The flag was originally designed in 1885 by the Colombo Committee, in Colombo, Ceylon (now 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.
At the 1950 World Fellowship of Buddhists, the flag of Buddhists was adopted as the International Buddhist Flag.
- 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 (Pali: odāta; Sanskrit: avadāta): The Purity of Dhamma – leading to liberation, timeless
- Orange (Pali: mañjeṭṭha; Sanskrit: mañjiṣṭhā), alternatively scarlet: The Wisdom of the Buddha's teachings
The sixth vertical band, on the fly, is made up of a combination of the five other colors' rectangular bands, and represents a compound of said colors in the aura's spectrum. This new, compound color is referred to as the Truth of the Buddha's teaching or Pabbhassara (lit. 'essence of light').
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- The colour mañjeṭṭha is interpreted as pink in Myanmar, a Theravāda Buddhist country.
- In Japan, there is a traditional Buddhist flag (五色幕 — goshikimaku) which has different colors but is sometimes merged with the design of the international flag to represent international cooperation.
- In Tibet, the stripes' colors represent the different colors of Buddhist robes comprehensively united in one banner. Tibetan monastic robes are maroon, so the orange stripes in the original design are often replaced with maroon.
- Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal replace the orange stripes with plum stripes.
- Theravāda Buddhists in Thailand opt for the usage of a yellow flag with a red dhammacakka (ธงธรรมจักร - thong thammajak); it is sometimes paired with the international Buddhist flag. It was officially adopted in 1958 by Buddhist monks, and flown outside temples alongside the national flag and on important events.
- Soka Gakkai uses a tricolor of blue, yellow, and red. It is often mistaken for the flags of Chad and Romania.
A common variant with the dharmachakra
Thai Buddhist flag (i.e. the dhammacakka flag, ธงธรรมจักร, Thong Dhammacak)
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.
- "The Origin and Meaning of the Buddhist Flag". The Buddhist Council of Queensland. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
- The Maha Bodhi, Volumes 98–99; Volumes 1891–1991. Maha Bodhi Society. 1892. p. 286.
- Lopez, Donald S. Jr. (2002). A Modern Buddhist Bible: Essential Readings from East and West. Beacon Press. p. xiv. ISBN 9780807012437.
- "Buddhist flag marks 125th anniversary". Sunday Observer. 16 March 2010. Retrieved 8 November 2018.
- Wilkinson, Phillip (2003). DK Eyewitness Books: Buddhism. Penguin Putnam. p. 64. ISBN 9781782682875.
- "The Buddhist Flag". Buddhanet. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
- အရှင်စန္ဒောဘာသ(ရွှေဘို). သာသနာ့အလံတော် (in Burmese). ရွှေပုရပိုက်စာပေ.
- "Flags of the World: Buddhism". Archived from the original on 24 September 2008. Retrieved 24 September 2008.
- Zachary., Abuza (2001). Renovating politics in contemporary Vietnam. Boulder: L. Rienner Publishers. p. 191. ISBN 1588261778. OCLC 65180894.
- Buddhist flag at Flags of the World
- General Buddhist symbols