The Tibetan Wheel of Life

The Tibetan Wheel of Life is symbolic of the Buddhist take on the span of our lives and the courses that every life will take.  The wheel is held by Yama, who is the Lord of Death. Yama represents the impermanence of all things, and the fact that life and death is simply a matter of life. Buddha stands on the outside of The Wheel of Life, and he points to the moon. The moon is representative of liberation. In Buddhism, one is liberated from the endless cycle of birth and death only by reaching enlightenment.

The inner wheel of the Wheel of Life shows the three root delusions. These delusions are hatred (represented by a snake), ignorance (represented by a rooster), and greed (represented by a pig). The ring around the center of the Wheel of Life represents karma, and the outer ring represents the 12 links of dependent origination. The outer ring goes in a circle, because this business of being born and dying over and over again is a continuous cycle in Buddhism.

  1. The first block in the outer ring shows a blind man who is holding a cane. This represents the true nature of the world.
  2. The second block shows a potter making a bowl. This represents the fact that we shape our own destinies through karma.
  3. The third block shows a monkey climbing a tree. This represents the consciousness of the mind.
  4. The fourth block shows people in a boat. This represents the fact that name and form arises from consciousness of the mind.
  5. The fifth block shows an empty house. This represents the development of senses (note that Buddha says there are six senses, including thought).
  6. The sixth block shows two lovers embracing. This represents the fact that thought allows us contact with the world.
  7. The seventh block shows an arrow peircing an eye. This represents the rise of feelings (many unpleasant). (This also reminds me of my favorite Margaret Atwood poem.)*
  8. The eighth block shows a couple falling in love. This represents desire or attachment.
  9. The ninth block shows a monkey picking fruit. This represents us grasping for desire.
  10. The tenth block shows a man and a woman in the love act. This represents existence.
  11. The eleventh block shows a woman in labor. From the act of existence comes birth.
  12. The twelfth block shows a man carrying a burden. This represents aging and death.

The middle ring shows the three higher realms and the three lower realms. The three higher realms include the realm of the gods, the realm of the demigods, and the realm of the humans. The three lower realms are the realm of the animals, the realm of the demons, and the realm of the hungry ghosts.