It won’t take longer than a five minute stroll through any monastery, street, or bridge in Bhutan to find artistic representations of the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism. But these symbols aren’t present just for aesthetics. They represent the offerings received by Buddha from the gods after his enlightenment.
By searching for deeper meaning in these symbols, we can become better people, and perhaps just as importantly, better whitewater enthusiasts.
The Endless or Eternal Knot represents interaction, or cause and effect. Much like the eternal knot, on the river we see how all variables above us affect us downstream. Whether it is rain increasing our flow, or pollution of a tributary affecting the quality of our rivers, each river is like it’s own endless knot.
The Vase represents prosperity and a long life, it represents the idea that no matter what we take out of the vase, it remains full of offerings. This reminds me of the African Proverb “No Matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.”
The Lotus Flower is born from its roots in the mud, and grows through muddy waters until it reaches the air and rises above the water as a beautiful flower. This teaches us that we must rise above hardship in order to blossom.
Two Golden Fish represent good luck, and teach us that if we practice dharma, or good behavior, we should not fear drowning.
The Parasol represents protection from the heat and the sun, and therefore protection from suffering. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!
The Conch Shell represents good actions permeating through sound to the masses, who awake from ignorance into enlightenment. The Conch Shell also has a deep history in river rafting, originally being used on the very first commercial trips down the Grand Canyon to awaken guests for coffee (enlightenment).
The Dharma Wheel has eight spokes, each spoke representing the eightfold path. The eightfold path is the path to enlightenment, which requires pure intentions and commitment to practice, ethical conduct and mental discipline.
The Banner of Victory was awarded to Buddha when he conquered Mara, a demon that represented pride and fear of death. This is important in the world of boating, because it reminds us that the pride we have in our skills can never win over the power of nature and water.