The Bhavacakra Brief

The Bhavacakra or “Wheel of Life”  is a visual tool used by Tibetan Buddhists to represent the concept of Samsara.  Buddhists are firm believers of cause and karma, as well as birth, death and re-birth or reincarnation. Perhaps the meaning of this symbolic wheel can help others lead a more meaningful life.

In the center of the wheel lie the images represent the three poisons of life – ignorance, jealousy and aversion. These are the three sufferings which, Buddhists believe, keep humanity trapped in Samsara.   Samsara is the Buddhism concept of endless misery.  A person experiences Samsara when they fail to understand cause and effect.   In other words, the individual does not fully understand the consequences of his own deeds.  As a result, they are unable to free themselves from the “wheel of suffering.”  One analogy is to imagine an insect trapped in a jar; one is trapped in their own reality, regardless of their actions if they cannot fully understand what keeps them contained.Wheel of Life

The second layer of the wheel is a representation of Karma. Karma refers to the actions that spring from intentions. Intentions translate into thoughts, and thoughts lead to actions. Eventually, all actions lead to eventual consequences.  Whether the consequence is desirable or undesirable depends on the action. Buddhists firmly believe that one is responsible for one’s own destiny. That is to say, we are all responsible for the consequences of our own actions.

The third layer of the wheel is a representation of the six realms of samsara.  Namely, they are the God realm, the demi-God, the human, the animal, the hungry ghost, and hell. It is both purposeful and interesting to examine each realm as it related to one’s own self.

For example, the God realm is a place where beings are in a state of bliss or nirvana.  They are here, in this state, due to the positive karma that they have built up from their actions. Unfortunately, they neglect to work towards enlightenment. Soon their positive karma runs out and then they are born into lower realms. The jealous Gods are those who envy the higher Gods. They live a more pleasurable life when compared to humans, but they suffer from jealousy of the Gods.

Next, is the human realm, which we are all, obviously, familiar with.   In this realm, there is the possibility of enlightenment.   From this particular perspective, it is actually advantageous to be reborn as a human.  Unfortunately, most human beings spend their life time in the pursuit of materialistic rewards. The chances of most beings being reborn in a lower realm are very high.   Once entered into a lower realm, it takes many life-times to accumulate enough merit to be born as a human again.

The forth layer of the wheel represents the twelve Nidanas, known as ‘chain of causation’. There is an aggressive demon-like figure holding this wheel, and here it represents impermanence.

Finally, there is a moon at the top of the Bhavacakra, and it represents liberation.   In other words, it is possible to be liberated from samsara – the wheel of suffering.   Buddha points to the moon to indicate the possibility of freeing oneself.

This is just a very brief explanation of the Wheel of Life, as Buddhists see it.  I very much suggest that if you’re interested, you do more research and explore this for yourself through the links within.  I’ve taken care to make sure these are credible & helpful links.  One of my personal favorites is an interactive version of wheel, which can be found here.

Insight Meditation Center

No Mud, No Lotus

Considering the difficult few months that life has presented, I found this particular teaching incredibly relevant. I’ve been a fan of Tara’s for a few months but this one really hit home.

I’m often traveling, so it’s convenient for me to download the audio versions to my iPhone. With this specific episode, there was a full emotional breakthrough – on a Greyhound bus headed to DC.

I related, cried – sobbed even, understood & evolved. Surely the other passengers on the bus were wondering what psychological trauma I was experiencing.   Nonetheless, Tara’s prior teachings, together with this specific dharma talk brought about real truth, understanding & awareness.  No one else mattered.

The lotus needs mud – and through this … well listen to Tara explain it.  You can check out here other teachings here.

– Kyle Quandel

Buddhist Wish of Noble Sympathy

In trying to find the words to express my deep sympathy for a friend’s loss, I came across this piece. There no more nobler truth or wish & a mantra to live by.

May I be happy, may I maintain my happiness & live without any enmity.
May all beings be successful and happy: May they be of joyful mind, all beings that breathe & have life.

Let all beings enjoy safety, contentment, ease & bliss.
Let no one deceive another, let no one be harsh in speech.
Let no one by anger or hatred wish ill to his neighbor.

Even as a mother, at the risk of her own life, guards and protects her only child, so with a boundless heart of compassion, I venerate all living beings by permeating the entire universe with sympathy, above, beneath & all around without limit— compassion for the sorrows of others, immeasurable joy in their joys.

Thus I cultivate an infinite Goodwill toward this whole world.

During all my waking hours I treasure this thought that this very way of caring is indeed the truly noblest behavior in this whole wide world.

Thus shall I, by stilling pointless discussions & controversies, by acting blamelessly, be gifted with tranquility & true insight.

Thus shall I subdue sense-pleasure urge & never again know involuntary rebirth.

May this inspire all beings to fulfill the conditions leading to Nirvana.
May all beings be thus utterly liberated & released from suffering.
May all beings thus escape the dangers of ageing, disease and death.

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Vegetarian Buddhists; A Closer Look

Contrary to common perception, Buddhists are not absolute vegetarians. To set the facts straight, some Buddhists are practicing vegetarians while others are not. The stand on vegetarianism differs from sect to sect and from one Buddhist to another. When you are wondering if there is a necessity to observe vegetarianism when one wants to become a Buddhist, you will most likely get a conditional answer.

Records will show that historical Buddha was not a vegetarian. Based on some of his earliest teachings, he did not make any categorical prohibition of meat consumption to his disciples. The truth is that if meat is served to a Buddhist monk, he is supposed to partake it. The disciples of Buddha are supposed to receive and eat the graces served them, and these include meat.

Not All Buddhists are Vegetarians

The First Precept of Buddhism commands its disciples not to commit any killing. However, meat consumption has never been explicitly considered as a consequence of killing. In fact, there is no mention in the scriptures prohibiting meat eating. This is what can be gleaned from the Pali scriptures and it is clear that Buddha did not make any prohibition on meat consumption and this applies even to monks.

In fact, there was even a clear opposition by Buddha to the suggestion from Devadatta to abstain from meat eating. In the modern societies of Theravada, a bhikkhu who practices vegetarianism with the sole intention of obtaining positive impression of their ascendant spiritual superiority are deemed infringing on several monastic rules.

However, Buddha has clearly manifested his opposition to the consumption of the flesh of an animal that is deemed butchered mainly for the monks’ benefit. This particular rule specifically applies to monastics, although it can also be applied and followed by those who are considered devout Buddhists.

Buddhism and Vegetarianism

There are 2 schools of thought about vegetarianism in Buddhism – those who subscribe to it and those who do not.

Vegetarianism was considered a part of the early traditions of Buddhism. In fact, scholars and devout followers of Buddhism agree that Buddha was not a vegetarian. Buddha subsisted on the alms that he received or graces served to him after getting invited to the homes of his believers. In both instances, he consumed whatever is given or served to him. Prior to his enlightenment, Buddha actually experimented with different diets and these included dishes that are meat-free. However, Buddha eventually gave up the idea of meatless diet primarily because of his belief that it does not have any positive effect on his spiritual development.

This is what is being emphasized by Nipata Sutta, when it declared that impurity is caused by immorality and not by meat consumption. The Buddha was in fact mentioned in several instances to be consuming meat broth in order to treat various illnesses. In some cases, however, he even went to the point of advising monks to refrain from consuming meat for practical reasons. This could only mean that other types of diets are also acceptable.

Kyle Quandel is a student of Buddhism and spirituality, as well as lifelong vegetarian. Read more articles and publications of Kyle Noble Quandel.