Meanings Of Different Colours In Tibetan Buddhism

August 31, 2017

Meanings Of Different Colours In Tibetan Buddhism

The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colors the most.

                                                                                                          John Ruskin

All of the colours used in Tibetan art and its rituals hold specific meanings.  In the Buddhist tradition the colours are seen as gateways into the wisdom of enlightenment. 

The principle colours involved in Buddhism are Blue, Black, White, Red, Green, and Yellow, and each colour except for Black are aligned to a specific Buddha. These colours each signify a virtue and a character.

Lets see what these colours represent in Buddhism.


Associated with the Akshobhya Buddha and the healer Blue Buddha. Blue represents tranquility, ascension, the infinite, purity, and healing. Over all, the colour represents wisdom.The light blue speaks of the limitless heights of ascension simultaneously; it embodies the duality of living and dying.


White is representative of the principles of purity, as in Western Culture, but it is also considered the color of knowledge and longevity. White is associated with the Buddha Vairocana.


The colour red symbolizes life-force, preservation, fire, and sacred things or places. Red is associated with the Buddha Amitabha. Throughout Tibetan culture, red is a marker of sacred areas. This colour is also seen on the garments of the monks. It is believed to be a protective colour, like that of shamanistic wards.


Green denotes youth, vigor, action (Karma), and harmony. It also represents balance and is associated visually with the lush trees. Green is associated with the Buddha Amoghasiddhi.


Yellow is the colour that possesses the highest symbolic quality because of the saffron colour of the monks robes. It was chosen as a symbol of humility and separation from materialistic society. It symbolizes renunciation. Because it is also the colour of the earth, yellow denotes stability and grounded nature. It is a sign of humility.This colour was chosen by Gautama Buddha.

colours in buddhism

 These Five Pure Lights are often seen in Mandala and Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags and mani stones at mountaintop which you can see everywhere in Tibet. The colours may vary, but there is always a set of five.


In addition to this, there is the Buddhist concept of the “rainbow body. The rainbow body represents the idea of transformation into pure light. It is said to be the highest state attainable in the realm of samsara before the “clear light” of Nirvana. As the spectrum contains within itself all possible manifestations of light, and thus of colour, the rainbow body signifies the awakening of the inner self to the complete reservoir of terrestrial knowledge that it is possible to access before stepping over the threshold to the state of Nirvana. Understandably, when depicted in the visual arts, due to the profusion of colours, the result is spectacularly unique.

What is the significance of the Red and Yellow colour in Buddhism?

Traveling in Tibet, hardly can you find red and yellow colours for ornament of ordinary Tibetans’ houses. But if you visit Tibetan monasteries, these two colours are widely used and the red or yellow are also considered to be orthodox for Tibetan monks’ clothing.

 buddhist monks

Today, Tibetan Buddhist monks normally wear red costumes. Yellow ones are seldom worn. Dark red costumes are frequently seen in Tibet because it’s Tibetan Buddhism’s special color.


Red Colour and Tibetan Buddhism

 No one knows for sure why red colour is preferred by Tibetans. However, two explanations are generally accepted. First one is that as the early Tibetans are entirely nomads and generally adapt themselves to both nomadic and farming life, the meat (yak, sheep, etc.) they eat are known to be red. As time goes time, the red colour becomes one of their favoured colours.

Another belief has something to do with religion. According to Bon, indigenous religion of Tibet, the universe is made up of three realms, i.e. God, Mankind, and Ghost. To shield from ghost’ harassment or evil spirits, Tibetans apply red mineral substance on their face. Such religious tradition is still kept with a fine twist. Instead of be spread on one’s face, red colour is painted on the wall of holy Buddhist halls that houses the tombs of prominent monks (such as Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama, etc.) A good case in point is the red palace of Potala Palace which protects the tombs of successive Dalai Lamas.

 Yellow Colour and Tibetan Buddhism 

A number of yellow temples, nunneries or meditation halls can also be found in Tibet. The earliest yellow architecture dates back to the “Buzi Golden Palace”, built by Songtsen Gampo in Samye Monastery. It’s has been a tradition that only the prestigious monasteries or residence of eminent monks can be coated with yellow colour. Therefore, you can find yellow on Qangba Buddha hall of Drepung Monastery, main building of Mindrolling Monastery, etc.


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