Last modified: 2006-06-24 by rob raeside
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image by António Martins-Tuválkin 27 November 2001
It has blue-yellow-red-white-orange vertical stripes, each 1/6 of the distance from the hoist. The sixth stripe (?) consists of 5 horizontal stripes of the same color starting from the
top. The right hand vertical orange stripe merges with the bottom horizontal orange stripe. This is the flag depicted on the FLAG CHART published by Shipmate and authenticated by the Flag Research Center.
William Grimes-Wyatt 22 January 1996
The Blue light that radiated from the Buddha's hair symbolises the spirit of Universal Compassion for all beings.
The Yellow light that radiated from the Buddha's epidermis symbolises the Middle Way which avoids all extremes and brings balance and liberation.
The Red light that radiated from the Buddha's flesh symbolises the blessings that the practice of the Buddha's Teaching brings.
The White light that radiated from the Buddha's bones and teeth symbolises the purity of the Buddha's Teaching and the liberation it brings.
The Orange light that radiated from the Buddha's palms, heels and lips symbolises the unshakable Wisdom of the Buddha's Teaching.
The Combination Colour symbolises the universality of the Truth of the Buddha's Teaching.
Therefore, the overall flag represents that regardless of race, nationality, division or colour, all sentient beings possess the potential of Buddhahood.
From http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/4886/flag.htm, located by Dov Gutterman, 9 April 1999
"FLAG is a recurring item of buddhist cult, dangling from the ceiling or temples' columns inside, or from a pole outside. Flags represent Buddha's virtues and mark out for him, in the same manner the military flags signalize the army's chief; flags also stand guard at Buddha's pictures. Buddhist scriptures list five types of flags: lion's, Makara monster's, dragon's, Garuda bird's, bull's. Flag is a traditional offering to Buddha by the devouts, together with flowers and incense. At the same time flag represents the virtues of Buddha and the virtues the devout wants to obtain, therefore flag has a very important ritual meaning: it can prolong devout's life in order to let him/her increases his/her merits. This is the case of Indian Emperor Asoka (272-231 B.C.) who lived 12 years more after a serious illness so he could build new other reliquaries (stupa). A flag dangling into a temple at the moment of a devout's death, adds merits to him/her and even makes him/her be born again in on of Buddha's paradises. In fact flags are ornaments of famous Buddha Amithaba's paradise. In Tantric Buddhism adepts' head is touched by a flag, as it was an unction."from "Enciclopedia delle Religioni", Garzanti, Milano 1989 (Italian translation of "Knaurs grosser Religion Führer", München 1986)
Many people, including Buddhists, believe that their flag dates back to the time of Dutugamunu (second-century BC). In fact, the flag was invented in 1880 by an American journalist, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott. Olcott was a fascinating character. A former soldier and lawyer, he set up the Theosophical Society of New York. He arrived in Sri Lanka with the renowned spiritualist Madame Blavatsky on 17 February 1880 - a day which was subsequently celebrated as Olcott Day in independent Sri Lanka. He founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society, devised a Buddhist catechism, encouraged Buddhist versions of Christmas carols and cards, and inspired the founding of Buddhist schools and and the YMBA - the Young Mens Buddhist Association. There are six colours in the flag, but the human eye can see only five. They are described in the Scriptures as emanating from the aura around the Buddha's head. There are 5 vertical stripes of red, yellow, blue, white and orange. The sixth colour is a compound of the first 5, but for design purposes its five ingredients are all shown in small horizontal stripes on the fly.
Olcott felt that local Buddhists in Sri Lanka needed a symbol to rally around. His flag acheived that: it became the emblem of the international Buddhist movement and is flown today worldwide in Buddhist buildings and at Buddhist celebrations. When he died in 1907, Olcott's body was shrouded in both the Buddhist and American flags before his cremation.
An Introduction to Buddhism, Peter Harvey, CUP, 1990
Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka, Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Princetown UP, 1988
A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism, Christmas Humphreys, Curzon, 1984
The World of Buddhism, Bechert & Gombrich, Thames & Hudson, 1984
David Cohen, 23 July 1997
I also visited the Buddhist Society of Western Australia during my research. Several members told me that they have seen various combinations of the colour scheme of the Buddhist flag at various locations around the world. There doesn't seem to be a definite order of the colours - they said that it can vary from country to country.
David Cohen, 23 July 1997
I have been told by local Buddhists that the flag is not universal, but belongs to the Theravada sect. I believe he was indicating that the flag is not used in the same way as the Christian, Papal, and Episcopal flags, etc.
Lee Herold, 20 December 2000
The different "ways" of Buddhism are the "Theravada" of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, and the "Mahayana" of Vietnam, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, which some subdivide further. My understanding is that the 1885 flag represents all of them, though I don't recall seeing it in Japan.
Al Kirsch, 20 December 2000
image by Ivan Sache 21 December 2000
Soka Gakai International is a Buddhist lay organization in many nations of the world. In the past few years, the organizaton has flown a blue-yellow-red vertical tri-colour. It is flown both in the US and in Japan. I am not sure about the UK or Germany. Groups within the organization have had many flags, all dark blue with central white emblems.
Bruce Ward 2 April 1996
Within the organization, many flags have been used to denote various divisions or sub-organizations within the sect. The great majority are white symbols on blue background.
However, the parent organization -- it is a lay or secular rather than a priest-based sect -- began using a vertical tricolor of bright blue/yellow/bright red. It can be seen flying at major cultural centers around the world. I have seen films of the flag flying in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, France, the UK and the US. In the US, however, most cultural centers (would be called churches for the way they are used) continue to use older white on blue flags, along with the Stars & Stripes. The two flags flank the altar.
Bruce Ward 12 June 1996
The vertical tricolour (blue/yellow/red) is called the Victory Flag by Soka Gakkai and blue stands for peace, yellow for honour and red for victory.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 22 December 2000
image by Ivan Sache 20 December 2000
A buddhist flag seen in Burma shows some differences with the usual Buddhist flag:
- the horizontal stripes spread over the half of the flag
- both the horizontal and vertical orange stripes are replaced with green ones.
On the page above, it says that the six colours of the flag "represent the colours of the aura that emanated from the body of the Buddha". Concerning the Burmese flag, my source (see below) says that there were seven auras that emanated from the Buddha, five only being represented on the flag because two close shades of blue and yellow, respectively, were merged.
I suspect the replacement of orange by green in the flag to represent a specificity of Burmese buddhism. I know very little about Buddhism but I seem to remember that different "ways" are followed in different areas of Asia.
Source: visual observation by J. Renault in 1999, reported in Franciae Vexilla #20/66 December 2000.
Ivan Sache, 20 December 2000
image by J. Ehrlich Zdvorak 21 December 2000
I saw this flag in Korea on several Buddhist institutions and temples. Korean Buddhism (mostly Son, or Zen) is Mahayana Buddhism. In this case, this swastika is, of course, something completely different than the one which national-socialist ideology had used in twentieth century.
J. Ehrlich Zdvorak 21 December 2000
The yellow field represents Dharma, the lessons from Buddha as well as his body.
The red frame within the yellow field represents the effort needed to reach spirituality.
The red wheel is the Dharma wheel that Buddha had thrown when he gave his first lesson to the five Kundinya brothers.
The eight rays of the wheel represent the octuple way of the four truths.
The letters LS in the middle of the wheel stand for Linh Son.
The congregation was founded in 1975 in Joinville-le-Pont, near Paris, by Dr. Thich Huyen Vi who had studied for 13 years in India and had left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Linh Son means "sacred mountain". This refers to a moutain in India called Ky Xa Quat or Linh Tuu Son [I guess these are Vietnamese names], where Buddha used to give lessons and meet his disciples. There are now 8 Linh Son communities in France, one in Belgium and one in United Kingdom.
Source: L. Philippe in Franciae Vexilla #16/62, December 1999.
Ivan Sache, 19 December 1999
Flag seen on monasteries of Tibetan schools:
image by Roman Kogovsek
This flag can be see hanging out across Nepal in the monasteries of Tibetan
schools. This flag would seem from the filename to be a type of Buddhist flag
used in Nepal *and* India. Here the saffron is replaced with a plum color.
Eugene Ipavec, 27 June 2005
Flags of unknown significance:
image by Roman Kogovsek
image by Ivan Sarajcic, 7 November 2005
This is the dream flag created by the late XVIth Karmapa, a major Tibetan master
of the Karma-Kagyupa school. He explains how he created it and his meaning here:
He explained thus:
At the level of relative truth, the blue is the sky (heaven), symbolizing spiritual insight and vision, and the yellow is the earth, the actual world of our everyday experience. The symmetry of the wave pattern shows how we come to understand their interdependence when we practice the dharma. As a reminder of absolute truth, the blue symbolizes the wisdom, or emptiness aspect of awakened being, while the yellow stands for the compassion aspect. The wavy intermingling of the two colors represents their inseparability. The interdependence shown in the flag can also be seen as the wisdom of Mahamudra, the ultimate realization of ones true nature.
Eugene Ipavec, 30 June 2005
Mahakala (a.k.a. the Great Black Lord) is an important boddhisattva in Tibetan Buddhism.
A boddhisattva reached the state of Buddha, but willingly decided to
birth agin in the real life (Samsara) to help the other forms of life on
their way to liberation from pain. Boddhisatvas are specific of the
so-called Mahayana ('to help the others', Great Vehicle) Buddhism, as
opposed to the original Theravada ('not to harm anyone', Small Vehicle).
Among the three forms of the Awaken Spirit, Mahakala/Avalokiteshvara represents the Boddhisatva of Compassion. To make the things evern more difficult, each boddhisatva may appear under two expressions, one peaceful and one incensed. Mahakala is incensed. He rides a tiger or a snow lion and trample underfoot a human or animal representation of the ego. He stands for the force which destroys the illusion obstructing the access to awakening.
Mahakala is represented by a small statue in one of the temples of the monastery of Shey (Ladakh). Interestingly, the statue is 'charged' with several flags directly pinned into the deity's head. The flags are dark green pennants with a red border and a white eye in the middle - I guess to symbolize the awakening.
I saw several representations of Mahakala in Ladakhi and Zanskari monasteries - he is probably the deity easiest to identify and usually painted inside the temples over the entrance door, as a protecting deity. Anyway, he was decorated with flags only in Shey temple.
Ivan Sache, 31 August 2001
The problem with this banner is that it usually does not look like a 'regular' banner. Inside the temples, the banner is made of a long vertical cylinder wrapped with pieces of colour fabric which look exactly like ties, usually hanging from the temple ceiling. The banner of victory is also placed very often on the roofs and terraces of the monasteries, as (multi)coloured cylinders often topped with a trident.
This message ends my series about flags in Ladakh and Zanskar. I have
tried to report and explain everything flag-related I saw there. Once
again, my interpretations are probably flawed by my limited knowledge of
Tibetan Buddhism. I thank Ms. Lobsang Darmla, our local young guide in
Leh, who answered with competence and knowledge to all our questions
about Buddhism, including the most fanciful. Her discrete generosity and
beautiful smile, added to her deep religious knowledge, should remain
among the strongest remembrances of my travel.
Ivan Sache, 31 August 2001
Master Lu Sheng-Yen is a self-styled 'living Buddha' who eats meat and
drinks alcohol, thereby considered a heretic by mainstream Buddhism.
Miles Li, 12 April 2001
recoloured from image by António Martins-Tuválkin 27 November 2001
The Japanese sect of Pure Land Buddhism known as "Jodo Shin Shu" uses the
Buddhist flag as shown on the FOTW website. However, the Orange fields are
replaced with pink and that is the only difference. I have grown up in the
Japanese community and have attended temple since I was a Dharma School student
(like Sunday School). I have been staring at the Jodo Shin Shu Flag in our
Temple for many years sitting there in the congregation. The US flag hold the
place of honor next to the altar and the Jodo Shin Shi flag on the opposite
side. I only remember this because we have a Boy and Girl scout troop at the
temple and they often use the flags in scouting ceremonies (i.e., taking
the scout oath and receiving the Sangha or Padma scout religious medals for
Buddhism). Our Sensei once brought out the flag during a sermon and explained
the flag and the difference between it and the World Buddhist Flag.
Shaku Seiju, 5 March 2005
On the current Los Angeles Buddhist Temple website (called Nishi Hongwanji
Los Angeles Betsuin ) there is a section on their site that shows Buddhist
symbols. The Buddhist flag is one of them:
The description that accompanies the photo of the flag is 'The first five stripes of the flags are self-colors of blue, yellow, red, white and light red. The sixth color is a combination of the five. The flag symbolizes the unity and harmony of Buddhists.'
Earlier I stated that the fifth color was "pink". However in the description here, it is listed as light red. I'm sure when you look at the photo you might agree that it looks pink like I had stated.
Shaku Seiju, 23 June 2005