Swastika Symbols in Buddhism

In places like Japan and China, Buddhist statues and buildings often use a symbol, like so on the Buddha’s chest:

A statue depicting Amitabha Buddha, taken at Shuang Feng Si (双峰寺) Temple. The Heart Sutra is depicted in the background on the wall. Thyj, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This has NO RELATION to the Nazi Germany symbol in any way. However, at first glance this can be very confusing. Why do Buddhist statues have swastika symbols on them?

These symbols can be found across many pre-modern cultures both east and west and usually have a positive, auspicious connotation. Think four-leaf in modern times. So, when you see a Buddhist statue with such a symbol it’s usually meant in a wholesome connotation. In Japanese Buddhism these are often called manji (万字). Unlike the German swastikas, they are not tilted at 45-degrees.

However, it’s hard to avoid the association with the Holocaust and the Nazis, so these symbols are gradually falling out of use. Swastika symbols used in Japanese maps to depict temples are being replaced with other, less controversial symbols, for example.

However, older iconography will still use them. It’s too hard to change a cultural heritage building that was made in the 1700’s, for example

So, if you are in a Buddhist temple and you see something like this, don’t panic. These symbols predate those goose-stepping numbskulls and point to another, more auspicious heritage.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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