The Buddhist flag is a modern creation and it was jointly designed by Mr J.R. de Silva and Colonel Henry S. Olcott to mark the revival of Buddhism in Ceylon in 1880.Colonel Henry Steele Olcott was an American journalist with a fascinating character. A former soldier and lawyer, he set up the Theosophical Society of New York. He arrived in Sri Lanka with the renowned spiritualist Madame Blavatsky on 17 February 1880 - a day which was subsequently celebrated as Olcott Day in independent Sri Lanka. He founded the Buddhist Theosophical Society, devised a Buddhist catechism, encouraged Buddhist versions of Christmas carols and cards, and inspired the founding of Buddhist schools and the YMBA - the Young Men's Buddhist Association.
Colonel Olcott was one of the greatest American Buddhists who dedicated his later life entirely to the people of Asia. He is known as the father of the Buddhist education movement since he initiated the establishment of close to 400 Buddhist schools and colleges in Sri Lanka. When he died in 1907, Olcott's body was shrouded in both the Buddhist and American flags before his cremation.
Colonel Olcott designed a flag from the six colours of the aura that shone around the body and head of the Buddha after His Enlightenment. The colonel's flag later came to symbolize the unity of Buddhists. Thereafter, it has been used worldwide and has been used in nearly 60 countries during Buddhist festive seasons, particularly during the Vesak celebrations. It was accepted as the International Buddhist Flag by the 1952 World Buddhist Congress.
Colours in the Buddhist Flag
• Blue : Universal Compassion
• Yellow : The Middle Path
• Red : Blessings
• White : Purity and Liberation
• Orange : Wisdom
There are six colours in the flag, but the human eye can see only five. They are described in the Scriptures as emanating from the aura around the Buddha's body and head when He attained Enlightenment under the bodhi tree.
There are 5 vertical stripes of red, yellow, blue, white and orange. The sixth colour is a compound of the first 5, but for design purposes its five ingredients are all shown in small horizontal stripes on the flag.
The horizontal bars signify peace and harmony between all races through out the world. The vertical bars represent eternal peace within the world.
In simple terms, the Buddhist Flag implies that there is no discrimination of races, nationality, areas or skin colour; that every living being possess the Buddha Nature and all have the potential to become a Buddha. The colours symbolise the perfection of Buddhahood and the Dharma.
The Blue light that radiated from the Buddha's hair symbolises the spirit of Universal Compassion for all beings. It also represents the noble quality of "confidence" of the Buddha.
The Yellow light that radiated from the Buddha's epidermis symbolises the Middle Path which avoids all extremes and brings balance and liberation. It also represents the noble quality of "holiness" of the Buddha.
The Red light that radiated from the Buddha's flesh symbolises the blessings that the practice of the Buddha's Teaching brings. It signifies achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity. It also represents the noble quality of "wisdom" of the Buddha.
The White light that radiated from the Buddha's bones and teeth symbolises the purity of the Buddha's Teaching and the liberation it brings. It also represents the noble quality of "purity" of the Buddha.
The Orange light that radiated from the Buddha's palms, heels and lips symbolises the unshakable Wisdom of the Buddha's Teaching. It also represents the noble quality of "absence of desire" of the Buddha.
Henry Steel Olcott
Henry Steel Olcott was born on August 2, 1832, in Orange, New Jersey.
After an early career in agricultural science and journalism, he served during the Civil War as a military investigator of fraud and corruption. This was followed by a career in law, which he later combined with journalism, reporting on Spiritualistic phenomena.
In 1875, together with H. P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge, Olcott co-founded The Theosophical Society, and remained President-Founder for life. As its president, he accompanied H. P. Blavatsky to India, where they played key roles in reviving interest in the philosophical and religious scriptures of the Orient.
Olcott is especially noted for his work among the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, Burma, and Japan, helping them realize the essential value of their own heritage. His administrative skill and public activities throughout the world were largely responsible for the Society's growth and organizational success.
He died in Adyar, Madras, on February 17, 1907.