meaning of dharma wheel

Dharma Wheel or Dharmachakra is a widespread symbol used in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is one of the most sacred and most important symbols in the Buddhist faith as the wheel represents Buddha’s teachings. 

The Dharmachakra was often used as a decoration especially in East Asia, featuring on statues and inscriptions. The Dharma Wheel has been a centerpiece of East Asian culture for millenia, and it still remains a major symbol of the Buddhist religion today.

The meaning of the Dharma Wheel 

The Dharma Wheel, also known as the Dharmachakra comes from the Dharma. Dharma is the path of achieving enlightenment and reaching Nirvana, the highest state of being that a person can achieve. Dharma is a Sanskrit noun, translating to ‘what is established or firm.’ As such, the Wheel of Dharma can also mean the Wheel of Law. 

There are many variations of the Dharma Wheel. However, the wheel is usually depicted with eight spokes and is gold in color. The center of the wheel is usually depicted with three shapes, a Yin Yang shape, wheel or circle. 

The meaning of the Dharmachakra generally refers to the typical Dharma Wheel with eight spokes. The eight spokes represent the Eightfold Path. This is the oldest universal symbol for Buddhism. The Dharma Wheel can be interpreted in different ways. As a result, there are several meanings behind the symbol. 

The Dharma Wheel is made up of three different parts: the spokes, the hub, and the rim.

The rim of the Dharma Wheel represents the power to hold on to all of the teachings by concentrating and meditating. The Dharma Wheel is also circular, symbolizing the perfection of Buddha’s teachings. 

The hub of the Dharma Wheel is the center of the wheel. The hub represents moral discipline. The hub has three swirling shapes. These shapes are usually depicted in blue, yellow, and red. Blue symbolizes Dharma, yellow Buddha, and red Sangha. These are known as the Three Treasures or Jewels. 

The Dharma Wheel can have different numbers of spokes. When a  Dharma Wheel has four spokes, they represent the Four Noble Truths. Eight Spokes on the Dharma Wheel represent the Eightfold Path and Buddhism. A Dharma Wheel with ten spokes signifies the ten directions. Twelve spokes on the wheel represent the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.   

A Dharma Wheel with twenty four spokes is known as the Ashoka Chakra. The spokes symbolize the twenty-four ideal qualities of a follower of Buddhism. The Ashoka Chakra also represents the reversal of the Twelve Links and becoming free from the continuous cycle of reincarnation, also known as Samsara.

A Dharma Wheel with thirty one spokes represents the thirty one realms of existence found in Buddhist cosmology.  

The Dharma Wheel, in its entirety, symbolizes the teachings of Buddha. By practicing Dharma, you are practicing the teachings of Buddha and protecting yourself from suffering. You’ll also be eliminating ignorance, thereby improving your quality of life. 

Buddha’s teachings are described as a wheel because they move and travel throughout the land, enabling people to practice control over their minds. The three aspects of the Dharma Wheel symbolize concentration, ethics, and wisdom. Altogether, these are essential in the teachings of Buddha. 

The history of the Dharma Wheel  

The oldest depiction of the Dharma Wheel as a symbol can be traced back to between 304 and 232 BC on pillars built by Emperor Ashoka. He was an emperor who ruled over India and followed the teachings of Buddhism. He built many pillars, most of which are still standing today. The pillars depict various edicts and symbols that encouraged his people to practice Buddhism, while never forcing it upon them. The symbols found on these pillars include Dharma Wheels, especially Ashoka Chakras, which are Dharma Wheels with twenty four spokes.  

That said, the Dharma Wheel was already appearing in Indian artworks long before the reign of Ashoka the Great. These Dharma Wheels were also Ashoka Chakras and usually appeared sitting on top of four lions who were sitting back to back with each lion facing one of the four cardinal points. 

In 1947, the Ashoka Chakra became part of India’s national flag. Today, the Dharma Wheel is depicted in art, especially within the various Buddhist cultures. The Dharma Wheel can be seen in images of Buddha as it appears on his hands and feet. These represent one of the Marks of a Great Man. 

The meaning of the Dharma Wheel in different cultures

The Dharma Wheel is a symbol of spiritual significance in several cultures. The meaning of the Dharma Wheel may vary slightly from culture to culture, but the general idea of the symbol is the same. 

Hinduism 

In Hinduism, the meaning of the Dharmachakra refers more to the Dharma Wheel as the Wheel of Law. The symbol is used to depict religious routine and order that devout Hindu followers must practice. 

The Dharma Wheel in Hinduism is commonly found in depictions of Vishnu, the god of preservation. Vishnu is the god responsible for protecting humans as well as maintaining and restoring order in the world. He is one of the Hindu Triumvirate and is often depicted carrying a wheel or discus. The wheel is regarded as a very powerful weapon that can conquer passions and desires

Tibetan symbolism 

The Dharma Wheel is a very prominent symbol in Tibet. The Dharma Wheel is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols in Tibet. The symbol is typically depicted between two deer, symbolizing Buddha’s first teachings in a deer park. It is believed that when Buddha gave this first sermon, the deer in the park gathered around and listened. The depiction of the wheel between two deer serves as a reminder that Buddha valued all life and beings, not just humans.  

In this depiction of the Dharma Wheel, the wheel is twice the height of the deer, which sit next to it with their heads lifted up to look at the wheel. Some Tibetan deities are also portrayed with the Dharma Wheel, using it as a weapon to overcome ignorance and evil.  

Buddhist symbolism

The Dharma Wheel is an ancient and sacred Buddhist symbol that represents the Buddhist faith universally. In his teachings, Buddha spoke about the Sutra of the Four Noble Truths, the Perfection of the Wisdom Sutras and the Sutra Discriminating the Intention. These three teachings are known as the Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma.  

We also have other guides to meanings behind symbols that you can check out. Here are some of them: Meaning of the Flower of Life, Meaning of the Tree of Life, Meaning of elephants, Meaning of the evil eye, Meaning of the Hamsa hand, Meaning of the lotus flower, Meaning of mandalas.

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