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Buddhist Wheel of the Dharma

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 Dharma is the law of right living, strongly echoing the association of the Sun with righteousness and the law evident in the Babylonian Shamash, and the Greek Apollo.

The Four Elements in Buddhism
The eight spokes of the Wheel echo the pattern of the four elements so strongly present in the Christian and Hindu images of the Creator Gods, the Throne of ‘the One’ (see Note on The Throne of God) and Brahma.  The four naturally multiply into eight and sixteen in Indian mandalas. Jung’s psychology of the four elements extended to eight basic psychological types by recognising extroverted and introverted types of each element : e.g. extrovert feeling and introvert thinking types.

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 ?

Metaphysical Symbolism
The Wheel is the central symbol of Buddhism, referring to the Buddha’s first teaching, called the Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma. This traditionally took place in the Deer Park in Sarnath, just outside the great Indian holy city of Kashi, now Varanasi. The two deer seem to serve more than this mere commemoration.  As royal game deer have through the ages been symbols of the nobility, beauty and love which are astrologically recognised as the Sun’s special gift (see Planets Key) and Spirit. They also present the complementary conflict of opposites, the duality attending the transcendent centre, which is portrayed in the Judaeo-Christian God as the four beasts around the Throne (see Note on The Throne of God).  It is of course impossible to present the centre without the surrounding parts.

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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