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Explore the Wheel of Existence

Explore the Wheel of Existence

Wheel of Existence
Tibet; 19th century
Pigments on cloth
C2006.66.131 (HAR 78)

The wheel of existence is a representation of Buddhist beliefs about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth known as samsara. The energy produced by one’s past actions (karma) is the force that traps beings within this cyclic existence. Practitioners can determine their place within the concentric circles of the wheel, which delineate the various realms of being.

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Explore the Wheel of Existence section1 section2 section3 section4 section5 section5death
Explore the Wheel of Existence

Explore the Wheel of Existence

Wheel of Existence
Tibet; 19th century
Pigments on cloth
C2006.66.131 (HAR 78)

The wheel of existence is a representation of Buddhist beliefs about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth known as samsara. The energy produced by one’s past actions (karma) is the force that traps beings within this cyclic existence. Practitioners can determine their place within the concentric circles of the wheel, which delineate the various realms of being.

Click the painting to learn more about its details

Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence

Three Poisons

At the center of the wheel are the three “spiritual
poisons” that keep beings in samsara. These
traits are represented by three animals that are
endlessly chasing each other’s tails. They
include (beginning at the bottom and moving
clockwise) a pig, representing spiritual
ignorance; a snake, representing anger; and a
bird, representing desire.

Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence

White Karma and Black Karma

White and Black halves of the ascending and
descending rebirths are based upon good and
bad karma.

In the black half, they descend into inferior
rebirths because of their negative karma, seen at
the right side of this ring. It is represented by
slumping figures on a dark background.

In the white half, seen at the left side of the ring,
the individuals ascend towards a better rebirth
because of their good karma. It is represented
by lay people, a monk, and an ascetic on a light
background.

Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence

Realms of Existence

This ring of the diagram shows the various
realms into which an individual may be born
based upon their past actions. Each realm, even
that of the gods and demigods, is categorized
by a specific distortion of reality and features a
buddha offering refuge from that distortion.
1. Realm of the Gods
2. Asura Realm (conflict)
3. Human Realm
4. Animal Realm (ignorance)
5, Ghost Realm
6. Hell Realm

Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence

Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

This ring of the diagram shows those actions
that are carried out instinctively by humans and
lead to the creation of karma.

1. Ignorance
2. Creations
3. Consciousness
4. Form
5. Six Senses
6. Contact
7. Feelings
8. Craving
9. Grasping
10. Becoming
11. Birth
12. Old Age and Death

Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence
Explore the Wheel of Existence

Lord of Death

The Lord of Death holds the wheel of existence
in his mouth and claws, reminding viewers that
all life is conditioned by death. There is no
escape from death until one reaches a complete
understanding of supreme enlightenment.

Explore the Wheel of Existence