The Wheel of Life As It Is Presented at
the Tibetian Mandala Thangka
The Wheel of Life is a presentation of the
Buddhist teaching on the suffering and impermanence of cyclic existence.
Lord of Death, Yama, holds the wheel of existence between his teeth, hands
At the centre of the wheel are three poisonous delusions
represented by a red cockerel (passion and lust), a green snake (hatred and
aggression), and a black pig (ignorance and confusion). These three
creatures chase and bite each others tails, giving rise to the endless cycle
In the next circle beings rise to enter the three higher
realms, or fall to enter the three lower realms. The six realms are
represented within the spokes of the wheel.
The hell realm, in the lower part of the wheel
is characterized by the extreme suffering of the various hot and cold hells.
The hunger ghost or preta realm in the lower left is characterized by
craving and enormous hunger. The denizens of this realm having huge empty
stomachs and mouths like pinholes.
The animal realm is characterized by
The jealous gods in the upper left, suffer from
competitiveness and ambition as they strive for the realization of their
desires. The god realms are sensual heavens, where the inhabitants are
totally involved in the pursuit of pleasure. Only in the human realm, with
its constant fluctuation of pleasure and pain can the dharma be clearly
heard and liberation attained.
In the outer ring are the twelve links of the
chain of dependence arising. Clockwise from the top they are:
Action (a potter);
Consciousness (a monkey holding fruits);
Name and Form (a person rowing a boat);
Sources (an empty house with five
windows and a door);
Contact (sexual contacts);
Feeling (a person with an
arrow in his eye);
Craving (a person drinking alcohol);
Grasping (a monkey
picking fruit from a tree);
Becoming ( a pregnant woman);
Rebirth (a baby
Old age and death (an old person walking with a cane).
At the top right of the painting is the
paradise of Amitabha. A pathway leads from the judgment hall of the dead in
the hell realm to Amitabha's paradise, along which those being with the most
fortunate Karma proceed.
At the top left is
Shakyamuni Buddha who, having
attained liberation from the wheel of existence, points towards his perfect
wheel of the