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On the chest of the Buddha in many historical paintings and sculptures, there is a symbol that looks like a swastika. What is it?

The swastika is the ancient religious symbol of an equilateral cross, with the arms bent at right angles in a clockwise or a counterclockwise direction. Although this symbol is widely known to the Western world as the symbol of the German Nazi party, it stems from many ancient Eastern civilizations, and embodies a completely different meaning.

Until the 20th century, the swastika was the symbol of good fortune, prosperity, and longevity in many Far Eastern countries. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svasti, which means good fortune, luck, and well-being. In Buddhism, the swastika represents the turning of the “Dharma wheel”, and thereby promotes goodwill, compassion, and generosity to all sentient beings.

Regrettably, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party borrowed the swastika in the early 1900s, reversed it, and used it as their party emblem during World War II. Not only do the Nazi swastika and the ancient swastika used in Buddhism and Eastern cultures differ in meaning, the Nazi swastika is also slanted, resting on a point, and has right angles bent in a clockwise direction. The traditional swastika lays flat and is counterclockwise.