SEARCH     Home     Site Map    Symbolism    Calendar     Karmapa     News    DONATE

Knots, Nets, Chains, Ties and Fetters is still under construction.

Maudgalyayana's Net

One of the Buddha's main disciples was renowned for his extraordinary abilities -- we would say, "magic powers." In the Maharatnakuta Sutra ("Great Pile of Gems") it is told how he rose into space and suspended numerous strings of pearls to form a luminous netting as a demonstration of the existence of innumerable universes with multitudes of world systems and buddhas in every one.

Indra's Net

This metaphor evokes the net that hangs over the palace of Lord Indra, king of the gods in Indian mythology.  It is also referred to in the Avatamsaka Sutra, another Buddhist Mahayana scripture.  Imagine a kind of spider's web in which at each node appears a mirrored sphere -- a pearl or gem -- which reflects all the other mirrors and vice versa infinitely.  In this way, each infinitesimal part of the universe encodes all of the universe within it in a kind of holographic fractal.

The meaning is that each object in the world is not a phenomenon in and of itself.  It involves every other object; it is everything else.  Further, "In every particle of dust, there are present Buddhas without number."  That can be interpreted as signifying that the infinite whole of existence is permeated throughout with Buddha-nature. 

The view of contemporary scientist, Fritjof Capra, is that the net is more than mere metaphor.   In The Tao of Physics (1975) he wrote: ". . . particles are dynamically composed of one another in a self-consistent way, and in that sense can be said to 'contain' one another."  Later, in chapter 8 of The Turning Point (1982) he wrote: "The similarity of this image to the hadron bootstrap is indeed striking.  The metaphor of Indra's net may justly be called the first bootstrap model, created by the Eastern sages some 2,500 years before the beginning of particle physics."

The Inter-Net

Tim Berners-Lee, the particle physicist to whom is attributed the invention of the World Wide Web, used the metaphor of Indra's Net to describe the power of global communication in bringing together the world's people.  Peter Russell, the theorist who wrote The Global Brain Awakens used the same metaphor to describe "the evolution of mankind through the development of the aether-like sixth sense of the many-to-many communications media." 

~ Magnum, issue 10.

Fishing Net

The net is also a fish trap.  In the parable of The Giddy Fish, Buddha Shakyamuni showed one of his monks that his struggles with desire and attachment need not lead him to give back his vows.  He said that in his former lives, he often suffered the consequences of lust.  Unless he learned to conquer sensual desire, he would again ruin his precious life. 

"Listen to a story of another existence of yours, as a fish. The fish could be seen swimming lustily in the river, playing with his mate. She, moving in front, suddenly perceived the meshes of a net, and slipping around escaped the danger; but he, blinded by love, shot eagerly after her and fell straight into the mouth of the net. The fisherman pulled the net up, and the fish, who complained bitterly of his sad fate, saying, 'This indeed is the bitter fruit of my folly,' would surely have died if the Bodhisattva had not chanced to come by, and, understanding the language of the fish, took pity on him. He bought the poor creature and said to him: 'My good fish, had I not caught sight of you today, you would have lost your life. I shall save you, but from now on avoid the evil of lust.' With these words he threw the fish into the water.
"Make the best of the time of grace that is offered to you in your present existence, and fear the dart of passion which, if you do not guard your senses, will lead you to destruction." 

    ~ Paul Carus, "The Giddy Fish," in Parables and Stories of Buddha. T. Kinnes.

The Auspicious Knot

One of the eight traditional symbols of Buddhism is Shrivatsa, the endless knot.  Also known as the "auspicious knot" (or, glorious knot, Tib. pal biu) it represents the Buddha's heart, the essence of which is bodhicitta, ("awakened mind" or, universal compassion) and thus, the Mahayana.

Various interpretations are given for its meaning.  However, within the general context of Buddhism, it stands for the interdependence of existence.    As Karmapa recently wrote:

A Life is Like a Net

"Our life is vast. It does not stop at the limits of what we personally experience. It is not something concrete or bounded. I do not think it is valid to view our life as limited to just ourselves -- as if our human life extended only as far as our own body.

Rather, we can see that a life extends out in all directions, like a net. We throw a net, and it expands outward. Just like that, our life extends to touch many other lives.

Our life can reach out and become a pervasive part of everyone's life."

~ The 17th Karmapa (The Heart is Noble, 11.)

The Symbolic Depiction

It may have originated in the crossbeams of a temple, and it certainly does resemble the four arched poles that cross to support the felt cover of a central Asian tent, yurt or Mongolian ger  In that case, we could say that it represents the ultimate Refuge.

In Mongolia, it is called Olzii Utas or Happiness Knot, and it is believed to bring long life and prosperity, and afford protection from wild animals and evil spirits.  It has become a popular motif to applique on a curtain, bag or apron.   

It can also stand for karmic consequences:  pull here, something happens over there.  It is also an apt symbol for the methods of Vajrayana:  often when we tug at one part of a knot while trying to loosen it, another part gets tighter.  Sometimes you have to work with the knot to get it to come undone.

In its endless configuration, the knot evokes the cyclic nature of rebirth and calls to mind karmic connections. 

In Hindu mythology, the knot is associated with Lord Vishnu.   Robert Beer, in The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Shambhala Publications, 1999) points out that the mark or curl on the chest of Vishnu is called shrivasta, which actually means "beloved of Lakshmi" his consort.   Lakshmi, goddess of wealth or prosperity is also known as Shri (short for "Our Lady") so she is also our Lady Luck.  Hence the endlessly intertwined seal is not only a mark of general auspiciousness but also, of personal happiness.

Legendary Knots

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche (1930-2002) was the 14th in the line of Nyingma masters that began in the 15th century with Sherab Gyaltsen.  Chag.dud actually means "iron knot," for the first in the lineage displayed mastery over the elements by twisting a sword into a knot with his bare hands.  This remarkable feat won the admiration of the Mongolian ruler, who thereafter recognized and supported his abilities as a master of the Dharma.  

This feat evokes the report of the cutting of the Gordian knot by Alexander of Macedon in 333 BCE.  That was the knot binding the yoke to the beam of the chariot belonging to Gordios, King of Phrygia.  The famous knot attracted so many visitors that it was eventually housed in its own temple.  It was said that whoever could untie it would become the ruler of Asia. 

Perhaps the original significance was metaphoric:  Western Asia is home to many diverse and conflictive peoples.  More than two thousand years later, no one has even begun to "untie the knot."


The town of Ghordes in Turkey (in the region once known as Phrygia) is still known for its knots.  It has been famous for carpet making for millennia, and "Turkish rug" has always implied the double looping technique for the pile of these carpets.  (Persian rugs are made with only a single knot.)


Robin Lane Fox.  Alexander the Great(Superior of the many books on this topic

Tantra: Warp and Weft


According to tradition, Thangtong Gyalpo (1362-1485) is usually credited with the introduction in Tibet of the use of long iron chains for suspension bridges.  However, as noted by Cyrus Stearns (The Buddha From Dolpo, note 49 p183) we should know that the great Jonang stupa (dedicated 1333) built under the supervision of Dolpopa for Kumbum Monastery, uses 4 of this kind of chain as structural supports.


Other Buddhist sutras referring to the Net:  9 Samyutta Nikaya, Nidanavagga -- the Book of Causation (II), Nidanasamyutta -- the Connected Discourses on Causation (12), Nutriment (II), Kaccanagotta (15) [17], Digha Nikaya, Brahmajala Sutta: The Supreme Net -- What the Teaching Is Not 1 (I.1-46). 
Copyright 1998-2018 Khandro.Net All rights reserved. This Web site is designed with Firefox as browser but should be accessible to others. However,  if you eliminate underlining in your Preferences you could miss some of our links.