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Tibetan Buddhist flags - Part 1 (Tibet)

Last modified: 2017-09-29 by zoltán horváth
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Tibetan Buddhism can also be described as Lamaism or Vajrayana Buddhism. It is born in Tibet, but has spread to other Himalayan countries, western China, Mongolia, some part of Russia and even to the Caucasus with the Kalmyk people, and there are lots of Westerner worshipper too.
Corentin Chamboredon, 09 April 2007

Nyingmapa Order

[Nyingmapa Order of Tibetan Buddhism]
image by Corentin Chamboredon, 09 April 2014

Here is a flag presented as the flag of the Nyingmapa order of the Tibetan Buddhism. I found it in the Google's cache for a commercial website selling different Buddhist items. They told me it was really used as a religious order flag. It has a turquoise blue field. There is a very complicated central device. It is a piece of traditional Tibetan art, with different colours. On top there is a burning sword on an altar. Just in front of it we can see what I suppose to be a Tibetan book (in Tibet, books have a different shape than occidental ones, they are larger than longer and open backward and not leftward as ours). The altar is supported by lotus flowers and surrounded by green and blue leaves. There are also two birds on each side (green on the right, red on the left).  The lotus flowers root in the water. The final element is a red scroll with Tibetan script on the left and right, and the word NYINGMAPA in the center in Latin letters.
Corentin Chamboredon, 08 April 2007

I found what this symbol was in one of my book, The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols by Robert Beer, published by Serindia Publications in 2003. I have the French translation, but you can read it in Google Books here :
The said symbol is called the emblem of the three great Bodhisattvas. Here is its description (pp. 55-56) :
"The symbolic design of a lotus, book, and sword rising above a lake, and flanked by a double-headed duck and parrot, was first believed to have been painted upon a wall at Samye monastery in central Tibet by the great Sakya master, Sakya Pandita (1182-1251).
An alternative belief maintains that this motif first appeared as a cryptograph during the six-year reign (836-842) of the Bönpo king Langdarma, who suppressed Buddhism, destroyed many monasteries, and prohibited th artistic creation of Buddhist imagery. This cryptic or coded motif is both an insignia of the three great Bodhisattvas, and an emblem of the early transmission of the Buddhist teachings into Tibet.
As the emblem of the three great Bodhisattvas, Manjushri is represented by the lotus-borne book and wisdom sword, Avalokiteshvara by the double-headed orange and pink duck, and Vajrapani by the double-headed green parrot. These three Bodhisattvas represent the wisdom, compassion, and power aspects of the Buddha respectively, and are collectively know as the "Lords of the Three Families". The Tathagata Family of Manjushri transmutes ignorance, the Padma family of Avalokiteshvara transmute desire, and the Vajra Family of Vajrapani transmutes anger.
Five of the most important eighth century founders of the Tibetan Nyingma tradition are represented in this design, as the emblem of the first transmission of Buddhism into Tibet. The lake from which the lotus stem rises represents the great Indian Buddhist master Shantarakshita, the "Lake of Serenity", whos was invited into Tibet by King Trisong Detsen. The lotus represents the great Indian tantric master Padmasambhava, the "Lotus born", who was similarly invited by the king upon the recommendation of Shantarakshita. The book and flaming wisdom sword represent the great Tibetan Buddhist king Trisong Detsen (Tib. Khri-srong lde-btsan), who ruled Tibet between 754-797, and was considered to be an emanation of Manjushri. The two-headed duck represents the great Indian master and translator from Kashmir, Vimalamitra, who was also invited to Tibet by Trisong Detsen. The two-headed parrot represents the great Tibetan translator and disciple of Padmasambhava,
Vairocana. The two eyes and beaks of each bird, facing towards opposite directions, symbolize both the transmission of the Buddhist teachings from India into Tibet, and their translation from Sanskrit into Tibetan."
Corentin Chamboredon, 09 February 2014

I tried to make an image of this flag , but I couldn't find exactly the same emblem: the foliage is different, as is the water and some other details. Moreover, I noticed on the photograph I had found two Tibetan texts on each side of the central scroll. The text on the left means "early translation" (༈སྔ་འགྱུར།, wylie: snga 'gyur), a synonym for Nyingmapa. The text on the right simply means Nyingmapa in Tibetan script (རྙིང་མ་པ།, wylie: rnying ma pa). There are also three flaming jewels just above the scroll.
Corentin Chamboredon, 09 April 2014

I found a very similar emblem what you are looking for. It is depicted on a book cover.
Zoltan Horvath, 09 April 2014

I had already seen it, but I wasn't satisfied with that one too. Moreover, I had a look on the very few photos showing this flag I could find. Despite the small size of the flag on it, I could see that the design was sometimes different from the flag I had reported: the parrot's tail is sometimes longer, the silk behind the birds waves more or less straightly. This emblem is a piece of traditional art, and as such I guess its look may vary somewhat according to the artist who make it.
Corentin Chamboredon, 09 April 2014


[Drigung-Kagyü of Tibetan Buddhism]
located by Corentin Chamboredon, 09 February 2014

Well, here is a flag used by the Drigung sub-school of the Kagyü school of Tibetan buddhism. I found some photos of it, taken in a Drigung center in Taiwan :
The flag is made of three parts. The first quarter is the Hung symbol of the Drigung sub-school on a red field. The Hung symbol is made of a red circle for the sun, a white crescent representing the moon, and the syllable Hung in blue. The third quarter has five vertical stripes (from left to right : purple, white, red, yellow, blue), and the right half of the flag has five honrizontal stripes of the same colours (from top to bottom : blue, yellow, red, white, purple). The red used in the stripes is different of the one used for the Hung symbol. I send an image as rel_drig.jpg.

The website of the school explains its meanings :
"The Outer Meaning
The sun and moon symbolize the Physician of Dagpo and Rechungpa, the sun-and moon-like heart sons of the Great Jetsun Milarepa, the crown jewel of the Practice Lineage in the Land of Snow; it is symbolized that the sun-and moon-like Kagyud gurus bless one's mind.
The syllable Hung in the center of the logo symbolizes the seal of the Drigung Kyura clan. It is popularly known that this seal, which is the syllable Hung, was among the many divine substances that descended with Kyura Namchen Karpo, the trailblazer of the Kyura clan, when he was dropped onto earth from heaven by the gods. Until today, the syllable Hung has been the royal seal of the Drigung lineage. As legend goes, people who knew its great significance considered even ordinary documents as a protection Chakra if it had the Hung seal on it. They believed that the seal was able to dispel the harms and curses caused by gods, ghosts, demons, obstructers, enemies, and dacoits, and always kept the sealed documents close to their bodies. For this purpose the hung became designed as a seal.

Inner Meaning
The white moon is Achi Chokyi Drolma in essence, the Dharma protectress of the Drigung Kaygud Lineage. The deep blue Hung Syllable symbolizes Mahakala, the Lord of Primordial Wisdom. The red sun symbolizes Dharmapala Tseumar. The three of them together symbolize that Achi, Mahakala, and Dharmapala protect the Buddha-dharma.

Secret Meaning
On the moon-seat of bodhicitta, the blue Hung syllable symbolizes Chakrasamvara's essence, which is the "aspect of clarity" as skilful means. The red sun symbolizes Vajrayogini's essence, which is the "aspect of emptiness" as wisdom. The two together symbolize the co-emergent father and mother, the union of skilful means and wisdom, which is the essence of Sambhogakaya form.

The Absolute Meaning
The blue Hung syllable symbolizes the minds of the Buddhas of the three times. It has the nature of space, which is blue, clear, unceasing, empty, and brilliant. In essence it is the Dharmakaya, the nature of reality-as-it-is, which is beyond the scope of words, thoughts, and expressions.
The circle [at the top of the syllable] symbolizes Akshobya and the dharmadhatu wisdom. The crescent moon symbolizes Vairocana and the mirror-like wisdom. The top symbolizes Ratnasambhava and the equality wisdom. The letter HA symbolizes Amitabha and the discriminating wisdom. The Aa and U symbolize Amoghasiddhi and the activity accomplishing wisdom. Thus the syllable Hung in essence represents the five Buddha families."
Corentin Chamboredon, 09 February 2014

See also:


[Drukpa-Kagyü of Tibetan Buddhism]
image by Zoltan Horvath, 18 February 2014

Here is another flag, which belongs to the Drukpa subschool of the Kagyü school. I don't know if it represents the Gyalwang Drukpa, the leader of the Drukpa school in Tibet (as this school is state religion in Bhutan, Bhutanese have their own leader), or the Choegon Rinpoche, another important Drukpa figure who was visiting in China. It could also just be an alternative flag of the school.
The flag has the same layout as the Drukpa flag. It has two horizontal stripes (blue and red), but instead of a dragon, there is the drukpa logo: two dragons holding a dharmachakra, standing on a lotus arising from clouds. A yellow scroll with Tibetan script is on the bottom. Above the dharmachakra there are the three flaming jewels. The flag lacks the knot and the wheel which respectively appear in the lower hoist and upper fly sides.
The sources I have found show this flag in three locations: in Tsechu monastery near Nangchen (Qinghai province, China), in Ladakh (India) and at Tay Thien stupa (Vietnam).
Corentin Chamboredon, 17 February 2014


[Karma-Kagyü of Tibetan Buddhism]
image by Corentin Chamboredon, 14 April 2014

Here are some informations about the flags of the Karma-Kagyü school of Tibetan buddhism. First, I have discovered on His Holiness the XVIIth Karmapa's blog that there was a construction sheet for the flag of his school. The flag is in fact longer than the one shown at this page, and the colors are a little different.
The colors are :
Blue : Pantone 3005 C (RGB 0, 122, 194)
Yellow : Pantone 116 C (RGB 242, 217, 16)

Construction sheet:

[Karma-Kagyü of Tibetan Buddhism]
image by Corentin Chamboredon, 14 April 2014

Sources :
Corentin Chamboredon, 14 April 2014

Zurmang Kagyü school

[Zurmang Kagyü school]
image by Corentin Chamboredon, 17 November 2014

Here is a flag used by one of the numerous sub-school of the Kagyü school. Zurmang is, according to Wikipedia, a sub-school of the Karma Kagyü. (One can get lost very easily among all these buddhist schools, and spelling variations don't help...) It is a horizontal bicolor (light blue, yellow). In the middle, there is the logo of the school: a green leaf with a yellow wheel, surrounded by what looks like a green laurel crown. Beneath the logo, there is the name of the school in green, in Tibetan script (ཟུར་མང་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད།, Wylie: zur mang ka rgyud).
Corentin Chamboredon, 17 November 2014

Kagyü Mönlam Chenmo

[Karma-Kagyü of Tibetan Buddhism]
image by Corentin Chamboredon, 14 April 2014

Then, I have found an image of a flag used during the Kagyü Mönlam Chenmo. This event is a religious festival apparently open to other Kagyüpa subschools, as Mönlam Chenmo means "great prayer". It was founded by His Holiness the XVIIth Karmapa:
"Each needs to grasp the other’s hand. So doesn’t the Monlam logo look like two hands clasping each other? Its shape is also similar to the design of the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa’s Dream Flag of peace and serenity, which is used regularly among the Karma Kamtsang. If I were to make up everything myself, I doubt it would have any blessings, but using the previous Karmapa’s design as a model probably gives this blessing."
The flag has a blue field with a yellow swirling emblem, which is the logo of the Kagyü Mönlam. The photo of the flag shows it with the upper tip of the logo near the hoist, but everywhere else the logo has its upper tip on the right. Therefore, the flag is probably supposed to have the hoist on its right.
Corentin Chamboredon, 14 April 2014

There seems to be another flag on the wall behind, blue with a large yellow Wheel of Dharma within a red border.
Tomislav Todorović, 15 April 2014

I saw it too, but as long as I don't see it flying at a pole or a staff, I will consider it as mere decoration. Tibetan buddhism is very fond of religious paintings and decorations which may look very similar to a flag, but are not flags.
Corentin Chamboredon, 15 April 2014