An interesting facet of Buddhist teaching is the exposition on the different planes of existence. According to the Buddha’s Wheel of Life (aka, The Wheel of Existence or Rebirth), there are 6 levels.
Buddha’s Wheel of Life
Above the Wheel is the Buddha pointing to the moon, indicating that liberation, release from the cycle of samsara, is possible.
Yama, the Lord of Death, can be observed clutching the wheel. His crown of five skulls portrays his intentions and purpose. He is driven by:
Delusion – whose source is the self (ego), promoted over the universal SELF. Desire – whose source is the feeling of separateness from the Universe.
Hatred – whose source is the feeling that someone has taken it away from you.
In accordance with the Universal Law of Causality, beings change from one form to another; live one life after another, according to the consequences of their actions. Every process is impermanent and a particular state continues so long as the conditions which have brought it into being are still present.
On the outer edge or rim of the wheel are twelve images. They symbolically refer to the factors that interact to determine the consequences of activity or karma.
•A blind person (Ignorance)
At the top (right side) is a blind man with his stick representing spiritual blindness; this is the state of ignorance in which we can easily lose our way. Sometimes we do not even know there is a way.
•A potter (Action)
At 2 o’clock is a potter at work on his own products. These are the deeds and actions we perform ~ the formations, preparations or samskaras. We are responsible for our own pots.
•A monkey holding fruits (Consciousness)
At the 3 o’clock position is a monkey playing in a tree. It depicts ordinary attention or consciousness which shifts continuously in the undisciplined mind. Meditation seeks to calm the monkey in order to gain access to the nature of consciousness.
•A person rowing a boat (Name and Form)
At the 4 o’clock position is a boat with two people in it, Name and Form. These act together as the conditioned way in which we experience the world.
•An empty house with five windows and a door (Sources)
At the 5 o’clock position is a house with six openings: five shuttered windows and a closed door. These are the five senses plus a sixth which is the faculty of mental perception by which we interpret the input of the senses.
•Sexual actions (Contact)
At the 6 o’clock position is a man and a woman embracing, demonstrating contact, the consequence of sensual perceptions.
•A person with an arrow in his eye (Feeling)
At the 7 o’clock position is a person who has been struck in the eye by an arrow. He is wounded by emotion, the subsequent feelings that can have a “fatal” effect. They create suffering.
•A person drinking alcohol (Craving)
At the 8 o’clock position is a woman offering a drink to a man. It illustrates desire that has been stimulated by perceptions and emotions which leads us to drink more from the world of appearances.
•A monkey picking fruit from a tree (Grasping)
At the 9th o’clock position is a person picking the fruit of his tree. He receives the consequence he expects.
•A pregnant woman (Becoming)
At the 10 o’clock position is a maiden about to cross the stream, one person beckoning another to go or to come back.
•A baby being born (Rebirth)
At the 11 o’clock position is a woman giving birth. The new life is determined by the fruits of the old and is attracted to the parents accordingly, in order to be born.
•An old person walking with a cane (Old age and Death)
At the top (left side) one round ends while another begins. Another new life in one of the realms, is that of two people carrying a burden on a litter. This is the body, a corpse wrapped up on its way to be disposed of.
Next inward are the 6 realms of existence (samsara), or stages of life.
•Realm of Gods (Devas):
We have all been God’s and will be that once again. But there is so much happiness here no one wants to leave or change anything.
•Realm of Humans (Manussa Loka):
The best all of realms in the middle; close enough to the lower realms to feel suffering, and high enough to the upper realms to appreciate and aspire to Enlightenment.
We can enjoy freedom, and overcome involuntary impulses and instinctual drives.
We can accelerate evolution, investigate and understand our world of mind (outer physical, and inner subjective).
We can become fully aware of our unconsciousness, and take steps to become fully conscious.
We can become a Buddha, free from suffering and released from the cycle of birth and rebirth – the Wheel of Life, to live life in eternal bliss.
•Realm of Hungry Ghosts (Peta Loka):
These are creatures, embodiments of hunger and thirst. Their condition prevents them from enjoying food or drink.
Living a human life driven by greed and consumerism will lead you here.
•Realm of Hells (Niraya):
The realms of hell.
Living a human life driven by hatred and violence will drag you to the hells.
•Realm of Animals (Tiracchana Loka):
All animals are sub-human and act based upon the natural survival instinct. They cannot make choices or contemplate actions. This realm spans from whales to insects.
Living a human life driven by stupidity and stupefaction will drive you here.
•Realm of Titans (Ashuras):
These are powerful beings constantly engaged in the struggle for dominance. They consist of anti-gods, jealous gods, demigods and demons.
Living a human life driven too much by pride, anger and competitiveness will lead you here.
Inward to that is the layer of Karma.
Action that is positive, negative or neutral, binds us to the 6 realms of existence.
The Hub of the Wheel contains the images of three animals, the three Kleshas representing ignorance, aversion and attachment.
The pig – symbolizes delusion and ignorance, the root of all suffering in the world. The snake – symbolizes aversion, hatred and aggression.
The cock – symbolizes attachment and desire.
The snake and bird are shown come out of the mouth of the pig, indicating that aversion and attachment arise from ignorance. They are also grasping the tail of the pig, indicating that they hitherto promote even greater ignorance.
As humans beings we have good days and bad days. Sandwiched between heaven and hell, we experience the world in its fullest values. We are rich and poor, healthy and sick. We ride the waves of happiness and fall to the depths of depression.
Our unique position gives us the ability to question and delve into the secrets of life.
The wheel keeps spinning, the clock keeps ticking, and life is made anew with hope and inspiration. The falling of a leaf, the rising of the moon; the celestial spheres move to the beat of creation.
We are unique among all beings. Human life is rare and gives us the opportunity to reach for Buddhahood. Every minute that passes by is precious so take advantage of this gift. Close the eyes, meditate, and realize your unbounded true nature.