An Introduction To Bhavacakra

By: Gen Wright


The Bhavacakra, or Wheel of Life is a visual tool used by Tibetan Buddhists to represent the concept of Samsara. Buddhists are firm believers of cause and karma, as well as birth, death and re-birth or reincarnation. Perhaps the meaning of this symbolic wheel can help others lead a more meaningful life.

In the center of the wheel lie the images represent the three poisons of life - ignorance, jealousy and aversion. These are the three sufferings which, Buddhists believe, keep humanity trapped in Samsara. Samsara is the Buddhism concept of endless misery. A person experiences Samsara when they fail to understand cause and effect. In other words, the individual does not fully understand the consequences of his own deeds. As a result, they are unable to free themselves from the "wheel of suffering." One analogy is to imagine an insect trapped in a jar; one is trapped in their own reality, regardless of their actions if they cannot fully understand what keeps them contained.

The second layer of the wheel is a representation of Karma. Karma refers to the actions that spring from intentions. Intentions translate into thoughts, and thoughts lead to actions. Eventually, all actions lead to eventual consequences. Whether the consequence is desirable or undesirable depends on the action. Buddhists firmly believe that one is responsible for one's own destiny. That is to say, we are all responsible for the consequences of our own actions.

The third layer of the wheel is a representation of the six realms of samsara. Namely, they are the God realm, the demi-God, the human, the animal, the hungry ghost, and hell. It is both purposeful and interesting to examine each realm as it related to one's own self.

For example, the God realm is a place where beings are in a state of bliss or nirvana. They are here, in this state, due to the positive karma that they have built up from their actions. Unfortunately, they neglect to work towards enlightenment. Soon their positive karma runs out and then they are born into lower realms. The jealous Gods are those who envy the higher Gods. They live a more pleasurable life when compared to humans, but they suffer from jealousy of the Gods.

Next, is the human realm, which we are all, obviously, familiar with. In this realm, there is the possibility of enlightenment. From this particular perspective, it is actually advantageous to be reborn as a human. Unfortunately, most human beings spend their life time in the pursuit of materialistic rewards. The chances of most beings being reborn in a lower realm are very high. Once entered into a lower realm, it takes many life-times to accumulate enough merit to be born as a human again.

The fourth layer of the wheel represents the twelve Nidanas, known as 'chain of causation'. There is an aggressive demon-like figure holding this wheel, and here it represents impermanence.

Finally, there is a moon at the top of the Bhavacakra, and it represents liberation. In other words, it is possible to be liberated from samsara - the wheel of suffering. Buddha points to the moon to indicate the possibility of freeing oneself.

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Kyle Quandel is a student of Buddhism and spirituality, as well as life long vegetarian and humane living advocate. Learn more about Kyle Quandel through his written works online, as well as his foreign philanthropic travels and work.

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