The Wheel of Life Thangka

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This is a detailed interactive explanation on the thangka of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life (Skt. bhavacakra; Tibetan: སྲིད་པའི་འཁོར་ལོ་, sipé khorlo. Skanskrit: bhavacakra) is a traditional Buddhist representation of the samsaric cycle of existence. The Wheel of Life sometimes also called Wheel of Existence, or Wheel of Cyclic Existence. This depiction is a traditional description of the model of Buddhist cosmology, the environment and inhabitants within it.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama about the Wheel of Existence (from Rigpa Wiki):

“Symbolically [the inner] three circles, moving from the centre outward, show that the three afflictive emotions of desire, hatred, and ignorance give rise to virtuous and non-virtuous actions, which in turn give rise to levels of suffering in cyclic existence.

The outer rim symbolizing the twelve links of dependent arising indicates how the sources of suffering – actions and afflictive emotions – produce lives within cyclic existence.

The fierce being holding the wheel symbolizes impermanence.

The moon [at the top] indicates liberation. The Buddha on the left is pointing to the moon, indicating that liberation that causes one to cross the ocean of suffering of cyclic existence should be actualized.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche described the Wheel of Existence as “a popular painting that you can see in front of almost every Buddhist monastery. In fact, some Buddhist scholars believe that the painting existed prior to Buddha’s statues. This is probably the first ever Buddhist symbol that existed…”



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Buddhist Thangkas from Boudhanath, Nepal