Early Buddhist Symbols for Your Personal Altar?

Instead of the typical Buddharūpa, does anyone have any altars featuring “Early Buddhist Symbols” like the empty throne, bodhi tree, footprint, dhammacakra wheel, etc.?


My favorite symbol is the empty room. Very easy to (dis)acquire the decorations needed to make it happen. And don’t have to worry about breaking silly rules like pointing your feet disrespectfully at Buddha images, can do yoga, fart, anything I need to do.

kacci nu kho aham (do I?) suñña agāre (empty dwelling) abhiraamami (delight in them)? Hell yeah.


I did not know there were such things.

It always seemed a bit off to me given the dhamma that the symbol for Buddhism would be a person.

I used to have a very nice little carved stone Buddha, making a little shrine in whatever kuti I stayed in, but then pressures to have less posessions (travelling lightly), eventually had me give it away.

When I was completely honest with myself, that statue did absolutely nothing for me, which I could call tangible (beyond the initial thrill of owning it, which lasted all of a month or two). Once that initial novelty had worn off (as is the case with all material posessions, it seems), my heart never stirred in the slightest looking at it. I might as well have been looking at a stick or a tree stump.

I find that actually recollecting the qualities of the Buddha is much more meaningful, and can actually evoke some positive emotion. And the Buddha repeatedly taught to actually cultivate that (in the EBT’s). You never see the Buddha teaching worshipping a statue in the EBTs. There are very scarce, brief, unembellished references to the value of worshipping things like chetiyas in the EBTs.

Hindu-style pujas and bhakti become much more prevalent in the commentarial works of the Pali Canon. Confucianism also has a strong emphasis on devotion to one’s ancestors (making offerings of food, burning paper money, etc. to statues of one’s ancestors).


I think the empty throne is a particularly potent symbol.

Symbols are definitely a deep feature of human psychology, language itself is symbolic. Physical symbols can serve as reminders to recollect (Buddhanussati), as well as have meaning encoded in them. In the case of the empty throne, anattā.

I don’t particularly like the Buddha body statues, but to say one positive thing about them they have a serenity (samatha) and stillness to emulate, one doesn’t get more still than a statue!


I am very new to this. My meditation space is an empty finished basement in my house. My “altar” is the windows. The symbols are what are outside: The trees, birds, deer, squirrels, and other things that live in the woods outside my house. I also have a place at the coast. There I see the ocean, the trees, and the birds. Those are the best symbols for me.

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Happy to be the first to say yes to rupas!

pic from my car, and if you tolerate some more, I’ll let you into my shrine room … later, off course …

Since the beginning of the serious study of the history of Buddhist art in the 1890s, the earliest phase, lasting until the 1st century CE, has been described as aniconic; the Buddha was only represented through symbols such as an empty throne, Bodhi tree, a riderless horse with a parasol floating above an empty space (at Sanchi), Buddha’s footprints, and the dharma wheel.

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Hmm, symbols of what?

I enjoy the equanimity that the best buddharupas emanate, but I see so many degraded images of the Buddha outside beauty salons and such that I sometimes wonder about those I do own.

I also have a few bohdi tree leaves, and these feel more significant to me. A couple dropped from the tree at Bodh Gaya and the others from the tree at Wat Buddha Dhamma (NSW) which is a direct descendant from that famous tree in Sri Lanka. Thus, if legends are to be believed, all these leaves are ‘descended’ from that tree the Buddha sat beneath. Besides encouraging me in my meditation these leaves (one framed the others preserved as bookmarks) offer a nice teaching in causality and impermanence.

Impermanence. There is a constantly changing scenery outside my windows. Seasons change. Trees grow and shed their leaves. Animals age (I watch the fawns grow into adult deer right before my eyes). Birds hatch. Puddles emerge with the rain and evaporate with the sun. Squirrels store food in the trees. These are symbols to me of the impermanence of existence and all the forms life takes.


That sounds nice and peaceful, and I think a legitimate application of anicca saññā.

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I’ve always wondered why well knowing Buddhists use statues of “The Buddha” that depict hair and a top knot. I just think of them as statues of a meditator.