Last modified: 2016-06-08 by rob raeside
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image by António Martins-Tuválkin 27 November 2001
It has blue-yellow-red-white-orange vertical stripes, each 1/6 of the distance from the hoist. The sixth stripe (?) consists of 5 horizontal stripes of the same color starting from the
top. The right hand vertical orange stripe merges with the bottom horizontal orange stripe. This is the flag depicted on the FLAG CHART published by Shipmate and authenticated by the Flag Research Center.
William Grimes-Wyatt 22 January 1996
The Blue light that radiated from the Buddha's hair symbolises the spirit of Universal Compassion for all beings.
The Yellow light that radiated from the Buddha's epidermis symbolises the Middle Way which avoids all extremes and brings balance and liberation.
The Red light that radiated from the Buddha's flesh symbolises the blessings that the practice of the Buddha's Teaching brings.
The White light that radiated from the Buddha's bones and teeth symbolises the purity of the Buddha's Teaching and the liberation it brings.
The Orange light that radiated from the Buddha's palms, heels and lips symbolises the unshakable Wisdom of the Buddha's Teaching.
The Combination Colour symbolises the universality of the Truth of the Buddha's Teaching.
Therefore, the overall flag represents that regardless of race, nationality, division or colour, all sentient beings possess the potential of Buddhahood.
From http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/4886/flag.htm, located by Dov Gutterman, 9 April 1999
"FLAG is a recurring item of Buddhist cult, dangling from the ceiling or temples' columns inside, or from a pole outside. Flags represent Buddha's virtues and mark out for him, in the same manner the military flags signalize the army's chief; flags also stand guard at Buddha's pictures. Buddhist scriptures list five types of flags: lion's, Makara monster's, dragon's, Garuda bird's, bull's. Flag is a traditional offering to Buddha by the devouts, together with flowers and incense. At the same time flag represents the virtues of Buddha and the virtues the devout wants to obtain, therefore flag has a very important ritual meaning: it can prolong devout's life in order to let him/her increases his/her merits. This is the case of Indian Emperor Asoka (272-231 B.C.) who lived 12 years more after a serious illness so he could build new other reliquaries (stupa). A flag dangling into a temple at the moment of a devout's death, adds merits to him/her and even makes him/her be born again in on of Buddha's paradises. In fact flags are ornaments of famous Buddha Amithaba's paradise. In Tantric Buddhism adepts' head is touched by a flag, as it was an unction."from "Enciclopedia delle Religioni", Garzanti, Milano 1989 (Italian translation of "Knaurs grosser Religion Führer", München 1986)
Many people, including Buddhists, believe that their flag dates back to the time of Dutugamunu (second-century BC). In fact, the flag was invented in 1880 by an American journalist, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott. Olcott was a fascinating character. A former soldier and lawyer, he set up the Theosophical Society of New York. He arrived in Sri Lanka with the renowned spiritualist Madame Blavatsky on 17 February 1880 - a day which was subsequently celebrated as Olcott Day in independent Sri Lanka. He founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society, devised a Buddhist catechism, encouraged Buddhist versions of Christmas carols and cards, and inspired the founding of Buddhist schools and and the YMBA - the Young Men's Buddhist Association. There are six colours in the flag, but the human eye can see only five. They are described in the Scriptures as emanating from the aura around the Buddha's head. There are 5 vertical stripes of red, yellow, blue, white and orange. The sixth colour is a compound of the first 5, but for design purposes its five ingredients are all shown in small horizontal stripes on the fly.
Olcott felt that local Buddhists in Sri Lanka needed a symbol to rally around. His flag achieved that: it became the emblem of the international Buddhist movement and is flown today worldwide in Buddhist buildings and at Buddhist celebrations. When he died in 1907, Olcott's body was shrouded in both the Buddhist and American flags before his cremation.
An Introduction to Buddhism, Peter Harvey, CUP, 1990
Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka, Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Princetown UP, 1988
A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism, Christmas Humphreys, Curzon, 1984
The World of Buddhism, Bechert & Gombrich, Thames & Hudson, 1984
David Cohen, 23 July 1997
I also visited the Buddhist Society of Western Australia during my research. Several members told me that they have seen various combinations of the colour scheme of the Buddhist flag at various locations around the world. There doesn't seem to be a definite order of the colours - they said that it can vary from country to country.
David Cohen, 23 July 1997
I have been told by local Buddhists that the flag is not universal, but
belongs to the Theravada sect. I believe he was indicating that the flag is not used in the same way as the
Christian, Papal, and Episcopal flags, etc.
Lee Herold, 20 December 2000
The different "ways" of Buddhism are the "Theravada" of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, and the "Mahayana" of
Vietnam, Tibet, China, Korea, and Japan, which some subdivide further. My understanding is that the 1885 flag represents all of
them, though I don't recall seeing it in Japan.
Al Kirsch, 20 December 2000
One of my customers brought in a prayer flag this week and was explaining its
meaning and how it works. The flags are unhemmed, and as they unravel the
prayers are carried by the wind.
Rick Wyatt, 12 September 2009
The problem with this banner is that it usually does not look like a 'regular' banner. Inside the temples, the banner is made of a long vertical cylinder wrapped with pieces of colour fabric which look exactly like ties, usually hanging from the temple ceiling. The banner of victory is also placed very often on the roofs and terraces of the monasteries, as (multi)coloured cylinders often topped with a trident.
This message ends my series about flags in Ladakh and Zanskar. I have
tried to report and explain everything flag-related I saw there. Once
again, my interpretations are probably flawed by my limited knowledge of
Tibetan Buddhism. I thank Ms. Lobsang Darmla, our local young guide in
Leh, who answered with competence and knowledge to all our questions
about Buddhism, including the most fanciful. Her discrete generosity and
beautiful smile, added to her deep religious knowledge, should remain
among the strongest remembrances of my travel.
Ivan Sache, 31 August 2001
Master Lu Sheng-Yen is a self-styled 'living Buddha' who eats meat and
drinks alcohol, thereby considered a heretic by mainstream Buddhism.
Miles Li, 12 April 2001
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 19 December 2010
A six-colored variant of the Buddhist flag replaces a single orange field
with two fields in light and dark shades of orange, respectively. Its only photo
to be found so far is at Flickr:
www.flickr.com/photos/globerunner/13579978/. Unfortunately, only the date
when the photo was taken is given on the page - 2004-07-17 - but no info about
the place, so the true origin of the flag remains unknown. It could even be
designed by the very person who took the photo. Regardless of that, it is
obviously meant to be a Buddhist flag.
Tomislav Todorovic, 19 December 2010
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 18 March 2012
A vertical variant of the "standard" Buddhist flag can be seen on a photo at
http://vexil.prov.free.fr/vietnam/vietnam.html. The flag was used at the
Trân Quôc temple in Hanoi, along with the much more common horizontal
variant. It is yet to be seen whether it exists in Vietnam only; that is
probably not the case, considering that the basic design is internationally
used and that a similar flag, differing only in color set, was created
independently in Japan, so the flag might
have been independently introduced at different places.
Tomislav Todorovic, 18 March 2012
Another photo of the same flag, taken at the coast of West Lake, Hanoi, on
2011-01-02, can be seen at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/37423935@N00/5390294774. Another photo from
Hanoi, taken on 2010-02-12 at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/amyogeek/4434537375 shows two vertical flags,
hoisted with vertical orange field at the hoist, the opposite of the practice
seen elsewhere, together with a "standard" horizontal flag, hoisted correctly.
So far, all examples of this flag's use have been from Vietnam, where vertical variants of important flags, like the national flag or that of the Communist Party, seem to be quite popular. The use of this flag outside Vietnam is still to be verified.
Tomislav Todorovic, 29 June 2014
image by Tomislav Todorovic, 7 July 2014
Another vertical variant also exists, with swallow-tailed ending and hung
of a crossbar, much like the German Banner (Bannerfahne). It was
photographed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on 2009-01-27:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/nguyen_ngoc_chinh/3232943638 and in
Cambodia, exact location not specified, on 2013-09-20:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/91836905@N08/10299963943. This verifies
the use of Buddhist flags in vertical format outside Vietnam, in Southeast
Asia at least. The use in other regions is yet to be verified.
Tomislav Todorovic, 7 July 2014
Rectangular vertical flags hung from crossbars, much like the German
Banner (Bannerfahne), are hoisted along the road leading to the Sri Dalada
Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth), in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photos currently
available on the Web were taken on
2013-08-14. This verifies the use of Buddhist flags in vertical format
outside Southeast Asia.
Tomislav Todorovic, 19 February 2016