The wheel symbolism in buddhism
In Buddhist philosophy the duration of life of a living being is exceedingly brief, lasting only while a thought lasts. Just as a chariot wheel in rolling rolls only at one point of the tyre and in resting rests at one point, in exactly the same way the life of a living being lasts only for a period of one thought. As soon as that thought has ceased, the living being is said to have ceased. If the real character of things and beings in terms of impermanence is grasped correctly, the clinging at things or at the soul will cease to be. The moment the desire for clinging ceases, the very moment, the wheel of becoming, will come to stand still. The theory finds its fullest expression in the doctrine of the twelve spokes (Nidana) of a wheel, or what is called the theory of dependent origination (Pratitya - Samutpada).2
The twelve-spoked wheel, in its clockwise direction consists of the following sysmbols:
1) Avidya, ignorance, blind man with the stick
2) Samskarah, impressions formation; potter with a wheel;
3) Vynana, consciousness: monkey climbing a tree
4) Namarupa, name and form: a ship (that is, the body) with four passengers representing the four mental aggregates (Skandha) 3: Vedana, (feeling:) Sanna (Perception ); Sankhara, (Impression) and Vinnana, (consciousness).
5) Sadayalanani, (six-sense organs), an empty house.
6) Sparsa, Contact; man and woman in embrace.
7) Vedana, (feeling; man with an arrow in the eye).
8) Trishna, (craving; woman offering water to a man).
9) Upadana, (grasping: man gathering fruit).
10) Bhava, (becoming, conception; woman with a child).
11) Jati, (birth; woman in childbirth)
12) Jaramarana (old age and death; man carrying a corpse to the ceretry).
These twelve Nidanas stand for the twelve spokes in a wheel, in clock wise direction. The Buddhist philosophy amazingly and in exactitude is transmuted into the architectural components of the wheel speaking of the comprehensive knowledge of the Buddhist Philosophy of the artist who rendered the twelve-spoked wheel.
Avijja, ignorance of four noble truths refers to the Avijja of the past life causing a being to pursue madly the worldly pleasures. Avijja is the fundamental root of evil and the ultimate cause of desire which creates the dukkha of existence. It is the nearest approach to “Original Sin” known to Buddhism. Its total elimination resulting in perfect enlightenment is goal of Buddhist path. Ignorance is the first of the Nidanas or links in the chain of causation; first because it is the primary cause of existence. It is the last of the Ten Fetters.4 Sankhara, is the mental impressions resulting from Vedana, and Sanna, the elements of consciousness. Mental tendencies or impressions were caused by Karma and Sankhara refers to karma of the last life due to Avijja. Vinnana keeps the Sankharas under its control.
It is the Patisandhi Vinnana that connects the last life with the present life. Vedana, Sanna, Sankhara and Vinnana these four together are called Nama or internal body; and the physical body consisting of four elements is Rupa. This is the beginning of life, Salayatana are the six organs including mind. Bassa is the contact of the six organs with objects. Vedana is the feeling or sensation of form (Rupam), Sound (Saddo), Odour (Gandho) taste (Raso) contact (Phasso), ideas (Dhammo), these are the Sadvishayah, the six objects of the senses. 5 Tanha, desire in itself is colourless, but selfish desire is the cause of suffering. The will to life must be transmuted into aspiration for the welfare of and ultimate enlightenment of all beings.
Tanha’s source is delusion (moha) caused by attraction to the Six objects of sense. Upadana is clinging to existence. Bhava is a philosophical term signifying “becoming” a state of existence, a life. In the casual chain bhava is the link between upadana (clinging to life) and jati (rebirth). Birth, the arising of a state of being in any sphere of existence from previously non-existent; creation “exnihilo” is inconceivable to a Buddhist. Birth in the physical state is union of pre-existing character and consciousness with the physical vehicle in the womb of mother, not the ejection of the foetus (life). The marana (death) is the temporary cessation of personal existence on the grosser aerial planes. It is only a temporary break in the continuous life of the individuality, an aspect of the impermanence (anicca) or all living things. The period between death and rebirth is spens in the super-physical, but still material spheres, which are the subjective worlds (lokas) created by the subconscious mind. 6
The entire thrust of the doctrine is to explain the continuous process of becoming; that is of transmigration. The cause of becoming at the initial state, is said to be ignorance. Once the wheel of becoming is put to motion, there is no stopping. With the birth of an individual, the Samsara is given rise. This series of births and deaths goes on ceaselessly.
The twelve spokes of a wheel may also symbolize Dvadasayatanani, the twelve organs and objects of sense. They are kakkhayatanam (the eye), sotayatanam (the ear), Ghanayatnam (the nose), the manayatanam (the mind), Rupayatanam (taste), Photthabbayatanam (touch), and Dhammayatanam (ideas).7 The twelve spokes can also stand for Dvadasa Dhatugunah8, and 12 ascetic practices.
The doctrine of the casual chain, initially, seems to have been conceived not in the terms of a wheel but as a line in a series of transmigrations of unknown beginning.9 With the passage of time, the theory was interpreted in terms of a moving wheel, and in the Divyavadana10 the Buddha asks Ananda that a five spoked wheel be inscribed on the gateway of the Veluvana monastery at Rajagriha. This is how the Buddha describes the wheel.
The five-spoked wheel is to be made with the five destinies (gati), the hells, animal, ghosts (preta), gods and human beings; their in the hells are to be made at the bottom, the animals and ghosts above, then gods and human beings; the four continents, Purvavideha, Aparagodhaniya, Uttarakuru and Jambudvipa. In the middle (the nave) passion, hatred and stupidity are to be represented, passion in the form of a dove, hatred in the form of a snake, and stupidity in the form of a pig. An image of the Buddha is to be made pointing out the circle of nirvana. Apparitional beings are to be represented by means of windlass as passing away and being reborn. All round is to be represented by a twelve-fold causal origination in direct and reverse order. The whole is to be represented as swallowed by impermanence (anitya), and two verses are to be written. 11
In Buddhist Philosophy, the five spokes of the wheel can also stand for Panchabhijnah, the five supernatural facilities such as Iddhividha or Iddhippabbhedo (Magical Science), Dibbaso-tam (Divine hearing), Parassa ketopariyananam or Parakittavigananam (Knowledge of other thoughts), Pubbenivasanussatinanam, (memory of former abodes). Dibbakakkhu (Divine Sight)12. They may also denote Panchedriuani 13 the five moral qualities (viz) Saddhindriyam, Viriyindriyam, Satindriyam, Samadhindriyam and Pannindriyam or Panchanantharyani14 or Panchayakshushih. 15
The wheel as the representation of becoming (bhava), is shown to be in the light grip of Mara, the Evil one. 16
The wheel of Life is not only a diagram showing the eternal revolution of Samsara (the endless cycle of births) from which only the truth of Buddhism can deliver man. It is also purely symbolic representation of the Buddha and the niorvanic plane with which he is coessential, represented twice, according to Paul Mus. The first is in the center of the wheel, the point around which the Samsara revolves. Detached and motionless, this represents the Buddha as the Enlightened one, between the moment of his Enlightenment and parinirvana (earthly death), but still inside the whirling Samsara. The second representation of the Buddha is the pure white band around the wheel which symbolizes him after the Parinirvana, showing that now he is beyond determinism, outside and above the cycle of incarnation that goes on for ever beneath him.
The dhamma the wheel of the Law as an ever-rolling chariot, the wheel is the symbol of conquering efficacy. The Buddha is the Dhamma-Cakkavattin or Universal Monarch in the domain of righteousness. The preaching of the First sermon at Benares is called the Dhammacakkappavatana sutta, or the discourse of setting in motion the chariot wheel of the Good Law.
Indeed the aesthetics of Buddha dharma and symbolism are amazingly reflected in the architectural rendering of a wheel-shaped great stupa at Nagarjunakonda. The aesthetics and symbolism of its construction become intelligible when we find Asvaghosa defining it in theological terminology as follows:
Then, for the benefit of the world, the seer, turned ‘the wheel of the Law’ whose hub was truth (rita). It had three fellows (nemis) called dhriti (integrity), mati (correct apprehension), and Samadhi (meditation and concentration). Its spokes are the ordinances of the rule. This wheel has four step-knees, namely dukkha, suffering; samudyalata, its origin which consists in the persistence of active being, Santi, its suppression; and upaya, means. In this four-fold path-like manner, the truth is explained as a message of the wheel. Such a theological description of the Dharmacakra has found architectural expression in the Great Stupa, which in plan is the wheel, whose spokes are Vinayas and Niyamas, whose fellows which are in concentric circles are dhriti, mati and samadhi, while the Central hub is what the Buddha describes as truth. The four-fold step-knees of the wheel are shown in the stupa as its four ayaka platforms facing the cardinal points on which the ayaka pillars stand. The ayaka platform on the East is what the Buddha calls dukkha. The second ayaka platform facing the South is what he calls Samudyalata. The third ayaka project on facing West is what the Buddha calls Santi and the fourth ayaka projection is called upaka. Thus all these are inter-allied, leading to one movement and one result. From the pinpoint of Rita (truth) where the hub is located, we move on into the procession of the revolution of the wheel, to outer dhritti and the further rotations of this wheel on the circumference, are carried and punctuated; and checked on four-fold step-knees, which are four ayaka platforms and which correspond to the dukkha, samudayalata, santi and upaya nomenclature adopted by the Buddha. It will thus be seen that a highly theological, symbolical and philosophical definition of the Buddhas Dharmachakra (the Wheel of the Law) is the message that is delivered in aesthetic and architectural language.17
1 visuddhimagga, VIII. Ed by D. Kosambi and H.C. Warren, Cambridge Mass, 1950, trant. by nanamoli as the path of Purification, Colombo, 1964.
2 K. Krishna Murthy. A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Terminologies. New Delhi, 1991, P. 36.
3 Krishna Murthy. Loc. Cit.. P. 12.
4 Ibid., P.41; The Ten Fetters are certain erroneous mental conceptions and desires which have to be cast off as the path is followed to Goal. These are enumerated under the heading of Four Paths. A “Fetter” is the meaning of the name of Buddha’s son Rahula.
5 Ibid., P.14.
6 Ibid., P.35.
7 Ibid., PP 13-14; Childers. P.75b; Hardy, Manual PP 403-452; Koppen, I. 602. Burnoff, Introduction PP 500, 535.
8 The Twelve ascetic practices are: 1) pamsukulikangam; 2) tekivarikulikangam; 3) Pindapatikangam; 4) Sapadanakarikangam; 5) ekasanikangam 6) Pattapiridikangam; 7) Khalupakkhabhattikangam; 8) Arannakangam 9) rukkhamulikangam; 10) abbhokasikangam; 11) sopsanikangam 12) Yatha-Sasntathikangam; Krishna Murthy, Op. Cit., P.18-19; Bumof. Intrad. P. 304 ff. hardy, East Mon., PP. 9, 73, 97, 98, 99. Wassiljew. P.172.
9 Motilal Pandit. Being as becoming, studies in Early Buddhism. New Delhi. 1993, p. 61.
10 Divyavadana, 300.
11 Motilal Pandit. Op.Cit.. P62; Samyutta Nikaya, i. 156.
12 Krishna Murthy. Op.Cit.. PP. 11-12.
13 Ibid., P.16; Trigl. P.176 (28). Lalitav., P.37. 3ff (Dharmal), Kern. 412. (Childers, P. 159. Hardy. Manual. PA98. Eitel. P. 47a.
14 Matughato, Matricide; Pitughato, Patricide, Archantaghato, killing an Arhand: Lohituppcido, shedding the blood of a Buddha; Sanghabhedo, causing divisions among the prieshtood. Cullavagga, VI. 17. 2; Childers. P. 327b, 7b, S.V. abhithanam, Kern. P. 184, n. l.
15 Krishna Murthy. Op.Cit., P.19.. Childers, P. 326b., S.V. Pankakakhu, Lalit V.P. 523., 124.
16 Motilal Pandit. Op.Cit., P.196.
17 K. Krishna Murthy. Mirrors of Indian Buddhism, New Delhi, 1991, PP. 93-94.