As our interest in the Buddha’s teachings deepen, it’s not unusual to want to bring Buddhist concepts into every aspect of our life, including the type of jewelry we wear. The most common forms of Buddhist jewelry worn by men and women are pendant necklaces depicting the Buddha or other auspicious Buddhist symbols.
In Buddhism we’re taught that external possessions and objects cannot bring us lasting happiness. However, if we purchase Dharma items with the intention to elevate our practice, this kind of materialism could be said to be a form of skillful means, as the item can remind us to practice more spiritual qualities like compassion and tolerance in our daily life. Then over time our continued practice actually becomes a cause of awakening and ever-lasting happiness.
Although materialism is not something we would normally associate with spirituality, some Buddhist teachers have cautioned their students about the dangers of it entering ones’ practice. The Tibetan Buddhist master, Chögyam Trungpa, famously coined the term ‘spiritual materialism’ when he wrote the book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. He explained in great detail how many practitioners make the mistake of using spirituality to reinforce their individuality and ego-grasping. Suddenly, our spiritual practice which is designed to reduce our egocentricity only seems to fuel it, because the ego has a way of turning everything to its advantage. This happens more easily than we think: it can take the form of feeling great pride in our spiritual experiences, attending the highest teachings from famous teachers simply to say we were there, or thinking that we are spiritual merely because of the spiritual paraphernalia we surround ourselves with.
When purchasing Dharma items, there is a real danger that we could use such items to further fortify our identity as a Buddhist, and place too much identification on the label of being a Buddhist rather than what it actually means to be Buddhist. Basically our spiritual teachers, teachings and practices (as well as practice items or clothing), should never become adornments that bolster our pride and take us even further into the clutches of ego and self-grasping. Instead, everything on the Buddhist path is meant to soften our heart and mind, and reduce our selfish grasping, so that we become more kind, compassionate and more aware of the basic Buddhist principles in daily life (such as the Four Noble Truths).
To be a Buddhist practitioner means to look at ways of practicing and developing our spiritual qualities in every situation that we find ourselves in throughout the day. It’s not enough to have a theoretical understanding of the teachings, a head full of knowledge or the ability to translate the Pali scriptures. The effect of the teachings has to be like pouring sweet milk into water – it must mix completely with our mind so that there is no separation of the Buddhist principles and our life. If the teachings or practices are not helping us to be more mindful, humble, tolerant and kind, but only reinforces our ego, then we need to take a closer look at how we’re integrating (or failing to integrate) the practices into our lives.
When it comes to purchasing Buddhist items for ourselves, the highest purpose is so it can act as a reminder to help deepen our practice. In fact, Buddhist teachers often give their students pendants (like the ones below) for that very reason. And if we purchase such items for others, just by virtue of the image alone, it can become a wonderfully meaningful and auspicious gift to give.
Below is a short explanation of some of the Buddhist imagery you might find on Buddhist pendants, rings or earrings and what they mean, as well as some items available on Amazon.
Buddha – Wearing images of the Buddha can remind us to be more Buddha-like in all our daily activities. It may encourage us to be more patient, kind in our speech and mindful of cultivating thoughts of peace and non-violence.
While we can purchase pendants of just the Buddha’s head and hands, I usually suggest purchasing ones that depict the whole of his body due to the importance of the symbolism. In most cases, the Buddha will be depicted in meditation posture or the earth-touching posture, which symbolizes the time the Buddha called the Earth to witness, prior to his Enlightenment.
Just as a lotus grows from the muddy pond, the lotus symbolizes that our spiritual qualities can blossom even amidst the mud of suffering and Samsara. Irrespective of the difficulties we face in life, we always have a choice to practice wholesome positive states of mind, like tolerance and compassion. And just as it takes time and effort for that lotus to grow out of the darkness and mud, with a bit of diligence and joyous effort, our mind can grow into something beautiful and bright and become a source of our awakening.
In Buddhist imagery, Buddhas and bodhisattvas are often seated or standing on lotuses. This symbolizes that just as the muddy water doesn’t adhere to the lotus petals but rolls off easily, Buddhas and bodhisattvas can remain in Samsara to benefit sentient beings without being touched or polluted by its faults (due to their purified mind and attainments).
Wheel of Dharma – Wearing the Wheel of Dharma can be an important reminder of all the Buddha’s teachings in general and may even bring power to our speech when sharing the Buddha’s teachings with others.
The Wheel of Dharma (also known as the Dharmachakra) symbolizes the Buddha’s teachings. Most common is the wheel with eight spokes which represents the Noble Eightfold Path (practicing Right View, Right Action, Right Mindfulness, etc.). Sometimes the wheel’s center is separated into three parts; these usually represent the Three Jewels (the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha). The circular shape of the wheel may also symbolize the doctrine of continued rebirth until one attains awakening. The Buddha was said to have an impression of a thousand-spoke wheel on each of his soles of his hands and feet. The Wheel of Dharma is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols connected with the Buddha.
Eternal Knot – This is another of the Eight Auspicious Symbols connected with the Buddha. It represents the Buddha’s mind and the eternal continuum of mind (that our mind has neither beginning nor end).
OM MANI PADME HUNG – These Sanskrit syllables make up the sacred mantra of compassion. There are many benefits for reciting this mantra, but its primary function is to awaken and cultivate greater compassion within oneself.
Vajra – Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning thunderbolt or diamond. It is also a ritual object used in Vajrayana Buddhism to symbolize the indestructibility of one’s compassion. Wearing a vajra can remind us to practice compassion in all situations.
A double vajra symbolizes the principle of absolute stability. Often a double vajra will be printed on meditation cushions to symbolize the stability attained through one’s meditation.
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