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Paintings > Thangka > The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra)
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The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra)

The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra)

The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra)

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Tibetan Thangka Painting

Size of Painted Surface 15.5" X 20.0"
Size with Brocade 27.5" X 35.5"
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The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra)

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Viewed 8832 times since 2nd Oct, 2008
The exquisitely painted red thangka portrays the Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra). Here Yama, the Lord of Death is holding the symbolic Wheel of Life, which illustrates the eternal cycle of living beings through the realm of samsara. In Tibetan monasteries, the entrance to the main deity hall is often flanked by murals of the Bhavachakra and Mount Meru, as reminders of the states and realms of existence. This presentation of the unenlightened life cycle of deaths and birth in different biological realms portrays the ordinary world as something to be transcended. In other words, It symbolizes the endless cycles of births and deaths of beings of the World, clutches by karma, urged on by the three spiritual poisons of delusions, aversions and passion, and the twelve causes of samsaric existence, leading to the states of rebirth as gods, men, animals, and hell-dwellers. The path to liberation passes by way of three major forms of knowledge – knowledge of one's former lives; knowledge of the lives and deaths of all other beings; and knowledge of how to become liberated from the whole process of samsara. This knowledge can be found in the Twelve-Part causality Series, the one of causes and effect, as can be seen in the medallions and segments of the Bhavachakra or wheel of life.

People who follow the path of the Tantra can attain nirvana, shunyata in a single human life span, less skilled people will take seven lifetime to do it, and the slowest people will be born sixteen times before liberating curtain finally parts. The revelation no longer takes place on Earth, but in heavenly paradise.

In the center of the wheel, three animals can be seen. They are visually represent the three major sins, the most important toxins that are the causes of samsara. The animals are a cock, snake and a pig. They represent desire, hatred or venom, and stubborn ignorance, respectively. The circle around this has been divided into two parts. Those with bad karmas, descended to one of the three underworlds, have been depicted in the right side. Those with good karmas climb toward one of the three positive heavens have been in the left side. As it happens, people can be reborn into six worlds. The six worlds have been depicted in the main body of the Wheel. In each realm, a Buddha stands signifying horrific, offers the opportunity for liberating insight into over true condition.

The first and upper one region of the Wheel is heaven in which the palaces of gods have been shown. A lute Buddha is standing in this region to the help the gods. According to tradition gods who born from lotus blossoms enjoy heavenly delights. They are subject to the law of anityata, of birth, life, death and rebirth. They may live for millions of years in heaven, but when their merits are exhausted they have to come down on Earth.

Heaven is followed by the world of asura(titan) who were expelled from heaven because of their pride. They fight the gods for the fruits of the wish-giving tree whose roots are in their realm but fruits are in the world of gods. This world is depicted below the right of heaven.

The third is the` world of human. Here generally birth, disease, old age, death, struggle for existence, and so on are shown. This world is depicted below right of heaven. The animal world has fourth position in the Bhavachakra. The animals (tiryag-yoni) live in a fearful world of uncontrolled instincts. This world is depicted here below the world of asura. The fifth position is the world of Tantalized ghosts (preta). The pretas whose insatiable greed in past births have given them tantalizing thirsts and hunger.

The lowest world is the hell (Naraka), presided by Yamaraja, the king and judge of the dead. The hell has been divided into two segments – cold and hot hells, cold hell is on the right side and the hot on the left side, respectively.

The outermost circle (rim of the wheel) is made up of twelve segments, illustrating the twelve nidanas or interdependent causes of rebirth:

1. A blind old man/woman, symbolizing delusion, ignorance;

2. Potter, symbolizes creative activity (karma), as a potter moulds clay into pots so we shape our Karmas;

3. Monkey with fruits, symbolizes consciousness (vijnana);

4. Two people in a boat, symbolizes name and form (name-rupa) spirit and body (separation between the consciousness and subconsciousness mind);

5. Empty house with five windows and one door, symbolizes six senses (sad-ayatana) the six senses are the capacity to think; (sparsha) arises feeling (vedana);

7. Arrow in eye. Feeling (distinction between pleasant and unpleasant;

8. Desire (trishna) is pictured by a thirsty man;

9. Picking fruit. Wanting leads to deeds. It symbolizes clinging worldly objects (upadana);

10. Bride or pregnant woman symbolizes the process of becoming (bhava); 11. Birth or child being born, symbolizes jati (birth). New life and consciousness (being);

12. Decay and Death (jaramarana), maturity of life leads to decay and death, the twelfth and final stage, which in turn leads on to link number – Rebirth – and so on as before. Here, it is rendered as a direct track to emptiness and an old person

At the top right Buddha Shakyamuni, who taught the way, is standing and opposite on the left is Avalokiteshvara to help beings to attain the way. The essential idea conveyed by this Wheel of Life is that unenlightened living endlessly cycles between these realms, moving up with good deeds and falling down with bad ones.

Select Bibliography

Ben Meulenbeld, Buddhist Symbolism in Tibetan Thangka, Holland, 2001

H. Kern, Manual of Indian Buddhism, Delhi

1968, L. A Waddell, Buddhism and Lamaism of Tibet, Delh1979, (reprint)

Marylin M Rhie & Robert A.F. Thurman, Worlds of Transformation: Tibetan Art of Wisdom and Compassion, New York, 1999

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".

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