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What is the symbol of gratitude in Buddhism?

What is the symbol of gratitude in Buddhism?

Gratitude is a central concept in Buddhism. The Buddha taught that cultivating gratitude helps overcome harmful states of mind like greed, anger and delusion. Buddhism encourages the practice of gratitude towards all beings, including those who have helped us directly as well as indirectly. There are many Buddhist symbols that represent gratitude, the most common being the lotus flower.

The Importance of Gratitude in Buddhism

Gratitude is viewed as both an attitude and a practice in Buddhism. The Buddhist teachings stress the importance of cultivating gratitude to lead a happy and meaningful life. Some key reasons why gratitude is emphasized in Buddhism are:

  • It counters harmful mental states like greed, entitlement, pride and jealousy.
  • It leads to contentment by focusing our minds on what we have rather than what we lack.
  • It strengthens relationships when expressed to those who have helped us.
  • It helps us recognize interdependence – that people, nature and life circumstances have supported us in countless seen and unseen ways.
  • It supports spiritual growth by giving rise to joy and other positive qualities like humility and compassion.

Regular practice of grateful contemplation is believed to gradually transform the mind in positive ways.

Symbols of Gratitude in Buddhism

There are many Buddhist symbols and imagery that represent the quality of gratitude. Here are some of the most significant ones:

The Lotus Flower

Lotus flower

The lotus flower is widely recognized as the primary symbol of gratitude in Buddhism. The lotus has its roots in mud at the bottom of a pond but rises through water to bloom immaculately at the surface. This represents how gratitude enables personal growth – taking us from difficulties and challenges to joy and spiritual awakening.

The lotus also symbolizes spiritual purification and openness. Just as the lotus blossoms into a beautiful flower despite growing out of mud, expressing heartfelt gratitude helps us transcend greed, anger and other unwholesome states to uncover our inner purity.

The Endless Knot

Endless knot

The endless knot is an ancient Buddhist symbol representing the interdependence of all phenomena. It conveys the interconnectedness of cause and effect – how all things and events are linked together.

In the context of gratitude, the endless knot reminds us to be thankful towards the visible and invisible conditions that have made our lives possible. It encourages expanding our gratitude to all the people, beings, and circumstances near and far that have supported our existence.

The Conch Shell

Conch shell

The conch shell is known for its ability to produce deep, resonating sounds. In Buddhism it represents the melodious sound of the dharma teachings spreading wisdom far and wide.

Specifically related to gratitude, the conch is blown during Buddhist ceremonies, prayers and offerings to infuse the space with gratitude. It is a sacred instrument used to transmit the energy of gratefulness in blessing ceremonies.

Offering Bowls

Offering bowl

Offering bowls are used in Buddhist rituals to symbolize gratitude and make offerings to the Triple Gem – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They are traditionally filled with flowers, rice, tea or water and placed on alters while prayers of gratitude are chanted.

The act of filling and offering bowls represent acknowledging all that we have received from the Buddha’s teachings, the spiritual community and the world around us. It is a mindful practice of expressing gratitude.

Fruit Offerings

Fruits, especially mangoes, are commonly used as offerings in Buddhist temples and homes. Mangoes are considered auspicious fruits in Buddhism. They symbolize the sweetness of spiritual practice and are offered to the Buddha and monks as a gesture of gratitude.

Other fruits like oranges and bananas are also used during ceremonies, placed at shrines or given to monks to express thankfulness for their spiritual guidance. Fruits represent the fruits of spiritual attainments arising from gratitude and other wholesome states of mind.


Flowers hold great significance in Buddhist iconography and rituals. They represent the quality of impermanence – blooming brightly but fading quickly. In visual arts, the Buddha is often depicted seated with floral offerings at his feet.

Flowers offered during Buddhist prayers and rituals symbolize gratitude for the Buddha’s teachings. Common offerings include lotus flowers, chrysanthemums, jasmine, roses, marigolds and orchids. Garlands made of flowers called malas are also used as offerings. Each flower is an expression of gratitude for the joys and blessings in life.


Burning incense is integral to Buddhist practice and aesthetics. The fragrant smoke represents wisdom and mindfulness spreading. Offering incense is done as a mark of gratitude to the Triple Gem – the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Lighting incense along with prostrations and prayers is a simple yet profound way to show reverence and gratitude to the Buddha. Different incense fragrances have their own symbolism – sandalwood for purity, rose for compassion, jasmine for joy, lavender for serenity.

Light Offerings

The giving of light offerings is prevalent across Buddhist traditions. Offerings of lamps, candles and butter lamps are made at shrines and temples to signify gratitude towards the Buddha’s wisdom which lights the path out of darkness.

In Mahayana Buddhism, light offerings are specifically made to the Buddha Amitabha, the embodiment of infinite light. The gentle glow of a candle’s flame evokes a peaceful, grateful state of mind and a reminder to share our inner light with the world.

Gratitude Rituals and Practices

There are many Buddhist rituals centered around expressing gratitude. Here are some of the most common ones:


Chanting mantras and sutras is a key Buddhist practice to cultivate mindful awareness and positive qualities like gratitude. Repeating sacred chants bridges the chanter to the divine qualities personified by different Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Some common Buddhist chants and prayers associated with gratitude include:
– The Heart Sutra
– The Meal Prayer
– Five Contemplations – recited before mealtimes
– Refuges and Precepts – expressing gratitude to the Three Jewels
– Metta chanting – wishing beings peace and happiness

Offering Food

In the Theravada Buddhist tradition, monks go on alms rounds every morning to receive food offerings from locals. People wait with offerings of food prepared specifically for the monks and nuns. This act symbolizes gratitude for their dedication in spiritually uplifting society.

In Mahayana Buddhism, practitioners make food offerings during pujas (prayer rituals). Food items like rice, fruits, tea and sweets are offered at shrines and tombs. This represents gratitude for the nourishment – physical, mental and spiritual – received from Buddhas, teachers and parents.


Prostrations are an embodied form of expressing gratitude in Buddhism. People lower their bodies to the floor in reverence to the Triple Gem. This motion humbles the ego and helps recall the many selfless beings who have guided others to awakening.

In Tibetan Buddhism, prostration pilgrimages are performed along sacred routes as a practice of gratitude. Participants prostrate at each step while reciting mantras, getting up and repeating the process until they have ‘traveled’ to the destination.


Walking around sacred sites and objects in clockwise circuits is a tradition across Buddhist schools. Called circumambulation, it symbolizes the cyclical nature of life and honors the center point. Circumambulating stupas, temples or statues represents gratitude for the even center – the awakened mind.

An example is the Tibetan devotional practice of circumambulating Mount Kailash – the sacred mountain believed to represent Buddha’s stillness and stability. This is an arduous pilgrimage requiring weeks, done as an act of gratitude.


Gratitude holds profound meaning across all Buddhist traditions. It is considered the foundation for developing wisdom, compassion and lasting contentment. While the customs and rituals vary between schools of Buddhism, they all use symbols, instruments, offerings and embodied rituals to cultivate gratitude. Generating heartfelt thankfulness towards all that supports and nourishes us is seen as essential for inner freedom and joy. The myriad representations of gratefulness in Buddhism serve as inspiring reminders to pause, reflect and appreciate this very moment.