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The Eight Auspicious Symbols
As Seen on the Musical Instruments from Tibet and Nepal
On Display in the NMM's Beede Gallery

Symbols often found in the art and ornamentation of Tibetan Buddhism include the eight auspicious symbols or signs. All eight can be clearly seen on this pair of finger cymbals (ting shags), Tibet, 20th century (NMM 10069).  

Eight auspicious symbols on a pair of Tibetan finger cymbals


Parasol


1)  Parasol—refers immediately to royalty; the ability to care for one's self; to guard against unknown forces; positive spiritual energy is assigned to this symbol. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Parasol on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Parasol on NMM 2352 (ngeku)
NMM 2352
Parasol on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Golden Fish


2) Golden Fish—originally representative of the two rivers, Ganges and Yamuna, which nourish the earth; symbolic of the solar and lunar forces of the universe; represent happiness and spontaneity; fertility and abundance. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Golden Fish on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Golden fish on NMM 2352 (ngeku)
NMM 2352
Golden Fish on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199
Golden Fish on NMM 7204 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7204


Treasure Vase


3)  Treasure Vase—possesses the divine quality of spontaneous manifestation; representative of the treasures one receives upon reaching enlightenment. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Treasure vase on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Treasure vase on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Lotus


4)  Lotus—symbol of purity and renunciation; represents the blossoming of wholesome activities; deities are often shown seated on a throne or bed of lotus blossoms. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Lotus on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Lotus on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Conch shell


5)  Conch Shell —viewed as a symbol of heroism; attributes of valor and victory are tied to the rare, right-turning conch. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Conch shell on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Conch shell on NMM 2352 (ngeku)
NMM 2352
Conch shell on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Endless Knot


6)  Endless Knot—symbolic of Buddha's mind, representing endless wisdom and compassion; reminiscent of the cyclic reality of existence. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Endless knot on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Endless knot on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Victory Banner


7)  Victory Banner—symbolic of overcoming adversity and defilement; representative of the Buddha's victory over maras, or evil influences. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Victory Banner on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Victory Banner on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Wheel


8)  Wheel—symbolic of sovereignty, protection and creation; represents motion, continuity and change, forever turning onward like the spheres of the heavens. Examples of this symbol on NMM instruments include the following:

Wheel on NMM 2334 (telescoping trumpet)
NMM 2334
Wheel on NMM 2352 (ngeku)
NMM 2352
Wheel on NMM 7199 (conch shell trumpet)
NMM 7199


Sources:

Beer, Robert.  The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Boston:  Shambhala, 2003.

Fisher, Robert E.  Art of Tibet. London:  Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 1997.

Levenson, Claude B.  Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. New York:  Barnes and Noble Books, 2003.

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Most recent update: April 3, 2014

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