The Wheel of Life or Samsara was designed by the Buddha Shakyamuni himself as a total explanation of Buddhist teaching. It is one of the earliest historical examples of a visual aid used in teaching to explain the workings of karma.
The Wheel of Life or Samsara is one of the most profound of all the Buddhist teachings for its’ encapsulates. Furthermore, the primary and advanced teachings of Buddhism regarding the subtle realities of life in its reincarnating principles and environments.
It contains all the essential teachings of Buddhism. Moreover, it is a most profound instrument of teaching and depiction of the interrelated doctrines of Buddhism.
Samsara is often painted at the gate of all the Buddhist Monasteries. The wheel of life is, in fact, a mirror. When we look at it or into it we are in effect looking at ourselves.
We see ourselves in the picture, our heights and depths and we also see our reactivity and potential creativity. We see all we have been, and what we now are as well as what we could become. Wheel of Life or Samsara not only represents sentient life on different levels but also perhaps represents life on the Psychological Mental. Most noteworthy, conscious and subconscious levels.
In addition, for a full understanding of these ideas, we shall explore the different images in the picture.
The wheel of life has four parts:
The First Circle:
In the center circle, you can see a pigeon, which represents desire. A snake, which represents hatred and a pig, which represent ignorance. These are the root or the cause of suffering in Samsara. These animals are used in the picture because they best represent the animal-like tendencies in our mind. As a result of the mind, it cause us to traverse the wheel and to take rebirth again and again.
Desire can have both a negative and positive expression. Here we are concerned with its negative aspect, which is rooted in Greed, Hatred and Delusion. In addition, which reinforce our most basic ideas concerning ourselves. Moreover, which heaps us bound to the cycle of birth and death. Compassion Generosity rooted in Desire, and Awareness this provides the ‘motive force’ for our eventual ‘escape’ from the cycle of becoming, for self-transcendence and final liberation.
The second circle
The second circle is divided into a white path and black path. This circle represents the two ways we can act in any situation either with skillfulness or unskillfulness. The white path represents the effects of all of our willed actions (Karma) (of body, speech & mind). The root of it is compassion, generosity and awareness. Consequently, it leads us to experience happy, peaceful and joyful states of mind.
Opposite of it, the black path represents the effects of all of our negative action (Karma) (of body, speech & mind). The black path leads us to experience sufferings as a natural consequence.
In conclusion, depending on our motivation towards acting with Awareness and compassion, or with a self-centered ignorance and unawareness we will experience states of mind in accordance with our actions. This is perhaps a very important point within the whole of the Buddhist teachings. Our present state of experience both subjective and objective are what we are creating all the time and are not given to us by some outside divine power and nor they fixed and rigid for all time. Our experience tends to seem fixed because our actions are often fixed and habitual.
The third circle
Around the inner circle we find the six realms in which we can be reborn. We start with the less than ideal areas:
1. The world of hungry ghosts
Due to their narrow necks and throats, the hungry ghosts are unable to eat, and must therefore suffer maddening hunger and unquenchable thirst throughout their whole existence. It is mainly their greed that brought them to this realm. In this realm of unfulfilled desire, the Buddha is represented with a jar full of nectar, symbolizing the virtue of generosity. To put it in simpler terms: this is how your karma looks when you are selfish and greedy. To avoid such a fate, be generous and make sacrifices.
2. The hell
Whoever ends up here will suffer unimaginable pain, impossible heat and immeasurable cold. The condemned, burning slowly over eternal fires, see their members and genitals chopped off before being cooked and eaten by insatiable demons. Once again there is a Buddha, in this case washing and cleaning with water the path that leads out of Hell. The simple explanation: anger and hatred are the way in; patience, the way out.
3. The realm of the animals
This is the destination of those who had led lives particularly distinguished by ignorance and weakness. Existence as an animal is definitely not easy: they are hunted and eaten by humans or other animals without a moment of rest. Also here there is a Buddha, who with his sword – a symbol for the destruction of ignorance – shows the way out of the realm.
4. The world of the humans
In the realm of humans, and due to their selfishness and passions, people suffer the misfortunes of illness, old age and death. In general, however, this area of life is the best of all six, since man has here access to the Buddhist teachings, and therefore has also the opportunity to escape from the wheel of life (that is, of reaching Nirvana). The historical Buddha, present here, symbolizes this possibility.
5. The world of the god
The world of the gods stands for pleasure and the illusion of eternal happiness. Sounds very tempting, right? But this realm is dangerous in its own way: one is never too far from the edge, and as pride and vanity grow inside us, so does the risk of falling back down into the lower reaches of the wheel of life. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara warns us against this, by proclaiming the virtue of meditation.
6. The realm of the demi gods
The last of the six areas of life is a world inhabited by demigods in constant struggle, fighting a never-ending battle with the gods. They quarrel over the ownership of the Tree of Desire, whose roots lie on the domain of the titans, but whose leafy top, heavy with ripe fruits, rests on the side of the gods. Filled with envy, they fight for the possession of the tree. So it’s jealousy that keeps them trapped in Samsara, the cycle of births. The Buddha in this realm reminds them of this.
Although redemption or illumination is most likely in the world of men, none of the six areas is hopeless. The Buddhas in each realm, who draw attention to a world full with self-made dilemmas, illustrate this.
The fourth or the last circle
The fourth or the last circle shows the 12 links of dependent-origination. The wrathful figure that holds the wheel is Yama or the lord of death and it represents impermanence of life. The Buddha taught that if we practice the Dharma we can free ourselves from this wheel of life and attain true happiness; which means to escape the cycle of Samsara.
The Twelve Links of Dependent-Origination The cycle of dependent origination is at the heart of Buddhist teaching that all things are impermanent and nothing has an inherent existence apart from other causes and conditions. The twelve-link cycle is illustrated as the outer most ring on the Wheel of Life often drawn in the entrance to many monasteries
1. Just to the right of the top is a blind man with a walking-stick, representing ignorance of the true nature of the world.
2. Moving clockwise, a potter moulding a pot symbolizes that we shape our own destiny with our actions through the workings of karma.
3. The monkey climbing a tree represents consciousness or the mind which wanders aimlessly and out of control.
4. Consciousness gives rise to name and form, which is symbolized by people travelling in a boat on the river of life.
5. The next link is an empty house, the doors and windows of which symbolize the developing sense organs. Buddha noted six senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch and thought.
7. From contact arise feelings, which we categorize as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Feelings are represented on the wheel as an arrow piercing the eye.
8. From feelings arises desire or attachment to pleasant feelings and experiences, symbolized by a couple falling in love or a man.
9. Desire or attachment leads to grasping for an object of desire, symbolized by a monkey picking fruit.
10. From grasping arises existence represented by a man and a woman making love.
11. Existence culminates in birth (entry into the human realm), which is symbolized by a woman in childbirth.
12. Birth naturally leads to aging and death, which is symbolized by an old man carrying a burden. !
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