The Six Longevities

The blessing of long life is represented by six separate symbols. They are found all over the country, often painted on the walls of houses or directly beside the door.

photo M. Noonan

The first symbol, the Old Man, stands for survival. He is making a water offering to allow the the repaying of karmic debts that he owes. The water itself is also a symbol, representing nourishment. Nearby, a tree stands for growth and prosperity, having grown from a stream of immortality. This stream falls continually from a rock, which symbolizes stability.

A family of deer in the picture are very old, representing peace and harmony and eating the sacrificial balls offered by the old man. Finally, the Bird signifies freedom, and it has achieved immortality by eating from the tree.

The Four Power Animals

The tiger, the snow lion, the mythical eagle (jachung), and the thunder dragon are the four power animals. They are said to personify mind, strength, wisdom, and voice. This foursome (called ta-seng-kyung druk) represents those qualities which should be shown by a spiritual hero. The tiger, for example, symbolizes the power that comes from being meek. Although it is a deadly hunter, it creeps through the jungle silently with unlimited energy. The snow lion, on the other hand, stands for a joyful and energized mind. The eagle represents a mind and energy that have transcended reality. Lastly, the dragon is a terrifying beast, both helpful and uncontrollable. It creates the thunder storms that water the crops and the floods that sometime destroy man's work.

Together, these four animals are thought to bring courage, good luck, wealth, and healing. They are symbolized throughout Bhutan on prayer flags, surrounding a symbolic wind horse that carries prayers off to heaven.

photo M. Noonan is a program of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY.                                                  Web Design by Ivan Andrijevic