Color in Religious Symbolism

March 17, 2004 · updated February 15, 2022

Colors in Christianity

In Christianity, color symbolism is primarily used in liturgical decorations (banners, vestments, etc.) and to a lesser degree in Christian art. Symbolic colors are rarely used in the Bible. See our articles on specific colors for details.

Colors in Buddhism

Color symbolism is used in a wide variety of fascinating ways in Buddhist art and ritual. In Buddhism, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, each of five colors (pancha-varna) symbolizes a state of mind, a celestial buddha, a part of the body, a part of the mantra word Hum, or a natural element. (Blue and black are sometimes interchangeable.)

It is believed that by meditating on the individual colors, which contain their respective essences and are associated with a particular buddha or bodhisattva, spiritual transformations can be achieved.

Following is a table summarizing the meaning of the main color symbols in Buddhism. Click on the color name for a full article and examples of that color.

Color Blue Black White Red Green Yellow
General Meanings coolness, infinity, ascension, purity, healing primordial darkness, hate  learning, knowledge, purity, longevity  life force, preservation, the sacred, blood, fire  balance, harmony, vigor, youth, action  rootedness, renunciation, earth
Seen In turquoise, lapis lazuli black thangkas White Tara, white elephant coral, red thangkas Green Tara  saffron robes of monks
Emotion, Action killing, anger killing, hatred rest and thinking subjugation and summoning exorcism restraining and nourishing
Transforms: anger into mirror-like wisdom hate into compassion delusion of ignorance into wisdom of reality delusion of attachment into the wisdom of discernment jealousy into the wisdom of accomplishment pride into wisdom of sameness
Buddha Akshobhya n/a Vairocana Amitabha Amoghasiddhi Ratna-sambhava
Part of Hum the dot (drop) on the crescent n/a the crescent syllable 'ha' vowel 'u' the head
Body Part ears n/a eyes tongue head nose
Element air air water fire n/a earth

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