The Significance of Gold in Buddhism: All That Glitters
Thailand is awash with gold everywhere you look. The towering Big Buddha, shining golden temples and golden and glinting jewelry shops on every street. But why is there so much and where does the significance of gold in Buddhism come from?
The significance of different materials is incredibly important in Buddhist culture, and none more so than gold. Gold is not only a major noticeable decoration in Thailand but across all Buddhist nations. In the western world we covet gold because of its rarity, price and aesthetic properties. This is, of course, partly the same in Thailand. But there are far deeper meanings too.
The Symbol of Fire
The main symbolism of gold is either the sun or fire. The sun is one of the purest and most revered energy sources in our solar system and is regularly recognized in Buddhism. It is considered inappropriate and dishonorable to mix gold with other metals or (in the case of painting) other colors. If the natural brilliance of gold is tainted with other materials then it is spoilt and therefore the highest of qualities is required to maintain purity.
As Seen On Temples
Explore any Buddhist temple or sanctuary and you’ll see gold. This has been the case for as long as the Buddhist faith has existed. Statues in particular have always been adorned with gold. In these cases, some are either covered in very fine gold leaf or are completely gilded in gold. If you really want to see the real deal then make the temples of Bangkok!
The Ashtamangala is a collection of 8 divine symbols found in Buddhism. They are;
- The Jewelled Parasol
- The Wheel of Law
- The Banner Flag
- The Endless Knot
- The Conch Shell
- The Lotus Flower
- The Treasure Vase
- The Pair of Golden Fish
These symbols are found around all traditional temples and in many adherents houses. Three of the symbols are directly associated with gold. The Wheel of Law (traditionally known as the Dharma Chakra) is an eight spoked wheel that represents Buddha’s eightfold path to enlightenment. These are golden in color to signify the purity of one’s belief.
The traditionally white/pink and yellow lotus flower takes on a golden form to symbolize the purity of one’s body and spirit whilst floating amongst the world of desire. It’s essentially a reminder that one cannot gain happiness through material goods.
Finally the two fish, generally depicted as a type of carp, usually face each other to form a circle with their bodies. They are always presented with golden paint, gilded or made entirely of gold. Significantly, they represent the two main sacred rivers in India, the Ganges and the Yamuna.
Buddhists and Gold
Gold has always been important to Buddhists. From the benevolent grins on Buddha statues to the gilded stupas glinting against the deep blue of the Asian sky, gold is omnipresent.
Put simply, gold is the universal symbol for happiness, purity, enlightenment and freedom. Traits and feelings that everyone desires.
Gold in Buddhism Insider Tip
You’ll definitely come across a Tibetan singing bowl on your souvenir trips. These might have a golden color, especially around the rim, but are actually made of seven different metals each with a different symbolism for a different planet. Gold, of course, represents the sun. They’re great as a memory or keepsake but also serve as a concentration device during meditation.