The swastika sign (卐) – a symbol of Buddhism or Nazism?

The swastika symbol associated with the Nazis party is a common mistaken notion of many of us. We are all too familiar with the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II. Many of us reading the history or story of Second World War in Europe would remember the atrocities committed by the Nazi party of Germany on the Jews – the infamous holocaust tragic event of ethnic cleansing in Auschwitz concentration camp in German occupied Austria.

As a result, the swastika symbol was strongly associated with Nazism and the related ideologies such as fascism and white supremacy. It has notably been outlawed in Germany after the Second World War, if used as a symbol of Nazism, as well as many allied countries including Singapore.

Origin of Swastika

The swastika symbol (卐) is a cross with four arms of equal length with the ends of each arm bent at right angle in right facing form or mirrored left facing form (卍). Early archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates back to the ancient civilisation as well as in the art of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, and Persians as well as; specifically in Hinduisms, Jainism and Buddhism as a sacred symbol of good luck.

Swastika is derived from Sanskrit word Savstika, “su” meaning “good”, “asti” meaning “to be” (well-being, good fortune, and “ka” as a suffix.

Buddhism and Swastika

In Buddhism, the swastika symbol signifies auspiciousness and good fortune as well as the footprint of the Buddha and Buddha’s heart. It is also said to contain the whole mind of the Buddha and can often be found imprinted on the chest, feet or palms of Buddha images.

Swastika symbol is also the first of the 65 auspicious symbols on the footprint of the Buddha. The image of Lord Buddha depicts swastika on each of the toes of his feet. Buddhists have actually borrowed the swastika symbol from the Hindus.

The swastika symbols also often been used to mark the beginning of all the Buddhist texts. Buddhist Swastika is more often viewed as a sign of infinity, affluence, abundance and long life. It holds great importance in the Buddhist tradition and thus, this symbol can be found on almost all the Buddhist sites including the temples.

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Gold swastiska symbol at Hoon Siang Keng Temple

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Red swastika symbol at Hoon Siang Keng Temple

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Bright Hill Temple with red swastika symbol

In the Buddhist tradition the swastika symbol s invariably in gold, yellow or red in colour in the left facing form (卍). The two temples that I know of are the Hoon Siang Keng Temple in our neighbourhood, located at 82 Changi Road, is one such temple that has swastika symbols in gold and red.

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Swastika symbols lining roof of temple

Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (Bright Hill Temple) is the other temple with swastika symbols located at Bright Hill Road in yellow and red. These are two examples that I know of. Perhaps further exploration may reveal more of such temples.

Nazism and Swastika

The swastika was also a symbol for the Aryan people, a name that in Sanskrit means “noble”. The Aryans were a group of people who settled in Iran and Northern India and believed themselves to be a pure race, superior to the other surrounding cultures. When the Germans looked for a symbol, they looked for a symbol, which represented the purity, which they believed they contained. The Nazis regarded themselves as “Aryans” and tried to steal the accomplishments of these pre-historic people. Thus, the swastika symbol was adopted as a symbol of the Nazi Party of Germany. When Adolf Hitler came to power in the 1930s, he incorporated a swastika into the Nazi party flag, and was made the state flag of Germany.

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Hilter with swastika armband

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German State Flag


Use of Swastika Symbol in Singapore

As Nazism is synonymous with the swastika symbol it is banned in Singapore, why it is allowed in use in temples, monastery and buildings? The swastika symbol appears on images of the Lord Buddha, façade of many buildings, temples and monasteries here. We have the Red Swastika Society at Ken Lee Road and Red Swastika Secondary School in Bedok; and of course the temples and monasteries.

Many of us do not realise it or some may have seen it but do not know the significant or the reason, including myself. I was once asked why the swastika symbol that is associated with Nazism is being used on a place of worship. That sets my mind reeling for an answer and hence, this posting that I hope would clarify the misconception.

The Different Forms of Swastika Symbol

The swastika symbolizes much more than what the intention of the Nazis planned evil deeds. The swastika symbol signified good fortune and well-being thousands of years before the Nazis even existed. To the many civilisations and cultures an important one, representing their history and beliefs. The Nazis, by adopting the swastika, annihilated the significance of the ancient symbol. Today, the swastika is to most people a symbol of evil, a symbol of demise, and a symbol of ruination. It is extremely depressing to find that although the swastika is a symbol of life, and symbol of joy, it has been made a symbol of evil, something the people of the ancient world never intended it to be.

Fortunately, there are marked differences in forms to distinguish between the Buddhist swastika symbol and the swastika symbol of evil Nazism.

The Buddhist swastika is left facing form put flat and mainly in gold, yellow and red colour and not in black.

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Buddhist swastiska symbol in gold and put flat

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Nazi swastiska symbol invariably in black and tilted at 45 degrees

The Nazi used the right facing form and tilted the swastika symbol at an angle of 45 degrees with the corners pointing upwards and invariably in black.

As there are clear distinctions between the two all we have to do is recognise them. What we see in Singapore, invariably are the lawful symbols and not the outlawed Nazi symbol.

A symbol is just a symbol and it is the intent that makes the difference. A scalpel in the hands of a surgeon is a tool in his profession can save a life; while in the hands of a perpetrator is unlawful possession of a weapon, in the eyes of the law, to commit a crime.

In the Dahmmapada, Yamaka Vagga (The Twin Verses), Verses 1 and 2 straighten our minds and views on good and evil intentions.

Mano pubbaṅgamă mano, setthă manomayă
Manasă ce padutthena, bhăsati vă katoti vă
Tato naḿ dukkhamanvertĭ, cakkaḿ’va vahato padam”.

(Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, because of that suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoofs of the draught-ox).

Mano pubbaňgama, mano setthă manomayă
Manasă ce pasannena, bhăsti vă karoti vă
Tato naḿ sukkamanveti, chăyă’va anapăynĭ”.

(Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief, mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one’s shadow that never leaves).

I can proudly proclaim the swastika symbols used in our establishments, righty belonged to the Buddhist tradition are lawful, wholesome and full of good will.

Contributor: Chin Kee Thou (YMBA, 3rd year)



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