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Buddhist Wheel of Life or Bhavacakra

By |2018-04-26T09:39:41+00:007:19 am|

Buddhist wheel of life or Bhavacakra is one of the Most important paintings in Tibetan Buddhism, The initial drawing was design by Buddha himself. Buddha really encourage this painting to be painted outside every Buddhist temples and monastery. The reason for this to painted out side all the Buddhist temple and the monastery was to teach the profound Buddhist philosophy of life and perception to more simple-mind farmers or cowherds. So this image is just for communicating the Buddhist philosophy to general audience.

wheel of life

The Painting of wheel of life represent Samasara, The Bhavacakra is popularly referred to as the wheel of life, and may also be glossed as wheel of cyclic existence or wheel of becoming.

Different parts of the Painting

  1. Images in the center circle represent the three poison; Ignorance, Attachment and Aversion
  2. Second circle from center represent Karma.
  3. The third circle represent the realms of Samsara
  4. The forth represent twelve links of dependent origination
  5. The fierce figure holding the wheel is the Mara, the god of death and he represent impermanence in this figure
  6. The moon represent liberation from the circle existence or Samsara
  7. The Buddha pointing the moon represent his teaching and also represent he is tell all that liberation is possible

three poison, wheel of life

The center layer of the wheel of life; The three poison

In the center of the wheel are three animals; a pig, a snake, and a bird. these three represent the three poison of in Buddhist philosophy, ignorance, aversion, and attachment, respectively. The pig represent ignorance. This conception is base on Indian concept of pig being a dirties animal, it sleeps in the dirties place, and eats what ever come to its mouth. A snake represent aversion or anger because a slightest touch to it will trigger a strike. The bird is for the attachment, desire of clinging. The bird which they use in the painting is Indian bird that is very attached to its partner. These three animal represent three poison which is a core to our Samsaric existence

In most of the drawing the three animal are shown coming out of mouth of another, that indicates Aversion leads to ignorance and Ignorance lead to aversion. Under the influence of these three poison beings create, beings create Karma. Shown in next level.

Second Layer: Karma

Karma basically means cause and effect. it is said if you plant a seed of chilly, you will only get chilly. So is if you harm others, it will bring back negative impact to you. In the second level the Karma, the circle is divided into two half, the upper half is usually painted in white or bright color. it also have people moving up to the high realms. the lower half show people moving down ward to the miserable stages and the path is colored dark.

This indicates if you do a good deeds your will be happy and you will start moving upwards to the Buddha hood or their next life six realms of Samsara. The next circle the is six realm of Samasara.

hell realm, wheel of life

Thrid Layer: The six realms of Samsara.

The third layer of the wheel represent the realms of Samsara. It is divide on six section for the six realms. realms are divide into three higher realms and three lower realms. Some painting might have five as they would combine the god realm with Demi god realms

The three higher realms are shown in the top half of the circle.

  • God realms (Deva): The god in Buddhism is different from the creator god in Hindu and other Non theistic religion. we believe the creator god doesn’t exist and the god are we believe live within the Samsaric cycle of existence.  The god live a very long life, they enjoys life in abundance and pleasure. These pleasure and abundance life become distraction and never think to practice the Dharma. When the death come nears they will know about the time of death and they would exhausted all  their karma ( which brought them to being born in god realm). and their can clearly see they own next life. being born in god realm in very hard during the time before dying. Another pain in this realm is when you are young and healthy you will have lots of friends and family but during the old age your body would start rotten before you death and No one could come near you for the smell. it is said god dies in lonely and miserableDeath. So we say God suffer from long life. 


  • Demi-god realm (Asura): The Demi- good have all the god abundance and pleasures. they send always keep fighting within themselves and even making war with the god.  During their war with god they would lose everytime and they suffer constant fighting and jealousy, and being killed or wounded in the wars. So we say the Demi god suffer from the flight and wars 


  • Human realm (Manuṣya): Humans suffering starts from the birth to the end at the death. We suffer from hunger, thirst, cold, separation from friends, being attacked by enemies, not getting as we please. Our suffering is broadly categories into suffer ing of Birth, old age, sickness and death. Yet human realm is most suitible for pratice buddha dharma, as we are not completely distracted by pleasure, or pain and suffering. and we are more capable then beings animal realms.

The three lower realms, as shown in the lower part of circle:

  • Animal realm (Tiryagyoni): Domesticated animals suffers from being exploited by human  like being killed for food and over worked. Wild animals suffers from being attacked and eaten by other animals. They live in constant fear and exploitation.


  • Hungry ghost realm (Preta): The are rich and yet they suffer of extreme hunger and thirst. They have a big tummy and very thin neck not even enough to swallow a single drop of water. they can see the water but can drink. But some time they do can manage to eat or drink some but it would only burn their neck and belly as it goes down. We often tell our friends if you are being so miser, you will be born in to the realm of hunger god.


  • Hell realm (Naraka): In hell beings suffer immeasurable suffering for eons of time. there are eighteen different types of hell, each inflicting a different kind of torment. In hot hell beings suffer from unbearable heat and continual torments of various kinds. In the cold hell, beings suffer from unbearable cold and other torments.

Among the six realms, the human realm is considered as the best to practice the Dharma. In each realm you will find a Buddha in all the realms trying to help sentient being to find their way to nirvana

twelve nidanas on the outer rim of a bhavachakra Buddhism, wheel of life

Outer ring:  twelve links of dependent origination

the twelve links of dependent origination describe the Samsaric rebirth and arising of Dukkha. It shows when certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other condition, these condition arising result in the cyclical nature of rebirths and redeaths in Samsara. By contemplating on the twelve links, one gains greater insight into the workings of karma; this insight enables us to begin to unravel our habitual way of thinking and reacting

12 dependent origination are

  1. Ignorance, lack of knowledge – a blind person, often walking, or a person peering out
  2. Conditioning, refers to conditioned phenomena generally but specifically to all mental “dispositions”. These are called ‘volitional formations’ both because they are formed as a result of volition and because they are causes for the arising of future volitional actions – a potter shaping a vessel or vessels
  3. Consciousness – a man or a monkey grasping a fruit
  4. Name and Forms (constituent elements of mental and physical existence) – two men afloat in a boat
  5. six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind) – a dwelling with six windows
  6. contact – lovers consorting, kissing, or entwined
  7. pain – an arrow to the eye
  8. Thirst – a drinker receiving drink
  9. Grasping a man or a monkey picking fruit
  10. Coming to be – a couple engaged in intercourse, a standing, leaping, or reflective person
  11. being born – woman giving birth
  12. old age and death – corpse being carried

The figure holding the wheel: impermanence

The fierce figure holding the wheel is the Mara, the god of death and he represent impermanence in this figure.


The moon: liberation

The moon in the painting represent liberation from the circle existence or Samsara


The Buddha pointing to the moon: the path to liberation

The Buddha pointing the moon represent his teaching and also represent he is tell all that liberation is possible. According to Buddhist text, Buddha once told “I have shown you the path that leads to liberation
But you should know that liberation depends upon yourself.”


I hope this post brings a clearer understanding to one of most important wall painting in Tibet. you will see this painting where every temples and monasteries  in Tibet during travel in Tibet.


here are some links of buddhist wheel of life in PDF

  1. http://www.eugene-halliday.net/ishval-transcripts/EH_Buddhist_Wheel_jb.pdf
  2. http://www.glensvensson.org/uploads/7/5/6/1/7561348/wheel_of_life.pdf
  3. http://u.osu.edu/vsteffel/files/2014/10/Wheel_of_Life_02-1dnr9fe.pdf
  4. http://hornchurchbuddhistgroup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Wheel-of-Life-weeks-1-to-15.pdf

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