BUDDHIST REFLECTIONS

The Symbolic Significance of Conch Shells in Buddhism and Sinxay

Sangthong, Sinxay’s twin brother, with his conch body is richly symbolic. You can see a portrait of Sangthong above, taken from a gilded carved wooden door gracing the front of Wat Ong Teu in Sam Neua. You can see the entire panel in the photo below. Sangthong’s primary role in Sinxay is as a trailblazer, clearing the way for Sinxay as he proceeds on his quest to free Soumountha. In the description provided in the Lalitavistara Sūtra, it is stated that the conch, one of the designs on Buddha’s right hand, is a symbol that fearlessly proclaims the truth of the dhamma. This portrayal can be seen reflected in Sangthong’s pose in both photos.

The conch shell, as a symbol of the Buddha’s teaching, epitomizes the sound of the dhamma extending far and wide, awakening beings from ignorance. Today one can still hear the conch used to call monks to services in Buddhist temples in Tibet and China. The conch shells used in Nepal and China are usually carved with elaborate designs, and an example is picture below which contains the eight Buddhist auspicious symbols carved into the shell. These symbols  are isolated in the bottom photo and we provide corresponding definitions taken from http://www.tibetanlanguage.org/PDF/Eight_Auspicious_Symbols.pdf