Philatelic Expressions of Buddhist Wisdom

  • By Anjul Gupta
  • June 14, 2024
  • Know about four stamps, published in Sri Lanka, whose learning’s reflect the teachings in the Dhamma. 

Postage stamps, often overlooked as mere utilitarian objects, possess the power to encapsulate cultural heritage, historical events, and profound philosophies. The teachings of the Buddha, known as Dhamma, form the bedrock of Buddhist philosophy and practice. They offer a path towards liberation from suffering and the attainment of enlightenment. 


The Dhamma in Essence:

At the heart of the Dhamma lies the Four Noble Truths, revealing the nature of suffering, its cause, the possibility of its cessation, and the path leading to its end. This path, known as the Noble Eightfold Path, encompasses right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. 


The Dhamma also emphasizes concepts such as impermanence (annica), non-self (anatta), and interconnectedness (paticcasamuppada), which guide individuals towards a life of wisdom, compassion, and ethical conduct.


This profound wisdom has not only inspired millions worldwide but also found expression in various art forms, including the humble postage stamp. 


Sri Lanka, a nation deeply rooted in Buddhist tradition, has consistently showcased the Dhamma through its philatelic endeavours. In 1993, the country released a remarkable series of stamps illustrating key verses from the Dhammapada, a revered collection of the Buddha's sayings.


Sri Lanka's 1993 stamp series designed by S. Silva and released for sale on 30 April 1993 are based upon specific verses from the Dhammapada (Sayings of the Buddha), one of the most widely read and best known of the Buddhist scriptures. They beautifully encapsulate the essence of the Dhamma through four distinct designs:


The Story of Magandiya:


Magandiya, a proud being, sought to elevate his status by offering his beautiful daughter in marriage to the Buddha. However, the Buddha gently rejected the proposal, explaining the fleeting nature of beauty and the importance of spiritual pursuits over worldly desires.

Buddhist Learning: This story highlights the Buddha's detachment from worldly desires and his focus on spiritual pursuits


The Story of Kisa Gotami:

Kisa Gotami, overwhelmed by grief after losing her child, desperately sought a cure from the Buddha. The Buddha promised he would do so provided she obtained some white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. Unsuccessful in her search Kisa Gotami soon realised that no home is ever free from death, and returned to the Buddha who comforted and preached to her, whereupon she became a devoted disciple.

Buddhist Learning: This story reminds us of the universality of death and the impermanence of life, urging us to seek solace and wisdom in the face of loss.

The Story of Patacara:


This stamp comes from a verse about Patacara, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant, who fell pregnant and eloped with one of her father’s servants named Amarsh to live on a farm. Against her husband’s wishes, she tried to return to her parents to give birth to her first son, who was born on the way, enabling the couple to return home. Sometime later she fell pregnant once more and again left to return to her family. Amarsh followed her and en route Patacara went into labour at the onset of a storm. Her husband was bitten by a snake and killed instantly whilst trying to build some shelter. Carrying on, she reached a swollen river compelling her to cross the river with one child at a time.

Leaving her oldest child on the riverbank she carried her baby across the river. On her return to retrieve her oldest child, a vulture carried the baby off. When she screamed for the baby, the oldest child entered the water thinking she was calling for him, and drowned. Encountering the Buddha and telling him about the tragic loss of her family, he taught her about impermanence, whereupon she became a disciple.


Buddhist Learning: This story teaches us the importance of accepting impermanence and the suffering it can cause, leading to inner peace and spiritual growth.


The Story of Angulimala:


This stamp is based upon the verse about the murderous brigand Angulimala, who killed nine hundred and ninety nine people, taking their fingers as trophies which he wore round his body. The Buddha’s intervention and teachings not only prevented Angulimala from making his own mother a victim, but enabled Angulimala to convert to Buddhism and cancel his bad Kamma with meditation.
Buddhist Learning: This story shows us the transformative power of compassion and forgiveness, even for those who have committed grave misdeeds. It emphasizes the potential for change and redemption in everyone.


These stories, captured in miniature on postage stamps, encapsulate the essence of Buddhist philosophy and offer timeless lessons for navigating life's challenges with wisdom, compassion, and equanimity.


These stamps not only serve as miniature works of art but also offer glimpses into the profound wisdom of the Dhamma. They invite viewers to contemplate the teachings and apply them to their own lives, fostering personal growth and spiritual development.


While Sri Lanka's contribution to Dhamma-themed philately is notable, other countries have also issued stamps honoring the Buddha and his teachings. India, Thailand, Bhutan, and many others have released commemorative stamps depicting the Buddha's life, significant events in Buddhist history, and key symbols such as the Bodhi tree and the Dharma wheel. These stamps serve as a testament to the global impact of Buddhism and the enduring relevance of its teachings.


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2. Lord Indra in Buddhism

3. Bodh Gaya Temple

4. Sleeping Buddha in Thailand

5. The Samkhya ontologies of Phenomenology and Buddhism

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