Buddhist Wheel of Life
The walls or entrances of Buddhist Monasteries and pagodas are often decorated with "Wheels of Life," paintings representing principals of Buddhism.
They are complex, image-filled paintings that aim to show viewers how Desire imprisons us in a World of Suffering and Rebirth and that the Mind is only a Delusion.
The three cardinal sins—passion and Delusion (represented by a cock), hatred (a snake), and Greed and stupidity (a pig)—are often situated at the center of theWheel. The Wheel is turned by Yama, the Lord of Death, who represents the limitations of existence. At the bottom of the Wheel are hot and cold hells and a scale used to measure Good and bad Karma one has accumulated in one’s lifetime.
In the ring outside the center are the 8 or 12 Karma formations, which contain the victims of bad Karma (black background) on the left and the beneficiaries of goodKarma (white background) on the right. In the next ring are the six spheres of existence; then the twelve links in the chain of causation, culminating in the search for Truth; and finally in the outer most ring are symbols depicting Impermanence or Death.
The six spheres of existence are;
1) the realm of the Gods, a transitory place where Happiness rises above Suffering;
2) the realm of the Asuras (jealous Gods), where creatures of all sorts fight over fruit on the wishing tree and have to be reminded by Buddha to stay on the Path;
3) the realm of the Pretas (the Hungry ghosts), the home of grotesque figures who have given into Greed and can’t eat because their throats are too narrow;
4) the hells, where creatures with cold hearts and Anger livein misery;
5) the realm of the Animals, a place of Ignorance, lethargy and apathy; and
6) the realm of the humans, characterized by birth, old age, disease, sicknessand Death.
The twelve links in the chain of causation features:
1) a blind woman (symbolizing Ignorance);
2) a potter (Unconscious of will); 3) a monkey (Consciousness);
4) men in a boat (self-Consciousness);
5) house (the five senses);
6) lovers (Attachment);
7) a man with an arrow in his Eye (Feeling);
8) people drinking (Desire);
9) a figure grasping fruit from a tree (Greed);
10) pregnancy (birth); and
11) a man with a corpse (Death).
The Wheel of law or the Wheel of Dharma represents Dharma, the cosmos and the concept of Karma. The central Wheel is symbolic of Buddha’s teachings which set theWheel of Dharma in motion.
Most works of Buddhist Art have no signature or other identifying mark.
Robert Beer, an artist and expert on Tibetan painting, told a Thai newspaper, “If you lose the need for individual expression, you’ll become more open to atradition itself.
So it’s more a process of evolving, and it’s very humbling in a sense because you lose your self importance of being a famous artist...so that everyone is essentially becoming part of the tradition itself, losing that need to become an artist, to understand, to be a personality.”
Beer also said, “As you work on a drawing, you would think, ‘Why is she wearing this? Then through that you begin to understand Buddhist concepts because they are encapsulated in the images—why the Deities have six arms, four arms, eight arms.”
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