Buddhism is unique in presenting through visual
images, the most abstract of concepts, which then
acquire an intuitive simplicity, graspable by
all. Thus there exists in Buddhism the concept
of a rainbow body. The 'rainbow body" is the penultimate
transitional state of meditation in which matter
begins to be transformed into pure light. It is
said to be the highest state attainable in the
realm of 'samsara' before the 'clear light' of
Nirvana. Indeed as much as the spectrum contains
within itself all possible manifestations of light,
and thus of color, the rainbow body signifies
the awakening of the inner self to the complete
reservoir of terrestrial knowledge that it is
possible to access before stepping over the threshold
to the state of Nirvana. Understandably, when
depicted in the visual arts, due to the profusion
of colors, the result is spectacularly unique.
Further, one often comes across
references to five colors (pancha-varna). These
colors are white, yellow, red, blue and green.
That these colors were canonized as rich in symbolism
is borne by the following quotation from the Chandamaharosana
- Black symbolizes killing
- White denotes rest and thinking
- Yellow stands for restraining and nourishing
- Red for subjugation and summoning and
- Green means exorcism
The enumeration of the colors
may change but the number remains five. Thus the
five transcendental Buddhas, personification of
the abstract aspects of Buddhahood, are each endowed
with a different color in their sadhanas:
1. Vairochana - White bodied
2. Ratnasambhava - Yellow bodied
3. Akshobhya - Blue bodied
4. Amitabha - Red bodied
5. Amoghasiddhi - Green bodied
Here it is relevant to note
that each of these five Buddhas and their associated
colors are said to further the transformative
process whereby specific human delusions are changed
to positive qualities. Specifically it is believed
that by meditating on the individual colors, which
contain their respective essences, the following
metamorphosis can be achieved:
- White transforms the delusion
of ignorance into the wisdom of reality
- Yellow transforms pride into wisdom of sameness
- Blue transforms anger into mirror like wisdom
- Red transforms the delusion of attachment into
the wisdom of discernment
- Green transforms jealousy into the wisdom of
we find that ancient Buddhism thought placed much
emphasis on the spiritual significance of colors,
which naturally influenced the development and
practice of Buddhist aesthetics.
The Gracious Mandala Of The Buddha Ratnasambhava
A further investigation
into the five colors takes us to the Mahavairochana-Sutra,
which states that a mandala, the quintessential
symbol of Tibetan Buddhism should be painted in
five colors. It further prescribes that one should
start at the interior of the mandala with white
and to be followed by red, yellow, blue and black.
The Chakrasambhara-tantra prescribes
that the walls of a mandala should be painted
in five colors and should maintain the order of
black in the interior followed by white, yellow,
red and green. In certain mandalas, the four directions
within the palace are indicated by different colors.
The east is indicated by white, west by red, north
by green and the south by yellow while the center
is painted blue. The Kalachakra-tantra, however,
prescribes a completely different color scheme
to indicate different directions: the color black
indicates east, yellow west, white north, and
red stands for the south. Whatever the color association
with directions, the protecting circle of a mandala
is usually always drawn in red.
The reference to the five colors
has been made also in an altogether different
context, namely the process of the purification
and empowering of sense organs. This occurs during
meditation on goddess Tara:
- White for eyes
- Blue for ears
- Yellow for the nose
- Red for the tongue
- Green for the head.
--------- (Sadhana of Goddess
In a spectacular visualization,
the Tibetan tradition states that the syllable
hum (part of Om Mani Padme Hum) although blue
in color radiates five different colors. The dot
(drop) on the crescent should be blue, the crescent
is white, the head is yellow, the syllable 'ha'
is red and the vowel 'u' is of green color.
The four elements air, fire,
water and earth are also identified in the Kalachakra-tantra
with four different colors: blue (or black), red,
white and yellow, respectively. These four elements
are further depicted as semi-circular, triangular,
circular, and square respectively. This is a precursor
to Tantric imagery where color and geometry (not
mutually exclusive) are the basic building blocks
making up the whole edifice of Tantric symbolism.
Thus even though the context
may vary, Buddhism identifies the significance
of a few principal colors with their import being
propounded in a variety of circumstances. These
is not necessarily thought of as a color. It occurs
when the whole spectrum of light is seen together
or when red, yellow and blue colors are mixed.
Everything is present in white; nothing is hidden,
secret or undifferentiated. Thus too Saraswati
the goddess of learning and knowledge is shown
white in color. Indeed knowledge and learning
should not be hidden, but be open and available
White color is thought to have
a very cold quality, as in snow, or an extremely
hot quality, such as a burning metal. Either can
be life threatening and can remind us of death
and the end of things. Fittingly thus the goddess
Tara in her form which grants longevity to worshippers
is depicted as white hued (White Tara). She also
denotes purity, holiness and cleanliness and is
'the one who leads out beyond the darkness of
bondage'. White is a color that both
incorporates, and set things apart from the rainbow
spectrum of everyday life.
The color white appears in
numerous Buddhist episodes one of the well known
being the birth of Buddha. Legend states that
Queen Maya, mother of Buddha dreamt of a white
elephant that flew through the air and touched
her right side with its trunk. Now elephants are
well known for their strength and intelligence,
and are also associated with gray rain clouds
and fertility. Indeed rainwater means that the
seeds will be able to germinate and vegetative
life will be able to spring forth. The white color
of the majestic animal adds to this narrative
an element of purity and immaculacy. In his former
lives the Buddha had been an elephant several
times, as mentioned in the Jatakas, or tales of
his previous births. The white elephant is believed
to have been the future Buddha himself who descended
from heaven so that he could be born. It thus
also represents for queen Maya a chaste birth,
or the element of the triumph of spirit over the
the primordial darkness. In the realm where it
is dark, because there is no light reflected,
there is also a sound which we cannot hear as
it is so high on the scale of harmonics that it
is inaccessible to the hearing capacity of any
physical being. The wonders of creation may be
manifested through the gradual slowing down of
vibrations. The darkness becomes light, the shadows
colors, the colors sound, and sound creates form.
One of the most interesting examples is represented by the so-called black paintings. The special genre of the black thangkas, the potent, highly mystical paintings portraying shimmering, brilliant forms appearing out of a translucent darkness, came to full fruition in the second half of the seventeenth century.
Their aesthetic power derives
from the contrast of powerful lines against a
black background, making them one of the most
effective means to appreciate the Tibetan mastery
of line work.
There is a range of variations
in the technique, beyond the boldness of gold lines over a black background, to large figures
and settings and a variety of colors, and orange,
Black paintings, a relatively
late appearance in Buddhist art, have added yet
another means by which artists can conjure up
visions of mysterious transcendent worlds. Like
the fierce deities who are often the subject matter
of these thangkas, the blackness signifies the
darkness of hate and ignorance as well as the
role these qualities have to play in the awakening
of clarity and truth.
Thangkas with black background
form a special category of contemplative paintings.
They are a highly mystical and esoteric type,
usually reserved for advanced practice. Black
is the color of hate, transmuted by the alchemy
of wisdom into compassion. Darkness represents
the imminence of the absolute, the threshold of
the experience. It is used for terrific ritual
actions, the radical conquest of evil in all its
forms - conquest not by annihilating, but by turning
even evil into good. Thus, in the black paintings
(T. nagtang) the black ground casts forth deities
in luminous visions of translucent colors.
Eternity, truth, devotion,
faith, purity, chastity, peace, spiritual and
intellectual life, these are some of the associations
that appear in many different cultures and express
a general feeling that blue is the coolest, most
detached and least "material" of all hues. The
Virgin Mary and Christ are often shown wearing
blue, and it is the attribute of many sky gods including Amun in Egypt, the Sumerian Great Mother,
the Greek Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans), the Hindu
Indra, Vishnu and his blue-skinned incarnation,
Krishna Radha Eternal Love | Painting by Manisha Srivastava
In Buddhism both light (sky
blue) and dark aspects of this mysterious color
are important. The significance of the light shade
is reflected in the supremacy of the semi-precious
stone turquoise in the daily spiritual and religious
life of the devout Buddhist, who holds various
beliefs about this stone. In general terms turquoise
is a symbol of the blue of the sea and the sky.
Infinity in the sky speaks of the limitless heights
of ascension. The stone is opaque as the earth,
yet it lifts the spirit high, laying bare to us
the wisdom of both the earth and the sky.
Key TakeawaysColors play an important role in Buddhist art, as they are used to convey specific meanings and symbolize different aspects of Buddhist teachings.Blue is often used in Buddhist art to represent the purity of the Buddha's mind and the tranquility of meditation.Yellow is associated with the Buddha's wisdom and compassion, as well as the sun and the earth.Red is a symbol of life force, passion, and energy, as well as the fire of purification.Green is often used to represent growth, fertility, and the natural world, as well as the energy of the Buddha's teachings.White is associated with purity, clarity, and the absence of delusion, and is often used to represent the Buddha himself.Black represents the absence of light and the unknown, and is sometimes used to represent the darker aspects of human nature.
Colors play an important role in Buddhist art, as they are used to convey specific meanings and symbolize different aspects of Buddhist teachings.
Blue is often used in Buddhist art to represent the purity of the Buddha's mind and the tranquility of meditation.
Yellow is associated with the Buddha's wisdom and compassion, as well as the sun and the earth.
Red is a symbol of life force, passion, and energy, as well as the fire of purification.
Green is often used to represent growth, fertility, and the natural world, as well as the energy of the Buddha's teachings.
White is associated with purity, clarity, and the absence of delusion, and is often used to represent the Buddha himself.
Black represents the absence of light and the unknown, and is sometimes used to represent the darker aspects of human nature.
Your email address will not be published *
Email a Friend