At the heart of symbolism

The Tibetan flag

(Detailed page)


Old Tibetan flag

Present Tibetan flag


The Tibetan flag composition

This article will mainly refer to the Buddhism's symbolism, which is eternal, rather than to his exclusively temporal history.

The flag background consists of a rectangle divided into four triangles having the centre as the vertex and the four sides as bases. Each of the superior and lateral triangles is itself divided into four sectors alternatively red and blue. Only the lower sector, completely white, evokes the snowy mountain so characteristic of Tibet. Its summit symbolizes the contact point between Earth and Heaven, the passage path from terrestrial or human states to supra-human or celestial states.

In the foreground, on the mountain slope, two snow lions face each other and hold two patterns between their forelegs.

The background

Tibetan flag backgroundThe white of the lower triangle represents the colour which contains the entire spectrum of the visible light and covers all the tonalities of the rainbow from purple or blue to red. In this way, the white depicts the Principle at the source of the manifestation of colours in particular and any thing in general. A manifestation symbolized by the alternation of the twelve red and blue sectors.

The number twelve refers naturally to the zodiac signs, wrapping the Cosmos, the etymology of which returns to the concept of order. Place of the whole manifestation, it has as primary function to maintain all the constituting elements in their place. It is entirely contained within the Unity at the source of the manifestation or the Principle symbolized by the Sun located at the Centre. A Sun which irradiates twelve rays, alternatively blue and red, representing the manifestation and a thirteenth white one emanating from its Centre and symbolizing the world Unity.

The foreground patterns

Snow lions carrying two patternsThe lion represents the physical or terrestrial shade of the spiritual or celestial Sun as his mane testifies it. As terrestrial counterpart of the celestial Sun, it belongs to the manifestation world, the world of duality par excellence, in opposition to the world of the Principle, the Unity. From where two lions facing each other and holding two patterns between their forelegs.

The swirling wheel

Yin-yang symbolThe swirling pattern recalling the yin-yang symbolThe circular swirling pattern, at the base, contains two blue and yellow spirals rolled up one on the other. Made in the image of the yin-yang symbol of the Chinese tradition, which is explicitly shown on the present flag pattern, it evokes a double movement:

  • A descendant movement (in blue) from a non-manifested celestial pole to the terrestrial manifestation or from the Spirit to the body.
  • An ascendant movement (in yellow) from a terrestrial pole, specific to the manifestation world, to the non-manifested or from the body to the Spirit.

The first movement is unquestionably of metaphysical order and corresponds to the corporification of the Spirit while the second, of cosmological nature, symbolizes the spiritualization of the body.

Product of the first movement, the ordinary human being remains grabbed by the aspirations of this world, prisoner of the movement of the “cosmic wheel” symbolized by the circle surrounding the pattern. He will only be able to leave this non ending waltz by going up the slope towards his celestial source. It is only while walking on the Buddha's steps that he will achieve, not only to leave this infernal circular dance, but to know the Awakening state before stabilizing himself there.

The three blazing jewels

The three supreme gems: Buddha, Dharma and SanghaThe blazing pattern or the Triple Jewel associates the Principle (white) and the two descending (blue) and ascending (yellow) paths.

White symbolizes either the principial Unity or the being in quest of the unified state. It represents the Centre, the mountain summit from which the being will undertake the voyage towards the Heavens and the state of Buddha, of Awakening.

Blue represents the Law which governs the terrestrial world, i.e. any thing and any being it is made from. As the "lowest" rainbow colour after purple, blue perfectly characterizes the manifestation outcome on Earth. It symbolizes the Heaven's Law or the Dharma, source of balance and harmony between things and beings. The Dharma forms an integral part of the Buddha's teaching.

As a median colour of the visible light spectrum, yellow characterizes the route of the disciples on the way of the happy medium during their ascension. A path out of the way of extremes, sources of imbalance and disharmony. It is the way of the true knowledge, which makes it possible to become a full human being before reaching the higher states. Then, the disciple leaves the circular periphery to join the Centre. No longer the prey of the movement of the “cosmic wheel”, he is standing motionless in the Middle. He has left the outer world for the inner world; he no longer is a part of the world, the world is now part of him. In a general way, yellow symbolizes the path and the community of the disciples who follow it or Sangha.

The red flame coating the Triple Jewel naturally makes an echo to fire, at the same time destroying and regenerating, but above all transforming the being and revealing his Buddha state.


  • Alexandra David-Neel:
  • “Buddhism”. Harper Mass Market Paperbacks, 1983.
  • “Lamaic Initiations”. Adyar Publisher, 1990;
  • In particular, chapter V and the work ending note on the Dalai Lamas' situation.