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The true meaning of the Dhamma-wheel

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 We now consider the representation of the Buddhas as Dharmacakra, Word wheel (and World wheel), or Wheel of the Law or Norm, of which early Buddhist artaffords so many examples, amongst which the most famous is that wheel which was set up by A'soka in the Deer Park at Benares on the site of theprathamadesana, "First Preaching," which was also the dharmacakra pravartana, "First turning of the Wheel of the Word:"(54) The pre and non Buddhistmeanings of the symbol must be studied. What the Wheel stands for in Indian symbolism is primarily the Revolution of the Year, as Father Time (Prajapati, Kala), theflowing tide of all begotten things (Aitareya Brahmana, II, 17), dependent on the Sun (Maitri Up., VI, 14 16). In Rg Veda, I, 164, 2, 11, 13, 14, and 48, the one wheel of theSun's chariot has twelve or five spokes (months or seasons), or 360 spokes (days), axle (aksa), and triple nave (na’bhi); it is a revolving wheel of life (amrta)undecaying (ajara), therein insist (tasthuh) the several worlds (visva bhuvandni): ibid., I, 155, 6, "He (Visnu) by the names of the four (seasons) has set in motion therounded wheel that is furnished with ninety steeds" (the ninety days in each quarter of the solar Year); similarly, Atharva Veda, X, 8, 4 7, and Svetasvatara Up., I, 4(brahma cakra in I, 6, and VI, 1); in the Kausitaki Brdhmana, XX, 1, "the Year (elsewhere identified with Prajapati) is a revolving Wheel of the Angels, that is undying;therein is the sixfold proper food (i. e. means of existence) . . . thereon the Angels move round all the worlds."(55) In the sense that Time is the Sun, a circle is itscentre, the Wheel represents the Sun, but more exactly the movement of the Sun, in his heavenly car, with one or two correlated wheels. The Sun or Solar Wheel isconstantly spoken of as "revolving" or as being revolved, with use of root vrt as in the Buddhist pavattana, pravartana : e. g. I, 35, 2, where Savitr is vartamanah; I,155, 6, cakram . . . avivipat; II, 11, 20, avartayat suryo na cakram; V, 30, 8, asmanam cit svaryam vartamanam; VII, 63, 2, samanam cakram pary avivrtsan.


Actually to represent all possible states of being, the Wheel would have to be conceived in the manner of a gyroscope, revolving simultaneously in an indefinitenumber of planes, though still with a motionless centre: just as the Cross must be thought of from this point of view as constituted of three arms, mutually at rightangles, intersecting at the one common point which is also the centre of the sphere in which the Cross stands. Actually, however, this would be to introduce aneedless complication, and in fact the symbol as employed is essentially an ordinary chariot wheel,(56) just as also in common usage the two armed cross standsfor a cross extended in three directions. Although, then, the Wheel, as the "round of the world " and "earth plain," strictly speaking corresponds only to a givenensemble of conditions it represents analogically the indefinite totality of all possible conditions, the entirety of samsara. As thus representing the Universe in itsentirety, the Wheel symbol remains in use unchanged from Rg Veda, I,164, through Svetasvatara Up., T, 4, and Anugita, XXX, to Kabir and the present day.(57)


The content of the wheel symbolism is extraordinarily rich, and can only be outlined here.. Its dimensions are indefinite, its radius the variable distance betweenan undimensioned (amatra) point and an immeasurable (asankhya) circumference; there in the `middle space" (antariksa, akasa), between the "I" and the "not I,"essence and nature, lie procession and recession (pravrtti, nivrtti), there are good and evil (dharmadharmau), joy and sorrow (sukha, duhkha), light and shade(chayatapa), birth end death, all local movement and affection; and that motion and passibility are greater the greater the distance from the centre. Beyond the fellylies only the inexistence of the irrational, an impossibility of existence, as of square circles or the horns' of a hare,; within the nave, the non existence of the suprarational. (58)


The cycle of ego consciousness implies an outward movement from the nave to the ever receding felly, and a return from the however distant felly to theunchanging centre. A progressive enlightenment (krama mukti) can then be expressed 'as a gradual contraction of the radius, bringing the circumference evercloser to the centre, until that which seemed to enclose the point is seen to lie contained within it, knowledge being thus con centrated into a single form, which isthe form of very different things. (59) That is Nirvana, unitary being, "with residual existential elements," and by a vanishment of the point becomes also Parinirvana,without residuum of existence.

He whose seat is on the lotiform nave or navel of the wheel, (60) and himself unmoving sets and keeps it spinning, is the ruler of the world, of all that is naturedand extended in the middle region, between the essential nave and the natural felly; "On whom tie parts stand fast; as it were spokes on the nave of the wheel, Him Ideem the Person to be known," Prasna Up., VI, 6. In Pali Buddhist and later Sanskrit texts this Royal Person is designated Cakkavatti, Cakravartin, "He (that which,i.e. Brahma) who turns the Wheel," and the same designation is applied analogically to any terrestrial "Universal Ruler " or Emperor (Figs. 19, 20). As we have seen,the term Cakravartin, as an essential name of the Buddha, and the corresponding expression Dharmaeakra pravartana denoting the setting in motion of the Word orLaw, are constantly met with in early and later Buddhism. These terms do not occur as such in Vedic texts, where cakri, "doer, "and other forms of the verb fir, to"do," "make," "cause," "instigate," etc.(61) must be distinguished etymologically from cakra, "wheel"; it may be surmised, however, that the "bopular" etymology ofIndian hermeneutists might have seen a., significance in the assonance of cakri and cakra. And if the word cakravartiti, is absent in the Vedas, the meaning isnevertheless to be found there; the notion of a supreme Power, Lord of rta = dharma, whose sovereignty (ksatra) is over all the worlds (vi8"vct bhuvandni) and isalso the axial mover of the twin world wheel of the car of Time and Life is so constantly presented that we can hardly speak of the notion of the King of the World assomething new in Buddhist times. Varuna alone or with Mitra is often called samraj, mention is often made of the Premier Angel's autonomy (svardjya), and in III,55.4, Agni is universal King, samano raja.(62) In X, 5, 3 and 4, the notions visvasya nabhim carato dhruvasya, "navel of all that is proceeding or concrete," and rtasyavartanayah, "propulsions of the Law"; in X, 168, 2, and 174, 1, and 5, the notions vivasya bhuvanasya raja, "King of the Universe," abhivartah, "victorious," andasapatnah," "without a rival,; imply a sovereign power. In X, 51, 6, rathi'va adhvanam anvdvarivuh, " as one who drives a car upon its way," tantamount to " CosmicCharioteer," (63) X, 92, 1, yajnczsya vo rathyam vispatim, "your charioteer of the sacrifice and lord of the folk," and I, 143, 79 dhursadam agnim mitram na"Agni asMitra seated on the pole," i.e. as driver," necessarily imply the setting; in motion of the principial Wheel or Wheels, No distinction of meaning can be drawn asbetween the driver of the solar chariot and him who makes the solar wheel revolve. "Seven treasures" (septa ratna), apparently the same as those of a Cakravartin,are mentioned in Rg Veda, V, 1) 5, and VT, 74, 1,


We considered above mainly the case in which the cosmic wheel is thought of as single. perhaps more often the chariot of the Sun is thought of as running ontwin wheels connected by a common .axle tree (aksa), and this involves a consideration of the world from two distinct but inseparable points of view (cf. AitareyaBrCthmana, VIII, 2, cited above, p. 20). As the Sure shines equally for angels and for men (leg Veda, I, 50, 5, etc.), so of the twin wheels of his chariot one touchesHeaven, the other Earth (Rg Veda, I, 30, 19, and. X, 85, 18); and their common axle tree is identified with the axis of the universe that holds apart (vitaram, visvak)Heaven and Earth (Rg Veda., V, Z9, 4, and X, 89, 4). Or again, when the chariot of the Sun is thought of as three wheeled (tricakra), Rg Veda, X, 85, two of the wheelsare identified, as aforesaid with Heaven and Earth ("one looks down upon the several worlds, the other ordains the seasons and is born again," cf. I, 164, 44 and 32),,and these "proceed by magic,"mayaya caranti; but the third is hidden (guha’ = guhayam nihitam, sc. "in the heart "), and only the adepts (addhatayah) areComprehensors (viduh) thereof. This third wheel evidently corresponds to the "secret name," name guhyam, of X, 55, 1, and the "third light" of X, 56, 1. Thesedoctrines of three wheels, three lights, etc., are tantamount to the trikaya doctrine in Buddhism. (64)


The axle tree of the twin wheels (which axle must be thought of analogically also as penetrating the third wheel) is the primary source of moving power, orBrahma (as rooted incidentally in leg Veda, I,166,.9): not itself revolving (important), it is the unmoved mover in relation to the wheels. But to complete ourunderstanding of the pratika it must be realized that the revolution of the wheel requires the operation of an opposing force operative at the felly, where in actualexperience contact with the ground supplies a fulcrum. In other words, revolution depends on the interaction of conjoint principles, which may be galled Heavenand Earth, Purusa and Prakrti, sattva and tames, I and not I, subject and object, etc. This is recognized in several passages in which the infixation of the axle, or themovement of the wheels, is effected by the deity by means of his abilities (sacibhih, Rg Veda, 1, 30, 15, and X, 89, 4), powers (8`aktibhih, X, 88, 10), or magic (mayaya,X, 85, 18), saci, Sakti, and maya being synonymous feminine designations of his "means whereby," the "ground" of manifestation, cooperating with his "essence,"who is Sacipati, Mayin, etc.


The axle tree is also the .axis of the universe, as most clearly stated in Rg Veda, X, 89, 4, yo akseneva cakriya sacibhih visvak tastambha prthivim uta dyam, "bythe axle of his wheeled car indeed, by his abilities, he pillars apart Heaven and Earth," cf. V, 29, 4, rodasi vitaram viskabhayat, and other passages cited above, p. 10,notes 15 and 139.


In Rg Veda, X, 85, 12, "the chariot is in the mode of Intellect (anomanasmayam), the Breath of Life (vyana) was the axle (aksa) fastened there." It will be understoodthat the axle point (ani) that penetrates the hollow (kha) in the nave (na’bhi) is central in each wheel; (65) so in leg Veda, I, 35, 6, the Undying Angels (se. the SeveralAngels, visve devah, Adityas) are said to depend upon Savitr (the Supernal Sun as prime mover) "as on the chariot's axle point (ani)," and in Aitareya A.ranyaka, II, 7,the Self (atman) is compared to the "twin axle points (ani) "'of the Veda. We have thus dwelt at some length on the Vedic implications of the wheel or wheels,because it is important to realize the wider content and consequent power of this symbol which was so extensively employed in Buddhism, though with a morerestricted application. The continuity of the ideology is often very striking; compare for example Rg Veda, I, 164, 13, "its axle is never heated (na tapyate), its heavy laden nave (nabhi) isnever worn away, " with the edifying application of the same notion in Sarnyutta Nikaya, I, 33 (I, 5, 7), where the chariot which with its twin Word wheels (dhammacakkehi samyutto) conducts the rider to nibbana is by name "Frictionless" (Akujana).


In actual Buddhism, the Wheel, like the Tree, is regarded from two points of view, that is to say as a pair of wheels, principial (Dharmacakra) and phenomenal(Samsaracakra, Bhavacakra); hence from the standpoint of the Wayfarer, broken on the wheel, as either to be turned or stayed,(66) but from that of the OmniscientComprehensor as one and the same uninterrupted Form, his own intrinsic form. For from any point of view within it, the movement of a wheel can be regarded ashaving two directions, as it were right and left; or again, the movement being continuous, any point on the circumference may be regarded either as beginning or asend. It can be understood from either point of view that when Buddha "hesitates" to set going the Principial Wheel, which is also the Existential Wheel, the Angelsare in despair, that Brahma exclaims, "Alas, the world is altogether lost," vinassati vata bho loko, and prays that the Word may be spoken, desetu bhante bhagavddhammah, J.,I,81. Taking dharmacakra pravartana and prathama desana in their universal sense, that is with respect to the creation of the world, the Angels arenaturally dismayed at the "hesitation," for their very existence depends on the operation of the Wheel, the revolution of the Year; as in Rg Veda, X, 51, where Agnihas "fled in fear from the high priestly office (hotrat) lest the Angels should thus engage (yunajan) me . . . which as my goal (artha) I foresaw;" the Angels answering"Come forth, for man is faro to serve us, he waits prepared . . . make easy paths, create the Angelic Way (brahmayana, dhammayana.etc.) . . . let the Four Quartersbow (namantam) before thee." (67) Or taking the words in their specifically Buddhist application, with respect not to the procession of life, but its recession, and asthe preaching of a Gospel to that end, the Angels must be thought of as equally despaired at the "hesitation," for all things moving seek their rest. (68)


In monastic Buddhism and from an edifying point of view, stress is naturally laid upon the Dharmacakra only as a Word wheel to be set in motion to the end thatmen may find their Way (magga, marga), and here the cosmic significance of the Dharmacakra as an embodiment of the Year, "Eniautos Daimon," is thus obscured;it is only gradually brought out again that the revolution of the Principial and Existential Wheels is interdependent and indivisible, in the last analysis one and thesame revolution.(69) That is developed in the Saddharma Pundarika, III, 33, where h1 11 who preached the Word at Sarnath and on Mt Grdhrakuta is addressed ashaving "set in motion the Principial Wheel which is the origin and passing away of the factors of existence," dharmacakram pravartesi …skandhanam udaya.mvyayam.(70) That identity of Word wheel and World wheel Vajra dhatu and Garbha ko'sa dhatu in Shingon formulation is equally implied in the well known formula,Yah kles'ah so bodhi., yah samsaras tan nirvanam, "Error and wakening, World flux and Extinction, are the Same," cf. Maitreya Asanga, Sutralamkara, XIII, 12(Commentary), avidya ca bodhis caikam, "agnosis and gnosis are one," (71) and in the doctrine that Omniscience, sine qua non of Nirvana, is the realization of thesameness of all principles, SPt., p. 133 the same, samma’ (Absolute), but differently seen by the eye of flesh (mamsa caksus, viz. the eye's intrinsic faculty in thesensible world), the angelic eye (divya caksus, viz. the mind's eye in the intelligible world), and the eye of wisdom (prajna, dhamma , ananta, or buddha caksus, viz.the Comprehensor's eye in the world of gnosis).


In another way the correspondence of manifested and transcendental being, here viewed as a correspondence of the twin Wheels and their dependence on acommon axis, is developed in Shingon Buddhism as the identity of (1) the " Germ calyx plane " or " Germ womb plane " (taizo kai = garbha kos'a dhatu or garbhakuksi dhatu) and (2) the "Adamantine plane" (kongo kai = vajra dhatu).(72) Here the premier powers or principles of the two rationally but not really distinguishedplanes are represented respectively by the "seed words" A and VAM (OM), according to the significance attached to these sounds in the Upanishads.. In theShingon mandaras these sounds are represented by diagrams or letters supported by lotus thrones. In any case, the Dharmacakra as Buddha symbol implies a conception of the Buddha as Dharmakaya, "Embodiment of the Word"; he is at once the SovereignMover of the Wheel, raja cakkavatti, and the Wheel itself, the Word as set in motion, pravartita. From the fact that the wards Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya do notoccur in canonical Pali texts it may be inferred that the Trikaya doctrine was not originally developed; nevertheless, the Pali texts already reveal a very consciousBuddhology, as already observed above. Here we need only indicate that the Dharmakaya concept of the Buddha is certainly presented, e. g. Digha Nikaya, III, 84,"The Tathagata may be spoken of as Dhammakaya, or Brahmakaya,"(73) and Samyutta Nikaya, III, 120, "Who sees the Dhamma sees me, who sees me sees theDhamma”. So then, in the abundant early Dharmacakra representations, the Buddha is already ideally iconified as a Principal Wheel supported by a universalground; the Word as embodied (kaya).


This prepares us to understand that the Dharmacakra, like any other Buddha symbol, can properly be represented as supported by a lotus, of which very clearexamples can be cited from Shingon mandaras (74) That the Wheel of Life was actually so thought of in a certainly pre-Buddhist tine is clearly shown by AtharvaVeda, X, 8, 34, a prayer for fullness of life, "I ask thee concerning that Flower of the waters (apam puspa) wherein insist (srita) Angels and Men, as it were spokes inthe nave (nabhi) (of a wheel), the which was there infixed (hita) by Magic (maya)," where the "flower of the waters" is of course the lotus.


In early Buddhist ark the Dharmacakra is represented as supported by a pillar with a bulbous capital, upon which are four lions, on which. in turn theDharmacakra directly rests.(75) The capital and lions I take to be the lotus and lion thrones which are so often combined in the later anthropomorphic iconography. Ihave discussed elsewhere 76) the morphology of the lotus capital, and now take it for granted that the pillar itself corresponds to the stem, cable moulding tostamens, and abacus to pericarp. The capital, then, represents the heavenly ground on which the Word is manifested, while the actual earth in which the pillarstands is that terrestrial ground on which the Word is actually preached; the pillar extends from Earth to Heaven, it is the Axis of the Universe; the whole representsthe Universe.


Allusion may also be made to one other way in which the Word may be shown as explicitly supported by a lotus; that is when the Word is embodied in a giventext, any given sutra or "alternative formulation," dharma paryaya. Inasmuch as "he why makes a manuscript of the dharmaparyaya and cherishes it, therebycherishes the Tathagata" (SPt., p. 338), it is a perfectly correct iconography which represents Prajnaparamiti, or Manjushri supporting the "Lotus of TranscendentWisdom" upon a lotus, the holding of the stem of this lotus being a formulation equivalent in significance to the support of the pillar of the Dharmacakra by itsground.


We have seen that the lotus represents that wherein existence comes to be and passes away, the seat of pravrtti and nivrtti, of Him who starts and stays therevolution of the Wheels of Time, but have alluded only in passing to what is ultimately the most significant aspect of the lotus symbolism, i. e. the identification ofthe lotus with the "heart" or "mind" of man. Again and again in the Upanisads that elemental Space (akas'a, kha, nabha, antariksa, etc (77)…) in which the PrincipialBeing is manifested as all the forms of natured being is located in the cave or secret chamber (guha), dwelling (vesma), hollow (kha),(78) temple (ayatana), abode(alaya), coffer, or calyx (kola), or nesting place (nida)(79) in the Lotus of the Heart (hrt puskara) or inward man (antar bhuta), i.e. "in the innermost." There in auniversal mode abides the Self (atman), the Lord (isa), Person (purusa), indefinitely dimensioned, "smaller than an atom and surpassing magnitude," anon aniyanmahato mahiyan, Svetasvatara Up., III, 20, etc. "This space within the heart (antarhrdaya akasa), therein is the Person (purusa) in the mode of Intellect (mano maya) . .. there he becomes as Brahman in a spatial embodiment, as very Self, as the playground of the Spirit (pranarama), as Intellect and Bliss, Peace uttermost andeverlasting," Taitriya Up., I, 6, 1, "who is the Logos (dharma)," Brhadaranyaka Up., II, 5, 11. Are we not reminded that "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you"? Oragain, "That golden Person in the Supernal Sun who from that golden station looks down upon this earth, it is even He that dwells in the Lotus of the I heart andfunctions there. He who dwells in the Lotus of the Heart is that same numinous solar Fire that is spoken of as Time, unseen and all devouring,” Maitri Up., VI, 1 2, cf.Jaiminiya Upanisad Brahmana, I, 27. So "what is within that should be searched out, that assuredly is what one should desire to understand . . . (for) everything iscontained therein, both what is ours (now) and what is not (yet) ours," Chandyoga Up., VIII, 1 3, i.e. not merely those possibilities that can be realized within the circleof a particular ensemble of conditions such as "ours," but all that can be realized in the indefinite totality of all states of being, all that God can "be." Thus Time andSpace, manifested Deity in other words, are not eternal facts, but all contained at the core of our own being; there lies that "nothing" out of which the world wasmade; there can be realized the Kingdom of Heaven, in a degree proportionate to the measure of our Understanding.(80)


These considerations carry us far beyond the iconography of Brahmanical or Buddhist art to its ultimate content. This content is no less essential in the visualthan in the literary art; to use only the eye in. looking at a sculpture is no better than to use the ear alone in listening to the recitation of a text or the chanting of ahymn, however "artistic" these performances may be. The visual and literary formulations have precisely the same "uses," their references are the same; for somepurposes the one, for others the other, may be more efficacious; cf. Kobo Daishi', speaking with reference to the propagation of the doctrine, "The reverend Divineinformed me that the secrets of the Shingon sect could not be conveyed without the aid of pictorial representations".(81) In any case, it is the content that gives riseto, the iconography, whether this be, visual or verbal, just as the soul is said to be the form of the body ("form" is the principle that determines a thing in its species .To regard only the symbols, and not their form, is nothing but sensationalism, if not fetishism: (82) Docti rationem artis intelligent, indocti voluptatein, where ratio israison d’etre. The humane point of view, that the symbols are merely indications or stimuli, not to be judged as ends in themselves, bud as means or supports ofrealization, has been strongly emphasized in the East, nowhere more explicitly than in the Lankavatara Sutra, ed. Nanjio, p. 48: "As a master painter seated beforesome picture applies his colors for the purpose of making a picture, so do I preach (desayami); the (real) picture is not in the color nor in the surface nor in theenvironment (byajana), (but in the mind (citta) of the painter). The picture is devised in colors as a means of attracting living beings; and (just as the picture may bedefective, so) the preaching may err, but the principle (tattvam cf. tattvartha in Brhad. Devata VII, 110; Dantes “vera sentenzia”) transcends the letter”(aksara-varjitam). As Dante expressed it, “Behold the teaching, that escapes beneath the veil of it strange verses” (83) The vocabulary of art , sensible in itself isnecessarily built up from the elements of sensible experience, the source of all rational knowledge; but what is this constructed is not intended to resemble anynatural species, and cannot be judged by verisimilitude or by the ears or eyes sensation alone; it is intended to convey an intelligible meaning, and beyond that tothe point the way to the realization in the consciousness of a condition of being transcending even the images of thought, and only Self-identification with thecontent of the work, achieved by the spectator’s own effort, can be regarded as perfect experience, without distinction of “religious” and “aestheticlogic andfeeling.

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