Wheel of life

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A Bhavachakra

The expression wheel of life (also: wheel of becoming ; Sanskrit : Bhava - cakra ; Tibetan : srid pa 'khor lo ) denotes, among other things, a symbol of Buddhist meditation . Shortly before his enlightenment ( Bodhi ), Buddha is said to have seen the eternal cycle of life and recognized the path to liberation.

Representations of the wheel of life serve today as a meditation aid, as a mandala ; they are often also shown on the so-called thangkas . They always contain the same symbols and follow a certain scheme. In the rim there is a twelve-part, pictorial representation of the chain of Dependent Arising , which results in the eternal cycle of rebirth . The wheel of rebirths is clasped by a demon ( Yama , lord of death), which is supposed to symbolize time with its devouring and eternal aspect.



The wheel of becoming is the representation of the painful cycle of rebirth ( samsara ) from which everyone should strive to find liberation. It is one of the oldest types of images in Buddhist painting. It is the ancient Indian idea of ​​the workings of karma , which is symbolically illustrated in the picture of the wheel of life.

At temples it usually decorates the outer wall of the vestibule. Before the believer enters the temple, his gaze falls on the wheel of life and this prompts him to change his life. He recognizes himself in the wheel of life, it is a mirror, an encrypted expression of his unconscious. Whoever enters the temple steps symbolically through the samsaric world into salvation; Meditation on the Bhavachakra can be a preliminary exercise for self-realization. Even those who are ignorant of reading can absorb the teachings of Buddha through the wheel of life.


Yama, the grim, sharp-toothed demon of death and the unwholesome, clad in a tiger apron, holds the wheel of life in his claws. Sometimes this demon is also viewed as a mara and figures as a “tempter” (e.g. in the depictions of the Buddha's life). He is often supported in this function by his three daughters - rati (lust), arati (dissatisfaction) and tanha (greed). In this role, Mara is compared to the Christian devil. Outside the wheel, free from rebirth, in front of a temple sit the Buddha Gautama on the top right and the transcendent Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara on the top left . Gautama Buddha is shown with the alms bowl as the founder of the order, his right hand performs the gesture of touching the earth (Bhumisparsha mudra ) as a sign that he calls on the earth as a witness to the truth of his teaching.

The wheel of becoming consists of four concentric circles:

First circle (wheel hub)

Rooster, snake and pig chase each other in the center of the wheel. They symbolize the three root poisons :

  • Rooster: greed (principle of attraction)
  • Snake: hatred (principle of repulsion)
  • Pig: delusion (principle of the narrow view)

Another system shows in the center of the wheel a pig as an image of ignorance, a dove as an image of greedy attachment and a snake as an image of anger.

According to the Buddha's analysis of the world, these three root poisons bind beings to the cycle of rebirths ( samsara ). It is only by overcoming and destroying these forces that it is possible to escape samsara and achieve salvation ( nirvana ).

Second circle

In the adjacent ring, in the right, dark half, the karmic descent is indicated, in the left, light half the karmic ascent. Committing evil deeds or following the Dharma and doing good, everyone has a choice between these two options.

Third circle

In the wider, adjoining ring, the Buddhist understanding of the six areas, worlds or forms of existence are shown in which the beings are reborn depending on the quality of their deeds ( karma ) and intentions ( samskara ). Namely the realm of gods, jealous gods, humans, animals, hungry spirits (Pretas) , and hell beings . Everyone is reborn in the form of existence that they have earned through self-laid karmic causes. In each of the Six Realms, the Buddha endeavors to bring relief to beings to their lot and a knowledge of his teaching.

Fourth circle

In the outer ring of the wheel of life, the various factors of existence are shown that determine the life of every person. They are described as twelve links (nidana) in a chain that repeatedly draws people into the cycle of birth and death. Each of the twelve links is not the sole cause, but one of several conditions for the next link to arise.

The description of the twelve stations starts at the top in the middle and continues clockwise.

  1. A blind old woman with pot and stick, who steps towards the abyss from the safety of the house, symbolizes the ignorance that is to blame for the fact that most people remain stuck in the cycle of rebirth. As a result of ignorance, they develop samskara and karma that results in future rebirth.
  2. The intentions are represented by a potter who makes bowls and jugs for future use. (= Works of willpower)
  3. Programmed by the intentions to act, consciousness takes on a new form of existence after death, like a monkey swinging from one branch to another.
  4. The new form of existence begins with the emergence of name and body, by which the mental and physical components of the person are to be understood. Like two men in a boat, they are dependent on each other and have to stay together until the river is crossed.
  5. The six human senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thinking) are comparable to a house with six windows.
  6. Through these windows he looks out into the world, so that contact with the perceived objects occurs, symbolized by a pair of lovers.
  7. The touch gives rise to sensations, often painful like the arrow in the eye, even more often tempting.
  8. This creates desire or thirst ( Tanha ), represented by the pot that is filled with barley beer. Desire prompts beings to take up a new form of existence after death.
  9. From the desire that is only satisfied for a short time, an even stronger form of greed grows. Man is now a slave to his passions. This form of existence is symbolized by the person (sometimes a monkey) who has grabbed a branch to pick fruit.
  10. The becoming of the new rebirth is symbolized by the couple at conception or by the pregnant woman.
  11. The next stage is the birth in a new form of existence and is illustrated by a woman giving birth.
  12. Age and death close the wheel of becoming. Tied in a cloth, the corpse is carried by a carrier on his back to the morgue, where it is cut up and eaten by vultures and jackals.



Receipts / individual evidence

  1. Harri Czesla: The Wheel of Life . Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  2. ^ Pictures of Awakening, Tibetan Art as an Inner Experience by Jonathan Landaw and Andy Weber, Diamant Verlag Munich, ISBN 3-9805798-1-6 , 1st edition 1997, p. 43
  3. ^ Carsten Nebel: Wheel of Life at Sera monastery in Gangtok . Retrieved May 9, 2009.
  4. The left half is white here, the right half black (seen from the left and right of the observer)

Web links

Commons : Wheel of Life  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files