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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Buddhist Flag

A flag designed by Henry Steel Olcott (co-founder of the Theosophical Society) and other members of the Theosophical Society in February, 1885, and which has since become the official flag of Buddhism in many parts of the world today. In 1952, it was adopted as the International Buddhist Flag by the World Buddhist Congress.

Buddhist FlagThe idea originated in a gathering of members of Theosophical Society in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There is some confusion as to whether it was in February 1885 or 1886 because Olcott apparently described events of both years in the same chapter. Col. Olcott in his memoirs Old Diary Leaves, Vol. III, 1883-1887, (Chennai: TPH, 1904 & 1972, pp. 363-4) wrote:

It was at this time that our Colombo colleagues had the happy thought of devising a flag which could be adopted by all Buddhist nations as the universal symbol of their faith, thus serving the same purpose as that of the cross does for all Christians. . . . Our Colombo brothers had hit upon the quite original and unique idea of blending in the flag the six colors alleged to have been exhibited in the aura of the Buddha, viz., sapphire-blue, golden-yellow, crimson, white, scarlet, and a hue composed of the others blended. The adoption of this model avoided all possible causes of dispute among Buddhists, as all, without distinction, accept the same tradition as to the Buddha’s personal appearance and that of his aura: moreover, the flag would have no political meaning whatever, but be strictly religious. As the Colombo Committee had sketched the flag, it was of the inconvenient shape of a ship’s long, streaming pennant, which would be quite unsuitable for carrying in processions or fixing in rooms. My suggestion that it should be made of the usual shape and size of national flags was adopted, and when we had had a sample made, it was unanimously approved of. . . . From Ceylon it has since found its way through the Buddhist world.

The flag consists of six large vertical stripes, with the sixth one composed of the short vertical stripes that repeated the colors of the five vertical stripes. The commonly accepted colors and their symbolism are follows:

Blue: Loving kindness, peace and compassion

Yellow: The Middle Path: avoidance of extremes, absence of form, emptiness

Red: Blessings: achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity

White: Purity that leads to liberation

Orange: Buddha’s teachings: full of wisdom, strength and dignity

V.H.C./P.S.H.

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