Color Symbolism in Buddhist Art
There exists in Buddhism the concept of a rainbow body. The “rainbow body” is the penultimate transitional state of meditation in which matter begins to be transformed into pure light.
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.
The enumeration of the colors may change but the number remains five. Thus the five transcendental Buddhas, personification of the abstract aspects of Buddhahood, are each endowed with a different color in their sadhanas:
1. Vairochana - White bodied 2. Ratnasambhava - Yellow bodied 3. Akshobhya - Blue bodied 4. Amitabha - Red bodied 5. Amoghasiddhi - Green bodied
It is relevant to note that each of these five Buddhas and their associated colors are said to further the transformative process whereby specific human delusions are changed to positive qualities. Specifically it is believed that by meditating on the individual colors, which contain their respective essences, the following metamorphosis can be achieved:
- White transforms the delusion of ignorance into the wisdom of reality - Yellow transforms pride into wisdom of sameness - Blue transforms anger into mirror like wisdom - Red transforms the delusion of attachment into the wisdom of discernment - Green transforms jealousy into the wisdom of accomplishment
Further investigation into the five colors takes us to the Mahavairochana-Sutra, which states that a mandala, the quintessential symbol of Tibetan Buddhism should be painted in five colors. It further prescribes that one should start at the interior of the mandala with white and to be followed by red, yellow, blue and black.
The Chakrasambhara-tantra prescribes that the walls of a mandala should be painted in five colors and should maintain the order of black in the interior followed by white, yellow, red and green. In certain mandalas, the four directions within the palace are indicated by different colors.
The east is indicated by white, west by red, north by green and the south by yellow while the center is painted blue. The Kalachakra-tantra, however, prescribes a completely different color scheme to indicate different directions: the color black indicates east, yellow west, white north, and red stands for the south. Whatever the color association with directions, the protecting circle of a mandala is usually always drawn in red.
The four elements air, fire, water and earth are also identified in the Kalachakra tantra with four different colors: blue (or black), red, white and yellow, respectively.
These four elements are further depicted as semi-circular, triangular, circular, and square respectively.
This is a precursor to Tantric imagery where color and geometry (not mutually exclusive) are the basic building blocks making up the whole edifice of Tantric symbolism. Even though the context may vary, Buddhism identifies the significance of making up the whole edifice of Tantric symbolism.