Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)

Karil Kucera

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:
Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)


The Wheel of Life (Skt. bhava-cakra)—or, as it is sometimes referred to, the Wheel of Becoming, the Wheel of Existence, the Wheel of Rebirth, or the Wheel of Reincarnation—is a visual representation of the Buddhist notion of death as inseparable from that of birth, portraying in concrete form abstract metaphysical concepts. Shengsi (生死), literally, “birth and death,” the Chinese translation of the Buddhist term samsara, emphasizes the linkage of birth, death, and rebirth seen within the Wheel of Life. Unlike the Western Judeo-Christian concept of life stopping at death, with the dead then moving on to an eternity in either heaven or hell, Buddhism offers a more cyclical approach to life, one cosmologically more connected to the seasonality of the world in which life flourishes, only to die and be reborn again in the upcoming year, and visually represented in the form of an ever-turning wheel embraced by the Demon of Impermanence. The spokes of the Wheel itself typically show the five or six possibilities for rebirth, both good and bad, dependent upon one’s actions in life. The number of paths varies, as some depictions do not separate the asuras (“titans” or “demons”) from the devas (“gods”). The other possible rebirths are human, animal, hungry ghost, or hell dweller.

Article.  5729 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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