Symbol Series: Deer

/ Photo by Aunt Owwee /

One of the best meditation teachers I know is the deer.

She holds her classes in a grove, by a stream, in your backyard. Observe a deer and your body will synchronize to stillness. You’ll notice her winking and humoring you with her effortlessness. Her feet move so lightly that the leaves beneath her feet are left undisturbed. She moves quietly and gently.

She is gentleness.

Close Encounter of the Deepest Kind

On a drive to the airport in the small town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in the late ’90s, I had an encounter of the close kind with deer. I was picking up my husband after his return from a trip to California. It was dark on this November evening, 8 pm, and a half-hour drive to the airport. I noticed one deer on the side of the road nibbling with contentment on a tree shrub.

I arrived at the airport. The view took my breath away: The airport parking lot was filled with deer! They were meandering, staring at the bright headlights of my car, their heads tilting with curiosity. I stopped and I hadn’t even parked the car yet. I counted them, twenty-five deer in the parking lot.

I stepped into another plane of existence where silence permeated; I entered eternity.

I walked around the airport parking lot and terminal. I even peeked in the airport terminal’s buildings. There was not another person that I could see. No one. Not even airport employees. Just me and the twenty-five deer in the parking lot.

It wasn’t until 20 minutes later that an airplane landed, the one my husband was on, and people started to trickle in through the airport.

I felt like I’d had a meeting with a remarkable spirit, a divine energy. I felt lifted up, opened up, in a state of levitation. It was this experience – meeting the twenty-five deer – that marked a beginning in studying Buddhism more deeply.

I’m not saying that I am a Buddhist. I embrace many religions. After this experience, I immersed myself in further study and contemplation. I prayed with more devotion in my personal life, and in my reading practice. It was the beginning of many beginnings in my spiritual unfoldment.

Deer Symbols in Buddhism

Deer symbolizes the first sermon of the Buddha, which was held in the deer park of Benares near the Ganges River. A first sermon marks a wisdom initiation. Seeing deer could suggest a sacred introduction to a new level of spiritual understanding, a spiritual birth, receiving a blessing of peace.

In an article on Buddhism and Animals, Sharon Callahan talks about deer in mandalas (or mandaras) to focus meditation.

“In Buddhism, there is a mandara (sacred drawing) which depicts a deer standing on a white cloud with the Tree of Life above its head. Because the deer is considered the messenger of universal love, meditating upon this mandara is said to open one’s consciousness to the mystery of infinite peace.”
— Sharon Callahan

According to Vedic philosophy, there are three types of primary energies in food, personalities, health, in all of life.

  • Sattvic – purity, calm, clarity, peaceful, contented, meditative
  • Rajasic – active, fired up, filled with passions
  • Tamasic – lethargic, stuck, attracted to dark, destructive things, decay

The deer is sattvic in nature and has a calming, peaceful influence. In contrast, the energy of tiger is rajasic, which gives one fierce determination, persistence, and endurance.

Animals serve far beyond their role as domesticated animals, as our trusted companions. They represent spiritual qualities that we can incorporate into our spiritual practice. Deer radiates purity and serenity. Deer is grace. Her gentle movements remind us to slow down enough to feel the caress of the air on our arms, the warmth of the sun on our forehead, and the sweet earth beneath our feet.

Deer on the side of the road

Seeing a deer on the side of the road that’s been hit by a car can represent a sign of cruelty, unkindness, or a conflict that will be revealed. I saw a dead deer on the side of the road a few days before hearing the dreadful news that a girlfriend’s husband was beating her.

When we hit a deer in a car accident, this could suggest that we are confronting our own critical attitudes toward ourselves. So much wounding in the world is self-inflicted. We may unknowingly punch ourselves with our hateful thoughts. The gentleness of deer says, “Let me heal these bruises with tenderness, and teach you tenderness towards yourself.”

Deer teaches gentleness and quietude. She also brings peaceful resolution. Seeing several deer in your backyard or on your property could indicate that an amicable solution to a tough problem is approaching.

What remarkable meetings with deer would you like to share?

7 comments on “Symbol Series: Deer

  1. Radha says:

    Hello everybody! We have a huge kind of deer – Sambar- more like an elk or moose I think, in Amboli(India). Also very gentle. In summer when our garden sends out wet inviting smells into the drying forest the deer come to our garden to feast. In the morning – not much garden. Although it is sad to lose ones garden, I feel strangely happy after the deer party, as I feel its their right too to share my succulent garden and I can imagine that it must be so satisfying…. my husband gets really annoyed with me unfortunately.

  2. Hi Radha, I love reading your comments as they are like poetry. The description of the deer feasting in your garden as “a deer party” is poetry. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Krystle says:

    Michele A.

    I’ve been having close encounters with deer all month. So I turned to the internet to see if there is some symbol behind it. Answers as to why these incredible creatures are so tolerant of my close presence. It was only last week when a young male deer let me come maybe 15 feet from him. He stared in my direction for a while and bowed his head. At first I considered he might charge. But after about 20 seconds of it…I concluded he was gentle and accepting of my nearness. Two female deer only days before that let me walk into the boundries in which they were grazing. They were doing just what you said : wagging their short tails, winking at me and moving gracefully, without such effort.

    Each time I stood absolutely still. Its a feeling like floating when that close to such beautiful creatures.

    Overall. Searching for my answers I came across your blog. I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

  4. Kristin says:

    Today, I saw a dead deer on the side of the road. It was a fawn, a female deer?

    It really troubled me. I think deer are beautiful, and had seen one alone doing well… on the side of the road a few years back.

    I was driving to a meeting with 4 top leaders of an international non profit that I work for, and the CEO had flown into the state to visit with us. We were discussing new opportunities, and felt like the deer was a very strong symbol to encounter right before a meeting with the CEO and board members about growth or potential.

  5. Ingrid says:

    “Deer teaches gentleness and quietude. She also brings peaceful resolution. Seeing several deer in your backyard or on your property could indicate that an amicable solution to a tough problem is approaching.”

    Tonight I “lost it” with my son and yelled at him pretty harshly. I had had a long and tiring and frustrating day… and just couldn’t take it anymore. But granted he’s only 4 years old… Well, after I yelled at him, I took a “time out” and went on the porch for a few moments to try to calm myself down. And there was a deer – right in my field, probably about 30 feet from me. She looked at me, almost ran away, but then stopped and just looked…and looked. And I looked at her the same way. I watched her as she nibbled on some bushes, and then she walked, ever so gently across the field…didn’t run. It was so calming to just watch her for that two or three minutes. By the time she left my sight, I went back inside and sat down next to my sweet son and apologized for losing it with him. We cuddled and he said “that’s OK, Mommy, I forgive you…” Then we joked around and laughed and I tucked him in and laid down next to him. He fell asleep in less than 5 minutes.

    I went looking tonight on the internet to see what the deer symbolizes, as I felt it was a meaningful encounter, and I came across this entry. And what I quoted above fits SO perfectly with my experience of tonight. I am so grateful to have encountered that beautiful animal tonight -just when I needed her.

  6. Kate says:

    My mum recently died, in not the best of circumstances,

    The day we spread her ashes I sat in my car before meeting the rest of my family. In the massive sky above me, there was a does head in the sky. I saw it and was transfixed. The rest of the day overtook this sight.

    I just remembered, and searched for deer symbolism… finally there is some ‘peace’.

  7. Mihaela says:

    Hi, I had a vision last night while meditating, a beautiful and peaceful deer sitting on something like a purple cloud. I wondered what does it mean. I am a beginner in meditation and I don’t usually have visions. I guess I am on the right track!

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