Symbolism of Stupa

Exploring the Symbolism of Deities At Four Directions of the Tibetan Stupa

Placing deities or enlightened representations has great significance in the rich symbolism of Buddhist architecture. A stupa is a holy building in Buddhism that often contains several Buddhas or Bodhisattvas embodied at its cardinal points.

In Buddhist iconography, the stupa focuses on devotion and meditation and symbolizes the Buddha's enlightened mind. In the stupa's cardinal directions are images of four important , each embodying unique attributes and characteristics.

Usually shown among them are Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi, each with their spiritual qualities and symbolism. The layers of importance buried within these depictions are revealed as this article explores the meanings behind their placement at the stupa's four orientations.

Akshobhya: The Immovable

The name Akshobhya, which means "Immovable" or "Unshakable," is connected to the east. Abhirati, the "Land of Joy," is his kingdom, where people are free from hate and rage. He is a symbol of change brought about by perseverance and steadfast commitment.




Indestructible nature

Blue Color

Purity of mind


Direction of enlightenment

Symbolism of Akshobhya

  • Vajra: Frequently shown clutching a vajra, Akshobhya represents the unbreakable quality of enlightenment and the ability to surmount challenges. The vajra symbolizes the indestructible and unalterable aspect of ultimate reality, which has a hardness akin to a diamond. Because the vajra is thought to be able to cut through ignorance and delusion, it also represents the transformation of negative emotions into wisdom.
  • Blue Color: His skin is usually shown as blue, signifying an unadulterated mental state devoid of defects. In Buddhist symbolism, blue is connected to the sky and stands for openness and boundlessness. In the context of Akshobhya, the color blue represents the infinite possibilities for enlightenment and the wide breadth of understanding.

Significance in Stupa Placement:

  • Transformation through Steadfastness: Akshobhya symbolizes converting bad feelings into wisdom with steadfast willpower. 
  • Direction of Enlightenment: Orienting him towards the east of the stupa represents the dawn of enlightenment and the start of the path leading to freedom. 

Invoked to purge bad karma and create an unwaveringly committed mind to enlightenment, Akshobhya is revered in Buddhist meditation. The dawn of awakening is symbolized by the east, where the sun rises and casts light. Therefore, Akshobhya, located on the eastern side of the stupa, represents the start of the road leading to liberation and encourages practitioners to follow it with unwavering will and commitment. 

Ratnasambhava: The Jewel-Born

Ratnasambhava means "Jewel-Born," and he rules over the south. His domain is Vairochana, the "Land of Illumination," where creatures are encrusted with gems representing compassion and knowledge. Equanimity and charity are attributes that Ratnasambhava personifies.




Wealth of wisdom and compassion

Yellow Color

Richness of the earth


Direction of equanimity and generosity

Symbolism of Ratnasambhava

  • Jewel: Ratnasambhava is frequently seen clutching a gem, signifying the abundance of knowledge and kindness he bestows on his devotees. The gem symbolizes realizing one's own Buddha nature or the enlightened richness that each human being has. It also represents the value of the Buddha's teachings, which shed light on the way to emancipation.
  • Yellow Color: His skin is yellow, representing the earth's abundance and the ideal environment for spiritual development. Since yellow is related to the sun, it stands for warmth, plenty, and life. The color yellow in the context of Ratnasambhava represents the fullness of compassion and the richness of understanding that permeates the enlightened mind.

 Importance of Stupa Positioning: 

  • Generosity Cultivation: Understanding one's own inner richness of enlightenment and practicing generosity are linked to Ratnasambhava. 
  • Spiritual Abundance Direction: Orienting Ratnasambhava towards the south of the stupa represents the profusion of spiritual riches accessible to individuals who follow the path of enlightenment. 

Ratnasambhava is prayed to in Buddhist practice to develop compassion and calmness. The south represents the pinnacle of spiritual achievement, where the sun shines brightest and reaches its highest. He, located on the southern side of the stupa, therefore symbolizes the wealth of spiritual gifts that await people who follow the road of waking, encouraging practitioners to develop compassion and serenity in their own lives.

    Amitabha: The Infinite Light

    The "Infinite Light," Amitabha, rules over the western direction. Sukhavati, the "Pure Land of Bliss," is his domain, where creatures live in boundless happiness and peace. Amitabha is the embodiment of ambition and compassion.

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    Purity and potential for enlightenment

    Red Color

    Warmth of compassion


    Direction of aspiration and bliss

    Symbolism of Amitabha

    • Lotus: Amitabha is frequently shown sitting on a lotus throne, signifying purity and the capacity for enlightenment in all living things. The path from ignorance to enlightenment is symbolized by the lotus, which emerges from the muck but is not marred by it. It represents the enlightened mind's untarnished state, free from samsara's impurities.
    • Red Color: His crimson skin symbolizes the warmth of love that shines in sentient creatures' hearts. Since red is connected to fire in Buddhist imagery, it stands for the transformational potential of compassion and knowledge. The color red in the context of Amitabha represents the sincere desire to bring all creatures to a state of less suffering and to guide them toward freedom.

     Importance of Stupa Positioning: 

    • Compassion Cultivation: Amitabha is linked to the cultivation of compassion and the desire to lessen the suffering of all living things. 
    • Path of Transcendence: Amitabha's placement towards the west of the stupa represents the passage from this world to the world of transcendence, encouraging practitioners to strive for the ultimate state of emancipation. 

    In Buddhist practice, Amitabha is called upon to foster aspiration and compassion. The west represents the conclusion of the cycle of birth and death, where the sun sets and the day ends. The deity, located on the western side of the stupa, symbolizes the passage from this world to the metaphysical realm and encourages practitioners to strive for the ultimate state of nirvana.

      Amoghasiddhi: The Unfailing Accomplisher

      The "Unfailing Accomplisher," Amoghasiddhi, rules over the North. His domain is Karmaraja, the "Land of Action," where creatures succeed by their goals and good acts. 




      Cutting through delusion and ignorance

      Green Color

      Vitality and growth of wisdom


      Direction of fearlessness and action

      Symbolism of Amoghasiddhi

      • Sword: Amoghasiddhi is the epitome of bravery and self-determination. The sword frequently used to represent him represents the ability to cut through ignorance and delusion to unveil the truth. It is a symbol for the ability to vanquish ignorance's darkness and conquer challenges. It represents the quick decision-making needed to reach enlightenment.
      • Green Color: His green complexion symbolizes the life force of the natural world and the development of wisdom through deeds. Since green is connected to trees in Buddhist iconography, it stands for fertility and plenty of the natural world. The color green in the context of Amoghasiddhi represents the fruitfulness of virtue and the blooming of insight. 

      Importance of Stupa Positioning: 

      • Cultivation of Fearlessness: By taking decisive action and being fearless in the face of difficulty, Amoghasiddhi symbolizes the accomplishment of spiritual practice. 
      • The placement of Amoghasiddhi in the stupa's northward direction represents the completion of spiritual goals by bravery, encouraging practitioners to overcome obstacles on their way to emancipation.  

      Amoghasiddhi is called upon in Buddhist practice to foster bravery and resolute action. The North, with its bitter cold and harsh environment, represents the difficulties and roadblocks one faces on the way to enlightenment.

      The deity, located on the northern side of the stupa, symbolizes the achievement of spiritual practice via resolute action and encourages practitioners to develop bravery and determination as they overcome obstacles en route to emancipation.

      Every heavenly Buddha has unique attributes and traits that lead followers to enlightenment. Devotees are motivated to develop characteristics like steadfastness, serenity, compassion, and fearlessness in their spiritual practice as they walk around the stupa, reminding them of the profound lessons contained within these depictions. These heavenly Buddhas' symbolism is a powerful reminder of the infinite capacity for awakening present in all creatures. 

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