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Wheel of Life | Bhavacakra

Riduk - wheel of life

Wheel of life is known as Bhavachakra in Sanskrit language. Wheel of life represents the very reasons for the suffering of our mortal form, through both horrific and sublime imagery and it can be seen painted on the walls of many Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in all Himalayan regions. Wheel of Life (Riduk) is the traditional representation of the samsaric cycle of existence. It is a complex symbolic representation of samsara in the form of a circle, found primarily in Tibetan Buddhist art. Samsara is the continuous cycle of birth, life, and death from which one liberates oneself through enlightenment. Other Names of Wheel Of life can be seen as Wheel of Bhavacakra, Wheel of existence, Wheel of becoming, Wheel of rebirth, Wheel of samsara, Wheel of suffering, Wheel of transformation.

Essentially it is a metaphysical diagram made up of four concentric circles, held with a firm grip by Yama, the Lord of Death. Above the wheel the sky with clouds or stars is symbol of freedom from cyclic existence or Samsara, and the Buddha pointing at it indicates that liberation is possible. In the center of the wheel there are three animals’ symbols of the “Three Poisons”: ignorance (the pig), attachment (the bird) and anger (the snake). The snake and bird are shown as coming out of the mouth of the pig, indicating that anger and attachment arise from ignorance. At the same time the snake and the bird grasp the tail of the pig, indicating that they both promote even greater ignorance. Next to the central circle is the second layer divided in two-half circles, one light colored while the other is usually dark. These images represent the wheel of Karma, the law of cause and effect. The darker portion shows individuals experiencing the results of negative actions. The light half circle, instead, indicates people experiencing the results of positive actions and attaining spiritual ascension.

The Wheel of Life is pictured as being command by the jaws, hands, and feet of a fearsome figure who turns the wheel. This intricate design is believed to have been drawn first by Buddha himself.  It portrays the endless life circle of human beings.  The exact identity of the figure varies. A common selection for the figure is Yama, the god of death or Kala the lord of time. This figure is additionally referred to as the “Face of Glory” or Kirtimukha. The outer rim of the wheel is divided into twelve sections and given such names as the Twelve Interdependent Causes and Effects or the Twelve Links of causality.

The six main segments of the wheel depict the six worlds of existence.  In the upper half are the relatively happier realms of the gods (in the center), the asuras or demigods and human beings.  In the lower half are the more wretched realms of the animals, the hungry ghosts and souls tortured in hell.  The in the outer rim of the wheel, twelve scenes depict the chain of cause and effect. 

Moving out from the center is a narrow circle.  The light half shows figures rising to higher levels of existence.  The dark half shows figures descending to lower levels.  The six main segments of the wheel depict the six worlds of existence.  In the upper half are the relatively happier realms of the gods (in the center), the asuras or demigods and human beings.  In the lower half are the more wretched realms of the animals, the hungry ghosts and souls tortured in hell.  The in the outer rim of the wheel, twelve scenes depict the chain of cause and effect. 

  1. A blind woman: ignorance
  2. A potter: deeds forming karma
  3. The monkey: restless consciousness
  4. Two men in a boat: mind and form
  5. A fully constructed house: the six senses
  6. A pair of lovers: contact
  7. An arrow piercing the eye of a man: feeling
  8. Serving drink: craving
  9. A man gathering fruits: over attachment
  10. A pregnant lady: a new process of becoming
  11. A new woman giving birth: rebirth in a new existence
  12. A man carrying a corpse on his back: death

Life’s impermanence is shown by having the entire Wheel of Life, including the gods, held in Yama’s claws. 

Wheel of Life Thangka

Wheel of Life Thangka is traditionally hand painted on cotton canvas using stone color.

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