The beliefs about crystals within the Buddhist tradition are incredibly varied. There are numerous references to crystals in Buddhist texts, manuscripts, and mantras (phrases which invoke power or are used for prayer).
The most widely known of these is the Tibetan Buddhist mantra, “Om mani padme hum.” This roughly translates to “The jewel is in the lotus” (Silver 11). This jewel is thought of to be the wish-fulfilling jewel of enlightenment, the goal of all Buddhists.
The Dalai Lama breaks down this mantra’s syllables further. He says, “The first, Om, symbolizes the practitioner’s impure body, speech and mind; they also symbolize the pure exalted body, speech and mind of a Buddha. The path is indicated by the next four syllables. Mani, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factors of method – the altruistic intention to become enlightened compassion and love. The two syllables padme, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom. Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable hum, which indicates indivisibility” (Simmons 80).
Robert Simmons writes of the Dalai Lama’s statement, “We could construct a new, literal translation for Om Mani Padme Hum using the Dalai Lama’s meanings: The Body, the Gemstone, and Wisdom are Inseparable” (Simmons 80).
In addition to being referenced in texts or as parts of mantras, specific crystals and gems also play a part in Buddhist beliefs.
According to one such belief, “Tibetan Buddhists depict Vajrawarahi the Queen of Heaven as a diamond sow” (Rankine 210). However, the references to Diamonds in Buddhism do not stop there. According to David Rankine, “In Chinese Buddhism, the Diamond Throne, said to be the center of all things, was one hundred foot across and made from a single diamond; it is now supposed to be buried in the earth” (210).
Yet another reference to Diamonds within the Buddhist tradition is that of the Diamond Dorje. This is a ritual object representing a diamond lightning bolt which is believed to be used to aid the user in cutting through illusion and for grounding (Silver 83).
In addition to Diamonds, other fine gems have been referenced in Buddhism. “The tears of the Buddha were said to be rubies” (Rankine 316). Also said of the Ruby crystal is that, “Rubies were…used by the Chinese to pay homage to Buddha” (Ferguson 79). In addition, David Rankine wrote that, the “Tibetans believed rubies could help heal problems connected with sperm production” (316).
Yet another precious gem referenced in Buddhism is the Sapphire. Rankine wrote, “In Buddhism Sapphire is known as the ‘stone of stones’ and is said to promote devotion, tranquility, happiness, serenity, and spiritual enlightenment” (323).
The use of gems in Buddhism was not limited to precious stones. Semi-precious gems were also used.
The most prominently used of these stones is Turquoise. A Buddhist belief involving this stone is that “Buddha once destroyed a monster with the aid of a magic turquoise” (Rankine 347). Melody writes of Turquoise that, “It has been esteemed by the Tibetan shamen, as holding both a spiritual and protective property. It has been used in Shamanic ceremonies and in the sacred valley of Shambhala” (LIITE 669). Also written of Turquoise is that, “In China and Tibet, turquoise has long been worn as a protective amulet, and in a jewelry format as a sign of wealth” (Lilly 107).
Jade is another stone commonly used by Buddhists. “Jade was considered to be a stone demonstrating the five cardinal virtues of chastity, courage, justice, modesty, and wisdom, and to this end was considered sacred to the Goddess Kwan Yin and to Buddha” (Rankine 243).
Similar to Turquoise and Jade, Buddhists also attributed certain beliefs to Lapis Lazuli. “In Chinese Buddhism…Lapis Lazuli…[is] considered [one] of the eight sacred symbols of good luck” (Rankine 107).
Rose Quartz was another semi-precious stone commonly used in this spiritual tradition.
Rose Quartz is connected with Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of mercy, peace, and compassion. “The early Chinese used Rose Quartz for carvings of the Goddess of Peace as the colour was thought to reflect her gentleness and wisdom” (Topstones 52).
A companion stone of Rose Quartz, Amethyst, is also used by Buddhists. Tibetan monks used Amethyst beads in meditation malas. “In Tibet, Buddhists think of amethyst as a sacred stone and commonly craft rosaries from amethyst crystals” (Kenner 11). Similarly, it is said that, “Tibetans consider this stone to be sacred to Buddha and make prayer beads from it” (Ferguson 57). I have personally seen many malas, or prayer beads, made form Amethyst crystal beads.
Other semi-precious gems used by Buddhists include Carnelian, Chalcedony, and Green Aventurine.
According to David Rankine, “To the Buddhists…Carnelian was a symbol of joy and peace, used for promoting good cheer and banishing sorrow” (190). Rankine says of Chalcedony, “In Tibet, Chalcedony was regarded as the mineral equivalent to the purity of the white lotus flower” (195). According to David Rankine, Green Aventurine “has been used extensively in Tibetan statues in the eyes as it was thought to bring increased visionary powers” (181).
Quartz, the most abundant crystal on earth, which was used by almost every ancient culture, was also used by Buddhists.
“Tibetan Buddhists relied on quartz crystals to recognize the origin of disease” (Topstones 34). Melody writes, “Clear quartz helps one to recognize the origin of dis-ease. It has been used for this purpose quite extensively by…Tibetan Buddhists…during the days of the ‘old ways.’ It has been used by [this culture] in diagnostic healing, in raising the consciousness toward the enlightened state. Also in communication with spirits and with those from other worlds” (LIITE 506).
Melody also writes that, “Quartz is one of the seven precious substances of Buddhism” (LIITE 506). In addition to this belief about Quartz, “Tibetan monks…have considered the clear Quartz crystal a sacred object of incredible power” (Church 4). “Tibetan Buddhists use a clear quartz crystal ball on their altar. This is to symbolize the perfect Buddha nature” (Rea 46). Buddhists referred to these clear Quartz spheres as “visible nothingness” (Dent 11). “Tibetan lamas…used crystals and still do” (Rea 50).
Also prominent in Tibetan Buddhism, is the use of Quartz crystals to fashion beads for prayer malas (a type of Buddhist rosary).
To use the prayer mala, each bead is touched while reciting a particular mantra. The quartz was thought to enhance this type of prayer. “In Tantra, quartz beads are used for ‘stopping all action’” meaning to achieve stillness of the mind, the ultimate goal of meditation (Rankine 303).
As in Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Buddhists used Quartz crystals. In Japan, “Quartz is known as suisho. It was believed if you looked closely in a piece of quartz the Buddha could be seen riding a white elephant” (Rankine 306). In addition, there are various Buddhists rituals that include the use of crystals. For example, “In Tantra the lingam (phallus) of the Eastern quarter is made of quartz” (Rankine 307).
A newly introduced variety of Quartz, known as Tibetan Quartz (due to its origin) is also attributed with certain beliefs.
Melody writes, “It is said by the Tibetan monks (living in the locality where the Tibetan Quartz is found) that the Tibetan Quartz Crystals are found exclusively in the location where a race from the heavens landed many millenniums antecedent to our time today. In this location, they are used primarily for meditation. Also, for connecting with the realm of the unknown” (Supplement A 325-326).
Gyrolite, a lesser known stone, was another stone used in this tradition. Melody writes, Gyrolite “is said to be one of the stones accessed by the Buddha, bringing knowledge and erudition” (LIITE 305).
In Tibetan Buddhist healing, the Banded Agate was used as “a preventative against demonic possession” and Azurite “remedies kidney diseases and irritated tendons and ligaments” (Serindia).
However, not all stones used were gems…
“In Tibet…piles of various stones are found at crossroads and at the entrance to mountain passes. Every traveler adds to the pile. These stones are said to bear a bit of the soul of each traveler. The fragments of these individual souls will create a powerful, collective ‘mineral soul’ to protect travelers from the hazards of the road” (Mégemont 8).
Along this same principle, not all “stones” used in this tradition were crystalline minerals.
Some “stones” were actually organic materials including coral, pearl, and shell. Red coral, “was highly regarded by the Tibetans. It was thought to be indispensable in bone formation, particularly for children. It was even considered to be an indication of blood disease if the coral became paler when worn” (Topstones 33). However, as Red Coral was viewed as being a helpful stone, “In Tibet…black coral is still considered a sign of bad luck” (Jangl 14).
“In Chinese Buddhism…Pearl…[is] considered [one] of the eight sacred symbols of good luck” (Rankine 107). In fact, also in Chinese Buddhism, it was believed that “Placing pearls, said to contain yin energy, in the burial place ensured rebirth and reincarnation” (Mégemont 2).
“In Chinese Buddhism…Shell [is] considered [one] of the eight sacred symbols of good luck” (Rankine 107). Shell is also used in Buddhist ritual. The Conch shell is used as an offering of sound and to represent the Buddha’s teachings. Rankine writes, “In Tibet the conch shell trumpet (sankha) is a symbol of victory” (328).
You can see that many types of crystals have played a role in Buddhism throughout history. From precious gems, to common stones, and even organic materials like shell, crystals have been a part of through Buddhist tradition through ritual, belief, and use.