The Tibetian Wheel of Life

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The Tibetian Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life symbolizes the Tibetan Buddhist perspective on life and it contains many themes and symbols of Buddhist teachings.

The creature turns the wheel of life and it holds in its claws is Yama, a wrathful deity and the Lord of Death. Yama symbolizes the inevitability of death, samsara and the impermanence of all things. This does not lead to despair, however, because outside of the wheel is the Buddha, who shows the way to liberation (symbolized by the moon).

The inner circle of the wheel contains symbols of the three root delusions: hatred (snake), ignorance (rooster), and greed (pork).

The ring around the center is the karma, with the numbers on the left to climb to more realms of existence because of virtuous actions, and the numbers on the right descending to the lower realms of existence because of bad deeds or ignorant.

The central ring of the wheel (the areas between the spokes) symbolizes the six realms of existence. The upper half, left to right, represent the three highest spheres of life: humans, gods and demigods. The bottom half shows the three lower realms of existence: animals, hell beings and hungry ghosts.

The outer ring represents the 12 original dependent relationship, as follows:

Right next to the upper part is a blind man with his cane, which is ignorance of the true nature of the world.

Moving clockwise, a potter molding a pot symbolizes that we shape our own destiny with our actions throughout the operation of karma.

Monkey climbing a tree represents consciousness or mind, which wanders aimlessly and out of control.

Consciousness gives rise to name and form, which is symbolized by persons traveling in a boat on the river of life.

The next link is an empty house, doors and windows that symbolize the sense organs in development. Buddha has six senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch and thought.

The six senses allow us to have contact with the world, which is symbolized by lovers embracing.

Contact born of feeling, which we classify as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Feelings are represented on the wheel like an arrow piercing the eye.

Feeling born of desire or attachment to pleasant feelings and experiences, symbolized by a couple falling in love or drinking man.

Desire or attachment leads to grasp for an object of desire, symbolized by a monkey picking fruit.

Capture the existence arises, represented by a man and woman making love.

Existence culminates in the birth (entry into the human realm), which is symbolized by a woman in childbirth.

Birth naturally leads to aging and death, which is symbolized by an old man carrying a burden.

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