short, squat object with a fat, round belly. Its design is thought to be modeled on a traditional Indian vessel called the khumba.
To draw this symbol, start with a flat base and make two large curved lines out from the base to form the round body. Draw the lines with such a curve that they almost reach each other (but not quite), and from their ends, draw two more short lines, one from each end, that reach vertically in a fluted shape to create the neck of the vessel. The top is usually curved on the bottom, but triangular on top. The jewel topper often has an oval shape at the bottom, but again, a pointed tip, and should be about a third the size of the top on which it stands.