The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler's Cross
Rescuing a Symbol of Peace from the Forces of Hate
A remarkable cross-cultural history that rescues the swastika, an ancient Buddhist symbol, from its deployment by the forces of hate.
The swastika has been used for over three thousand years by billions of people in many cultures and religions—including Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism—as an auspicious symbol of the sun and good fortune. However, beginning with its hijacking and misappropriation by Nazi Germany, it has also been used, and continues to be used, as a symbol of hate in the Western World. Hitler's device is in fact a "hooked cross."
Rev. Nakagaki's book explains how and why these symbols got confused, and offers a path to peace, understanding, and reconciliation.
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"Buddhist priest and scholar Rev. Dr. T. K. Nakagaki delineates the history of the Swastika as both a positive symbol of peace and through the Nazi usage that has come to represent evil and darkness."
—Eli Lieberman, Association of Jewish Libraries
"I would highly recommend this book to those who work in cultural institutions, especially those involving Japan, Japanese Americans and Buddhism."
—Naomi Hirahara, Nichi Bei Weekly
"An incredible historical study of the importance of religious symbols and how they can be incorporated into a society in surprising and unlikely ways."
—The Seattle Book Review
"I'm fascinated by Buddhist priest T.K. Nakagaki's reflections on why symbols hold such power; how the swastika has been used for good across the globe; including as a motif in synagogues; and why Hitler adopted it to symbolize his own hateful philosophy."
—Andrea Miller, Lion's Roar
"Too often conflicts and arguments start from simple misunderstandings. The Buddhist symbol of the swastika is an excellent example of this human miscommunication. What started as a positive and beautiful symbol by the Buddhists was perverted and twisted by the German Nazis. This seminal work by Rev Dr. T. K. Nakagaki finally clearly and beautifully clarifies this simple and unknown truth”
—Rabbi Michael Schudrich, The Chief Rabbi of Poland
"The Nazi association with the symbol is so powerful in modern pop culture, it will be a long time before the swastika can be appreciated again as an expression of the positive, as it is in many ancient and Asian cultures still today. But Dr. Nakagaki's scholarly and moral accomplishment in this book is an important step in the right direction."
—Robert Thurman, Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Columbia University
“Reverend Toshikazu Kenjitsu Nakagaki has shown intellectual courage and integrity in selecting for his book the controversial symbol of the swastika, stigmatized in the West for its association with ideas of racism and hatred and revered in the East for ages as representing a sacred spirituality. He has done a commendable job in presenting his extensive study and research opening the door for the inquisitive to the significance of this many-faceted icon and its implications for peace and reconciliation in today’s complex world. The book is undoubtedly impressive and deserves wider global attention and readership.”
—Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (2002-2007)
“The Reverend TK Nakagaki renders a great service by rescuing the swastika, or Manji a benign 1,400 year old Buddhist symbol in Japan, from its hateful use by Adolf Hitler and his fascist Nazi thugs. It is must reading for all who care about the healing impact of the world’s great religions.”
—George Packard, Dean Emeritus, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
"In a brave gesture of cross-cultural significance, The Buddhist Swastika and Hitler’s Cross offers us a detailed explanation of the positive history and meaning that this profound symbol has had for millions of people over the millennia.”
—Rande Brown, LCSW, former Executive Director of the Tricycle Foundation, publisher of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
“Distinguished Buddhist teacher T.K. Nakagaki movingly explains the auspicious traditional significance of the swastika for Buddhists, stressing the sharp contrast between its original meaning and its later distortion by the Nazis. This is a cogent and timely call for interreligious understanding and acceptance. Highly recommended!”
—Dr. Leo D. Lefebure, Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology, Georgetown University
“Nothing symbolizes evil and hate in our era more graphically than the image that the Nazis emblazoned on their flags. In a globalized world where East and West now meet and mix, profound misunderstandings too easily arise when the German Hakenkreuz becomes confused with the Indian swastika. With careful scholarship, a deep respect for Jewish life and identity, and great sensitivity toward the memory of the Shoah, T. K. Nakagaki has disentangled the Nazi symbol from the authentic meaning of the swastika. In doing so he has also challenged us to resist and refute evil and hate in whatever form they are manifested, and to work for the peace for which the ancient swastika authentically stands.”
—Dr. Dale T. Irvin, the President and Professor of World Christianity, the New York Theological Seminary
About the Author(s)
A Buddhist priest, ordained in the 750-year-old Jodoshinshu tradition of Japanese Buddhism. He is the author of three books in Japanese and is also a noted Japanese calligrapher.