Swastika Symbology

Swastika Symbology in Bө Murgel and Bön

Swastika controversy

Swastika on iron gates, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The swastika has been used as a symbol of good luck, happiness and truth by very diverse cultures in many locations all over the globe since prehistory. Today it can still be seen throughout Asia as a symbol of general good luck. In Nepal, for instance, it features not only on religious monuments but also on wrought iron gates, above doorways, embroidered on clothes, bags and belts, as a logo for food manufacturers, and even as a sign on drainage man holes! However, this ancient symbol has been much maligned. 

Swastika on the front door of the house, Kathmandu, Nepal.

In the 20th century, the right-turning swastika – or more correctly, the Hakenkreuz (hook-cross) – was adopted by the German Nazis as their emblem. In fact, the Nazis simply hijacked the symbol of the clockwise swastika, fabricating their own interpretation (unrelated to the original one) in order to fit it within their doctrine of Aryan supremacy and anti-Semitism. This is how Adolf Hitler explained the symbology behind the Nazi flag in his Mein Kampf:

Flag of the Third Reich

As National Socialists, we see our program in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will be anti-Semitic.'

This led to this ancient symbol being stigmatized in the Western World as a symbol of evil, and indeed, this misinterpretation is still strongly held by many people in the West today. However, Hitler’s interpretation of the swastika is just what it is – invented and untrue. Firstly, his interpretation of the swastika as the symbol of the Aryan race is false: the symbol of the swastika is not explicitly connected with the ancient Aryan tribes or Vedic religion as such, and since prehistory it has been used by many cultures of Eurasia, America and Africa, so it was common among nations which are not even Indo-European, let alone Aryan. Secondly, it was never connected with anti-Semitism anywhere in the world until in the 19th century when Émile-Louis Burnouf (1821-1907), a French orientalist and racialist who completely misinterpreted the teachings of Vedas and Buddhist doctrines, came up with this erroneous connection. This misinterpretation was picked up by the German nationalists, and then by the Nazis. Because German Nazis caused so much suffering and destruction in Europe during the Second World War, it is understandable that many people have strong negative feelings towards their emblem the Hakenkreuz. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between the Hakenkreuz in particular and the swastika in general. In some countries, such as Germany for example, it is forbidden to display any swastika symbol in public and Germany recently went further, suggesting the symbol should be banned in all the countries of the EU. Fortunately, this has been prevented. To ban the swastika just because of  the German Nazis misinterpretation and misuse of  it would be similar to banning the cross just because it is also a symbol used by the Ku Klux Klan and was used by the Spanish Inquisition, or banning all five-pointed stars just because this symbol was used by Totalitarian Communist regimes. This is, obviously, not a solution.

With regard to Russian culture, on the territory of the present-day Russian Federation, the swastika has been used since time immemorial by various peoples, including Russians, where it was associated with the cults of the sun and fertility and was one of the main positive symbols of the ancient Slavic religion in general. The swastika was also widely used on army patches and awards, banknotes and logos in the early years of the Soviet regime, during and after the civil war, until it was banned by Lunacharsky in 1922:

Russian swastika "yarga". Ornament on ubrus-towel.

Due to a misunderstanding, an ornament called a swastika is constantly used on many decorations and posters. Since the swastika is a cockade of the deeply counter-revolutionary German organization Orgesh, and has recently acquired the character of a symbolic sign of the entire fascist reactionary movement, artists are warned in not to use this ornament under any circumstances as it induces a deeply negative impression, especially in foreigners.

Red Army medal, South-Eastern Front, 1918-20.

Despite the legislation that existed until 2019 in the Russian Federation to ban the swastika in public places, it is openly displayed in many architectural monuments in various cities of the country, as an integral part of their interior decor. An example is St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, where a decorative motif of intertwining swastikas adorns the floor of the main hall. Should the authorities of St. Petersburg immediately destroy the floor of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and tear out all the swastikas from it? No one in their right mind would ever think of that. From all of the above, it is clear that Russian legislation needed to revise, clarify and correct the wording related to the use of the swastika, which should include a clear distinction between the swastika as a religious or cultural symbol, personifying good on the one hand, and the Nazi hook-cross on the other. … Such amendments were finally made to the current legislation on November 19, 2019:

In the second reading, an amendment was made to the bill, according to which "the demonstration of symbols or attributes in works of science, literature, art, as well as for informational, educational and educational purposes is possible provided that" a negative attitude towards the ideology of Nazism is formed "and" there are no signs of propaganda or justifying Nazism ".

Fragment of the decorative floor of St. Isaac's Cathedral, St. Petersburg.

On February 18, 2020, one more amendment was adopted to article 20.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses, excluding from the Administrative Code liability for the use of Nazi or extremist symbols in works of science, literature, art:

The adopted law proposes to exclude administrative liability for cases of using Nazi paraphernalia or symbols, or paraphernalia or symbols of extremist organizations, in which "a negative attitude towards the ideology of Nazism and extremism is formed and there are no signs of propaganda or justification of Nazi and extremist ideology."

Swastika as a solar symbol

Many scholars believe that the swastika was originally a solar symbol, associated with the harmony of the natural order of universe, life, good luck, prosperity, truth and virtue. Since prehistory there have been two types of swastika: clockwise and anti clockwise. How could they both be associated with the sun? This contradiction is resolved in Bө and Bön by examining the Arctic Home Theory of the 19th century Indian Brahmin scholar Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the cosmology of Bhagavata Purana, and the cosmology of Yungdrung Bön.

Swastika in the Prehistoric Bön of Eurasia and Bө Murgel

Horse head swastika. A sketch of the image on a Deer Stone. Mongolia.

The swastika is a very important symbol in the Prehistoric Bön of Eurasia, and in Mongol-Buryat Bө Murgel in particular. In Bө Murgel the swastika is called has tamga – ‘jade stamp’. This name, no doubt, arose at the time when precious jade was exported from Siberia to China along the Jade Route, a trade route connecting the Glazkovskaya culture of South Siberia (which included Lake Baikal) and the Shan-Yin Empire in China in the 2nd millennium BC. Many images of has tamga are found all over the Great Steppe, in particular in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Amdo, on so-called Deer Stones, large standing stones dated at roughly the same period as the  Jade Route. The has tamga of Modern Bө Murgel turns to the left whereas the prevailing ritual movement of Modern Bө Murgel is to the right. This contradiction is also addressed and resolved in Bө and Bön.

Swastika in Yungdrung Bön

The swastika is an extremely important symbol in Yungdrung Bön, all the more so because the Tibetan name for swastika – yungdrung – forms part of its name. Thus Yungdrung Bön could be translated as the Religion of the Swastika. In Yungdrung Bön, the swastika is rich in symbolism. Primarily, it represents the unchangeable, indestructible state, Buddha-nature, the Nature of Mind, the fundamental ground of existence, light. The four arms and the centre of the yungdrung also represent the four directions and the centre, as well as the five purified elements which appear as the dimensions of the Five Buddha-clans of five colours. These are further symbolised by the five seed-syllables (in this case in the language of Zhang Zhung) marking each of the five sections within the yungdrung. The “five heroic syllables,” as they are also called, are the basis from which all the holy scriptures of Yungdrung Bön arose.

Detailed research on swastika symbology is found in Chapter XV of Bө and Bön.  

Bönpo swastika "yungdrung".