The flag was originally designed in 1885 by the Colombo Committee, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The committee consisted of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera (chairman), Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, Don Carolis Hewavitharana (father of Anagarika Dharmapala), Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana (maternal grandfather of Anagarika Dharmapala), Charles A. de Silva, Peter De Abrew, William De Abrew (father of Peter), H. William Fernando, N. S. Fernando and Carolis Pujitha Gunawardena (secretary).
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, an American journalist, founder and first president of the Theosophical Society, felt that its long streaming shape made it inconvenient for general use. He therefore suggested modifying it so that it was the size and shape of national flags.
Blue (Pāli and Sanskrit: nīla): The Spirit of Universal Compassion
Yellow (Pāli and Sanskrit: pīta): The Middle Way
Red (Pāli and Sanskrit: lohitaka): The Blessings of Practice – achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity
White (Pāli: odāta; Sanskrit: avadāta): The Purity of Dhamma – leading to liberation, timeless
Orange (Pāli: mañjeṭṭha; Sanskrit: mañjiṣṭhā - rather a scarlet colour): The Wisdom of the Buddha's teachings
The sixth vertical band, on the fly, is made up of a combination of rectangular bands of the five other colours, and represents a compound of the other five colours in the aura's spectrum. This compound colour is referred to as the Truth of the Buddha's teaching Pabbhassara ('essence of light').
The nonsectarian Buddhist flag is flown over the temples of many different schools. However, some choose to change the colors of the flag to emphasize their own teachings.
Jōdo Shinshū's flag.
A common variant with the dharmachakra.
Flag of Soka Gakkai.
Thai Buddhist flag (The dhammacakka flag, Thong Dhammacak ธงธรรมจักร).
Korean Buddhist swastika flag.
In 1963, the Catholic President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem invoked a law prohibiting flags other than that of the nation, to ban the Buddhist flag from being flown on Vesak, when Vatican flags had habitually flown at government events. This led to protests, which were ended by lethal firing of weapons, starting the Buddhist crisis.
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