Black in Buddhism is not so different from Western Culture in that it refers to darkness and hate. Meditating upon hate, anger, and darkness may not seem like the path to peace, but the principle revolves around coming to an understanding. Learning, rather than revelling in the black of ignorance, is the path to clarity and truth. Black is often used as a reminder of conquest by not annihilation, but turning evil into good. Black is most commonly found in black paintings, more specifically black thangkas, which are representations of deities, usually. Gold outlines and vibrant colors against a black background seemed even more capable of portraying other-worldly manifestations than those typically on plain, white backgrounds. Seen to the left is a female Bodhisattva who rids of miseries and disasters.
White is representative of the principles of purity, as in Western Culture, but it is also considered the colour of knowledge and longevity. It is consider a colour of extremes, associated with the cold of snow and the smelting of metal. White is associated with the Buddha Vairocana. According to Buddhist legend, Buddha’s mother, Maya, dreamt of a white elephant touching her right side before Buddha was born. Elephants, associate with rain clouds and fertility, are seen as good fortune, and following that the elephant was white meant purity and learnedness for the child. Because of this dream, seeing a white elephants spells remarkable fortune, which holds truth whether in reference to mysticism or not, as they are quite rare. The white elephant is thought to be Buddha descended from the heavens.
The colour red symbolizes lifeforce, preservation, fire, and sacred things or places. Also riddled with duality, fire can represent warmth and comfort, but can also be a destructive force. Red is associated with the Buddha Amitabha. Throughout Tibetan culture, red is a marker of sacred areas, and a true mark of a Buddhist scared area are the simplistic, tall gates at the entrances. We also see this colour on the garments on the monks. It is believed to be a protective colour, like that of shamanistic wards.
Green denotes youth, vigour, action (Karma), and harmony. Because it is the colour at the middle of the spectrum, it is also represents balance and is associated visually with the lush trees. Green is associated with the Buddha Amoghasiddhi.
Yellow is the colour that possesses the highest symbolic quality because of the saffron colour of the monks’ robes. Previously a colour worn by criminals, it was chosen as a symbol of humility and separation from materialistic society. It symbolizes renunciation and desirelessness. Because it is also the colour of the earth, yellow denotes stability and grounded nature.
Coming to understand the principles represented by these colors, applying that wisdom to life, and being free from desire is how the Rainbow Body, and possibly Nirvana, is achieved.