Colors of Religion:  Buddhism

Colors of Religion: Buddhism

The most prominent colour concept in Buddhism is that of the rainbow body, which is the highest level of meditative achievement wherein the body is transformed into pure light. The rainbow body is the highest achievement other than Nirvana, which is the essential end-goal for Buddhists. Since the "pure light" on the spectrum contains all colors, and is white, to possess a rainbow body means to possess all colors, and to do some means meditating on colors that embody specific teachings.

The Representative Colors in Buddhism

The principle colors involved in Buddhism are Blue, Black, White, Red, Green, and Yellow, and each -- except for Black -- are aligned to a specific Buddha.

row or turquoise stones

Associated with the Akshobhya Buddha and the healer 'Blue Buddha,' Blue represents tranquility, ascension, the infitine, purity, and healing. Over all, the colour represents wisdom, but light and dark blue have different meanings. The light blue that Buddhists meditate upon is said to be no better represented than by turquoise. It speaks of the limitless heights of ascension, but it is opaque as earth, holding the wisdom of the earth and sky within it. Simultaneously, it embodies the duality of living and dying. This colour change this stone undergoes -- from light exposure or skin oil -- is thus a reminder of human life. Wearing the stone is thought to give the wearer long life, and it is believed to absorb sin.

The dark blue is represented by lapis lazuli. For some time, lapis lazuli surpassed the diamond in value. The stone is a representation of all things pure and rare. The finest of the stones are visually comparable to the night sky alive with stars, and can be polished to possess high reflective quality. Where turquoise promises a safe journey and long life, lapis lazuli is considered a stone of great healing power, used when internal bleeding or inflammation has occurred, and to quell nervous conditions.

lapis lazuli stone necklaces

black thangka painting

Black in Buddhism is not so different from Western Culture in that it refers to darkness and hate. Meditating upon hate, anger, and darkness may not seem like the path to peace, but the principle revolves around coming to an understanding. Learning, rather than revelling in the black of ignorance, is the path to clarity and truth. Black is often used as a reminder of conquest by not annihilation, but turning evil into good. Black is most commonly found in black paintings, more specifically black thangkas, which are representations of deities, usually. Gold outlines and vibrant colors against a black background seemed even more capable of portraying other-worldly manifestations than those typically on plain, white backgrounds. Seen to the left is a female Bodhisattva who rids of miseries and disasters.

White is representative of the principles of purity, as in Western Culture, but it is also considered the colour of knowledge and longevity. It is consider a colour of extremes, associated with the cold of snow and the smelting of metal. White is associated with the Buddha Vairocana. According to Buddhist legend, Buddha's mother, Maya, dreamt of a white elephant touching her right side before Buddha was born. Elephants, associate with rain clouds and fertility, are seen as good fortune, and following that the elephant was white meant purity and learnedness for the child. Because of this dream, seeing a white elephants spells remarkable fortune, which holds truth whether in reference to mysticism or not, as they are quite rare. The white elephant is thought to be Buddha descended from the heavens.

white elephant statue
red buddhist temple roof

The colour red symbolizes lifeforce, preservation, fire, and sacred things or places. Also riddled with duality, fire can represent warmth and comfort, but can also be a destructive force. Red is associated with the Buddha Amitabha. Throughout Tibetan culture, red is a marker of sacred areas, and a true mark of a Buddhist scared area are the simplistic, tall gates at the entrances. We also see this colour on the garments on the monks. It is believed to be a protective colour, like that of shamanistic wards.

Green denotes youth, vigour, action (Karma), and harmony. Because it is the colour at the middle of the spectrum, it is also represents balance and is associated visually with the lush trees. Green is associated with the Buddha Amoghasiddhi.

running through green fields
piles of saffron

Yellow is the colour that possesses the highest symbolic quality because of the saffron colour of the monks' robes. Previously a colour worn by criminals, it was chosen as a symbol of humility and separation from materialistic society. It symbolizes renunciation and desirelessness. Because it is also the colour of the earth, yellow denotes stability and grounded nature.

Coming to understand the principles represented by these colors, applying that wisdom to life, and being free from desire is how the Rainbow Body, and possibly Nirvana, is achieved.

The Buddhist Flag

The Buddhist Flag, Sri Lanka
  by Jungle_Boy

Thanks to the suggestion from koavf, we're adding in the Buddhist flag that we overlooked when we were putting this post together. The Buddhist flag, a symbol of faith and peace was first hoisted in 1885 in Sri Lanka. It was designed in 1880 by the Colombo Committee. The five colors of the flag represent the colors of the aura emanated from the body of Buddha when he attained enlightenment.

Loving kindness, peace and universal compassion
The Middle Path - avoiding extremes, emptiness
The blessings of practice - achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
The purity of Dharma - leading to liberation, outside of time or space
The Buddha's teachings - wisdom

Colors of Religion Series: Colors of Christianity.
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Showing 1 - 19 of 19 Comments
What a great article!
I have always been fascinated by Buddhism, but have never realized its ties to color. I'll definitely file this away for the future, whenever I need color associations with more spiritual depth than the traditional.
Thank you.
great article!

colour plays a huge role in most belief systems and religions... much of the symbolism is taken for granted, but it does have an origin. This is probably one of the most significant ways to study colour, actually, and a good thing to be mindful of depending upon your audience for a project.

I love this stuff :)
great article...i knew that colour plays a part in a lot of religions, but i never really knew how or why. neat!
Thanks! In addition to writing a pretty sweet article, it's very considerate of you to respond to my requests and credit me. I'm a colourloverlover.

What a beautiful post. I love the colors. Usually when I think of Buddhism I think to serenity and peace, which most of these colors resonate.

Very cool!
very cool article
I love the Buddhist flag palette.

In case you're interested, I put together this palette of colors of the seasons of the church calendar that you might want to look at for your post on colors of Christianity.
The Church Calendar
This is a great article. Not only am I a COLOURlover, but my minor is in Cultural Anthropology. I love seeing articles about the cultural significance of colors. Right ON! :)
It's a beautiful article, and the pictures are wonderful. I would like to add a little bit of information, though. Different sects of Buddhism have different sets of colors they use. For instance, in South Korea, the Buddhist monks do not wear robes of saffron...their robes are gray. All in all, though, good job on this article!

I wonder, which sect of Buddhists in which country wear the saffron robes? I've seen pictures of monks in saffron robes, though I do not know where they were taken.
What a great read. ^^ I do know that Vietnamese monks have saffron robes (unless my memory has serious holes).

The only complaint I have is a minor typo:

Shouldn't it be 'sacred' and not 'scared'?
If you have trouble remembering Buddhist colors, you could always find/make some Tibetan prayer flags! ;p

Thanks for sharing.
Buddhism is ♥
Malaysian Buddhist monks wear saffron robes too :) Those in Burma wear dark red if I'm not mistaken :)

Interesting article!
Very nice article...

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