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Buddhist Wheel of the Dharma
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The golden Wheel of the Dharma is a sophisticated solar image with its eight spokes evoking the Sun’s rays. They also replicate the eight Paths radiating from the Sun’s throne at Beauty on the Tree of Life. Gold is traditionally the noble metal of the Sun.
The Sun’s circle is naturally portrayed as a wheel, recalling the Greek images of the chariot of the Sun. This tradition is still maintained by the great Hindu temple at Puri on India’s east coast where the massive chariot of the Sun God, Jagganath, has given us the term ‘juggernaut.’
The Four Elements in Buddhism
The four elements around the centre are celebrated in the ‘dorje’ or thunderbolt, a symbolic ritual instrument fundamental to Tibetan Buddhism. The five elements are particularly pronounced in the symbolism of the Buddhist stupa. The Tree of Life seems to be represented in the image of the Buddhist deity Avalokitesvara.
An Enlightened Heart Gives Liberation from the Cycle of Rebirth
The eight spokes of the Wheel also represent the Noble Eight Fold Path to Enlightenment : Right View; Right Intention; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Mindfulness; Right Concentration : the summation of the dharma. The Wheel is a mandala or spiritual image of the basic truth of Buddhism and all faiths. When the different parts or paths of our life ― our mind, senses, emotions and actions, (the four metaphysical elements) ― are all set on the paths of righteousness, they will indeed find this transcendent centre.
The Noble Eightfold Path is presented as the Middle Way between the two extremes of excessive worldliness and excessive asceticism. The Wheel holds the centre between the duality of the male and female deer. The solar, transcendent centre always provides the enlightened centre beyond the duality of the manifest world. The heart amidst the four elements. Escaping this crucifying tension to find the way of the heart, the way of the Spirit, where everything is all right, this is always the definition of enlightenment.
The Noble Eightfold Path is in turn the fulfilment of the Four Noble Truths, another golden rule, repeating the universal spiritual pattern of four. The first Noble truth is that life is suffering; the second is that the cause of suffering is attachment to the ephemeral things of this world; the third that release from this suffering is possible by cultivating detachment. This detachment or ‘non-attachment’ is compared to the attitude of a tiger to grass, the absence of desire. The fourth Noble Truth is the means to achieve this detachment and end this suffering in the eternal cycle of rebirths, ‘samsara.' This is detailed in the Noble Eightfold Path by which one may achieve liberation from samsara.
Enlightened Bodhisattvas such as the high lamas of Tibetan Buddhism may return on compassionate grounds for the benefit of all sentient beings but they appear to remain immune to worldly ambitions and attachments.
By finding the Middle Way of goodness and righteousness between the dual poles of too much this or too much that, we find our spirit centre. Here we are truly detached from the attractions and distractions of this world and follow a spiritual path which knows the spirit within and its inalienable oneness with the Spirit of all creation. This is nirvana, enlightenment, the realisation of ‘sunyata,’ the full glory of emptiness. The rose at the heart of the Cross. The Spirit of the Sun within every breast. Mahayana Buddhism teaches the way to the realisation of nirvana in this life.
This Buddhist ideal is essentially not very different from Christ’s central message : ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand,’ and ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;’ ‘for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you;’ ’Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again (of the Spirit) he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ (Mk.1. 15 ; Mt. 6. 33 ; Lk.17 . 21 ; Jn.3 . 3,4 .) Beyond the different paths, is there essentially more than one spiritual truth in this world ?
The Buddha was a king’s son with all the idealised privileges of this position and the story of his quest to find Enlightenment is an archetypal mandala image in the metaphysical Tradition of the Tree of Life. The young Siddhartha ventures out of the four different gates of the palace to discover the sufferings of mortality, disease, old age and death, finally to be drawn to the holy man’s search for truth and salvation, or liberation. He follows this Path to Enlightenment whereupon he symbolically ascends to the top of the Bodhi Tree. This is the long reflective journey from royal Beauty to the Crown of holiness on the Tree.
Buddha’s Sermon at Sarnath is his return to the world to preach the way of the heart, the truth of Beauty, the Spirit of the Sun, the Spirit of Goodness which, mostly unbeknown, rules every heart : the Way or Wheel of the Dharma.
At the centre of the Wheel is the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, developed to represent the sacred Trinity of Buddhism. It has been speculated that the later development of Mahayana Buddhism owes much to the angelology of the Dead Sea sect, the Essenes, with a plentiful pantheon of gods. The original Theravada Buddhism acknowledges no gods beyond the spirits we all harbour within. Mahayana Buddhism does recognise a transcendent, external reality for its deities. The supreme Buddhist Trinity in both traditions remains the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangya (the congregation of the faithful). The ‘Triratna’ or Three Precious Jewels.
While the Christian Trinity has been augmented to a Quaternity with the Assumption of the wholly human Mary to the heavenly realms, the Buddhist Trinity is commonly supplemented by the addition of an equally human element in the Guru, one’s teacher. Manifesting the Buddha in human form. This has not as yet been formally recognised in Buddhist symbols except in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple at Dharamsala in India. There the symbol of the Three Precious Jewels has become Four.
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