Wheel of Life
(as it is presented at the Tibetian Mandala
The Wheel of Life: Eastern vs. Western View
The Wheel of Life is a presentation of the
Buddhist teaching on the suffering and impermanence of cyclic existence.
The Lord of Death, Yama, holds the wheel of
existence between his teeth, hands and feet.
At the centre of the wheel are three poisonous
delusions represented by a red cockerel (passion and lust), a green snake
(hatred and aggression), and a black pig (ignorance and confusion). These
three creatures chase and bite each others tails, giving rise to the endless
cycle or becoming.
In the next circle beings rise to enter the
three higher realms, or fall to enter the three lower realms. The six realms
are represented within the spokes of the wheel.
The hell realm, in the lower part of the wheel
is characterized by the extreme suffering of the various hot and cold hells.
The hunger ghost or preta realm in the lower left is characterized by
craving and enormous hunger. The denizens of this realm having huge empty
stomachs and mouths like pinholes. The animal realm is characterized by
extreme stupidity. The jealous gods in the upper left, suffer from
competitiveness and ambition as they strive for the realization of their
desires. The god realms are sensual heavens, where the inhabitants are
totally involved in the pursuit of pleasure. Only in the human realm, with
its constant fluctuation of pleasure and pain can the
be clearly heard and liberation attained.
In the outer ring are the twelve links of the
chain of dependence arising. Clockwise from the top they are:
Ignorance (a blind person)
Action (a potter)
Consciousness (a monkey holding fruits)
Name and form (a person rowing a boat)
Sources (an empty house with five windows and a door)
Contact (sexual contacts)
Feeling (a person with an arrow in his eye)
Craving (a person drinking alcohol)
Grasping (a monkey picking fruit from a tree)
Becoming ( a pregnant woman)
Rebirth (a baby being born)
Old age and death (an old person walking with a cane).
At the top right of the
painting is the paradise of Amitabha. A pathway leads from the judgment hall
of the dead in the hell realm to Amitabha's paradise, along which those
being with the most fortunate Karma proceed. At the top left is
Shakyamuni Buddha who, having attained liberation from the wheel of
existence, points towards his perfect wheel of the