The Wheel of Life or Reincarnation

Tibetan Wheel of life or Wheel of Reincarnation

The wheel of reincarnation or the wheel of life, refers to the six states of existence that are part of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The outer meaning of this idea is that when a person dies, he will be reborn in one of these realms. The inner meaning of rebirth is that the different thoughts and emotions, the different `I`s in a person are reborn. A thought or emotion occurs and then dies, and is followed by another thought or emotion. The six states are hell beings (e.g. negative emotions and judgement), hungry ghosts (e.g.bad habits and desires), animals (e.g. I`s from the moving and instinctive centre), humans (e.g. I`s from the intellectual and emotional centre), Ashuras or half Gods (thoughts related to spiritual work on oneself but not evoking the effort to be present) and Gods (thoughts that remind one to be present). The Gods are not immortal and will be reborn into one of the other states. (thoughts that remind us to be present are not presence itself)

A life-time is not what`s between the moments of birth and death. A life-time is one moment, between two little breaths. -- Zen saying

Strictly speaking, the duration of the life of a living being is exceeding brief, lasting only while a thought last. Just as a chariot-wheel in rolling, rolls only at one point of the tire and in resting only rests at one point ; exactly in the same way, the life of an living being last only for the period of one thought. -- Buddhaghosa, Visuddha magga VIII

The infinite cycle of death and rebirth of these six states of mind is called Samsara in Sanskriet, and this idea originated with Hinduism.

Samsara is no more than one's own thoughts. -- Upanishads (Hindu text)

To escape this infinite cycle of death and rebirth of the many I`s one needs, according to the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, to be reborn in Amida Buddha`s Pure Land or Western Paradise. This Pure land symbolizes the state of presence.

The emergence of the pure mind is the pure land. -- Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)

When one is present one rises above the legion of thoughts and emotions, and one no longer experiences them as 'I', and one can observe them as something outside of oneself. One`s Higher Self is separate from and purified of the thoughts, emotions and associations going aroung in one`s head.

The Wheel of Fortune, Tarot card X
Wheel of fortune – Holland, 15th C.


















In the images of the Wheel of Fortune above, we see the same symbolism as the Wheel of Reincarnation. The animals symbolize the many I`s, which are constantly changing. The one on the top is the 'I' of the moment.

After much observation, I have learned to recognize the difference between angelic thoughts, human thoughts, and thoughts that come from the demons. -- Evagrios the Solitary, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)
You are demon and wild beast and angel and man. Whichever you cultivate, that you will be.
-- Kashani (17th c. Persian poet) 

Each 'I' mistakenly thinks it is there all the time, however, the many I`s change about every three seconds.

One cycle of respiration or digestion of air takes about three seconds. This also is a definite and complete period of time for a man. If he observes closely he will find that every breath brings a new thought to his mind, or a new turn of repetition to an old thought. -- Rodney Collin (20th c. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)
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