"Dharma Chakra" - The ultimate path to enlightenment

One of the basic teachings of many Indian religions is “The Dharma Wheel”, also popularly known as “Dharma Chakra”. The Dharmachakra is taught in religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Dharmachakra also represents Lord Buddha’s teachings and is a symbol of the Buddhist faith. Let’s see the true

What Does Dharma Chakra Mean?

The word “Dharma Chakra” itself explains its true meaning. It comes from the word “Dharma”. Now, the basic question is what exactly “Dharma” means? Well, Dharma is the way one attains enlightenment, or we can also call it the zone in which a person is at the state of “Nirvana”. According to Buddhism, the path to enlightenment is the highest state any person can achieve and directly implies the “Wheel of Law”. Thus, it is well known as the “Dharma Wheel”.

What is the Dharma Wheel?

It is represented with eight spokes of golden colour, which may have a circle, wheel or a Yin Yang, any of these three shapes in the centre of the wheel.

In Buddhism, the Dharma Chakra has always been an integral part, as Lord Buddha has discussed it as the path of enlightenment. Accordingly, this is also represented as the Eightfold path, which is the earliest symbol of Buddhism. We can say that there are many meanings of the symbol Dharma Chakra in different religions though having the same parts known as spokes, hub and the rim.

The different parts of Dharma Chakra have different meanings:

  • The Dharma Wheel with four spokes signifies Four Noble Truths, whereas the Dharma Wheel with eight spokes represents the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Dharma Wheel may also have ten-spoke that signify ten directions. Also, if it has twelve spokes, it suggests twelve links of reliant commencement. It may have 24 and 31 spokes too.
  • The hub of Dharma Chakra is a symbol of moral self-restraint. If one focuses on the hub, he/she will notice twirling shapes of blue colour representing Dharma, yellow colour depicting Buddha and red colour signifying Sangha. One can say that these three coloured shapes in the hub are the “Three Gems of the Dharma Chakra”.
  • Last but not least is the rim of Dharma Chakra, which represents the ability to grip all the preachings together with the power of consolidation and the shape of Dharma Chakra itself is the true example of the fulfilment of Buddha’s teachings.

What are the 24 spokes in Dharma Chakra?

Well, this is the most common question one has in his/her mind. These 24 spokes in Dharma Chakra are said to be “Ashok Dharma Chakra”. These represent 24 ideal qualities of Buddhist followers. An ideal Buddhist follower is free from Samsara – free from the regular reincarnation.

A Dharma Chakra may also have 31 spokes that represent those exact numbers of domains of presence found in Buddhist cosmology.

The meaning of Dharma Chakra is well explained in the teachings of Buddha. If one wishes to follow or learn about Dharma Chakra, it implies that one wants to be a Buddhist follower and wishes to practise Buddha’s teachings. It is strongly believed that if one learns about Dharma Chakra, one is protected from all the sufferings in the world and improves his/her living standard.

The wheel has the power to travel through the land as well as may help people to manage their minds. The Buddha Dharma Chakra has the essence of consolidation, ethics, as well as prudence.

The Dharma Chakra History

The history of the Dharma wheel started by Emperor Ashoka that was initiated on the pillars. He was a follower of Buddha and was a great ruler. The pillars built by him are so strong that they are still acknowledged by architects. Though his beliefs encouraged people to practise Buddhism, he never imposed it on anyone or forced anyone to do so. Ashok Dharma Chakra on pillars with twenty-four spokes were built by him.

Historically, it is believed that Dharma Wheel was seen in Indian artworks even before Ashoka. It was usually seen below the four lions sitting back to back.

Importance of Ashoka Chakra in Indian flag

Historically, Ashok Dharma Chakra had a great name, and in 1947, it became a part of the Indian flag. India’s national flag is of tricolours saffron representing courage, white which denotes peace; green colour represents prosperity.

The middle part of the flag is white and has the Ashoka Chakra that denotes 24 spokes. One of the reasons for these 24 spokes in the Ashoka chakra was that it symbolised 24 rishis of the Himalayas. These 24 rishis possessed the power of the Gayatri mantra that involved 24 letters.

Also, these 24 spokes in Ashok Dharma Chakra denotes a day which is of 24 hours. This indicates the progress in time, which denotes that no matter what the situation is, the time will pass. Thus, popularly it is also known as “Samay Chakra”.

Chakra or the wheel itself is a symbol of change. It also denotes perseverance for a harmonious change in life. In the Indian flag, this Ashoka Chakra has great importance and encourages India not to refrain from any change as well as always move forward! Ashoka Chakra is thus the mark of ancient history in India. Every culture has a different meaning of Dharmachakra, but the essence is the same.

Importance Of Dharma Chakra In Different Cultures

In Hinduism, the meaning of Dharma Chakra is “Wheel of Law”. It is believed the Hindu followers generally practice this “Wheel of law” in their religious routine. What is the meaning of Dharma? This word is derived from the word “Dhr”, meaning “maintenance” and “being firm”.

If one carefully rewinds his/her memory, one will notice the Dharma Wheel in illustrations of Lord Vishnu, who is well known as the God of security or sustentation. Lord Vishnu preserves or safeguards humans and maintains the structure in the world. He carries a wheel (the wheel of dharma) that has the power to vanquish resentment and ambitions.

Tibetian Culture of Dharma Chakra

The meaning of Dharma Chakra in Tibet is very important as it is one of their Eight propitious symbols. One can see the Dharma wheel between two deer, and it denotes the very first teaching of Lord Buddha in a deer park. All deer in the park gathered at once when Buddha preached his first lesson. Thus, in Tibetian culture, the symbol of the Dharma wheel between deer represents the nature of Buddha as well as his concern for every living being rather than just humans.

The best thing one can notice in Buddha’s illustrations is that the size of the Dharma wheel is twice the height of deer who rest themselves with their folded legs just next to the Dharma Chakra. Another thing to notice in the illusion is that the deer look above at the wheel, respecting the culture as well as his preachings.

Also, in Tibetian culture Dharma Wheel is depicted as a weapon to fight against evilness and callowness. This illustration was inspired by Hindu culture who believed in Lord Vishnu and carries the wheel as a weapon!

Buddha Dharma Chakra

As we know that the Dharma Chakra is an ancient symbol of Buddhism. It is sacred in Buddhist culture and denotes the faith of Buddhist followers. When Buddha attained the insight, his first-ever preachings included the Dharma Chakra as well as his first lesson was taught in Sarnath Park in UP, India (popularly known as deer park).

Buddhist three teachings are well known as the “Turnings of the Dharma Chakra”. These three teachings are the path to Four Noble Truths, Perfection of the foresight Sutra and Sutra Discriminating the Intention. Buddha Dharma Chakra is believed to be the path of enlightenment since early Buddhism. The Buddha Dharma Chakra is an auspicious sign in Hinduism as well as Buddhism and represents the motif of acceptance in both cultures.

The Indian culture used the Dharma Chakra as an artwork in many things. In ancient times, Ashok Dharma Chakra became a part of Indian culture after the Indus Valley civilization in the period of the Indian Ashoka King, who was a Buddhist follower.

Buddha was the one who set the “Dharma wheel” or “Dharma Chakra”, which is described in Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. This signifies a great change. Buddha got the idea of the wheel of Dharma from an Ideal Indian king named Chakravartin, who had several kinds of mythical objects. Buddha was considered as a “Mahapurisa” who acted as a wheel-turning sage and benefited several lives by being a spiritual counterpart.

In early Buddhist arts, namely Bharhut as well as Sanchi, Gautam Buddha used Dharma Chakra as his symbol. This symbol is often illustrated alongside animals like lions or deer. In Buddhist culture, this symbol of Dharma Chakra is often designed with 8, 12, 24 or more spokes. The number of spokes describes different preachings of Buddha.

Buddha believed that the movement of a wheel is the same as the cyclic life. The situations in life come and go. This wheel is thus also referred to as the “Wheel of Samsara”. It also refers that one has the power to reverse the “wheel of suffering” by practising the Buddhist culture. One can also relate the Buddhist terms of “Dukkha” and “Sukkha” with the wheel of Dharma. Not only this, the Indo-Tibetian culture depicts “Bhavachakra”, meaning the dimension of rebirth in the cosmology of Buddhism.

The Dharmachakra in Jainism, Hinduism as well as Modern Indian religions

In Jainism, the Dharmachakra is an auspicious symbol in the Sramana religion as well as it is used in the idols of Tirthankaras. This “Wheel of Dharma” is shared by both Hinduism and Buddhism. Many Hindu temples depicted the Dharmachakra in their temples. This illustration can be well seen in the Konark Sun Temple, which is the most famous Surya Temple.

Bhagavad Gita states about Dharmachakra as a revolving wheel that everyone in this world should follow. One who does not follow the wheel of Dharma leads a sinful life and an inflated life.

One knows that 24 spokes of Ashoka Dharmachakra can be seen in the Indian Flag.

Why is Dharma Chakra day celebrated?

“Asadha Poornima ” which is the first full moon day of the month Asadha as per the Indian sun calendar, is celebrated as Dharma Chakra day under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture, by the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC). This day is memorialized as his first preaching at the Deer Park in UP, India. Buddhists all over the world celebrate this day, and it is well known as “Turning of the Wheel of Dharma”.

Both the Buddhists as well as Hindus celebrate this day as Guru Poornima and mark veneration to their Gurus. As this Dharmachakra day is auspicious in the history of India, President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated this Dharma Chakra day from the Rashtrapati Bhavan with the cultural minister Prahlad Patel and minister of state for minorities affairs, Kiren Rijiju, on 4 July, 2020.

Not only this as this Dharmachakra day is auspicious for Buddhists too, but the President of Mongolia also presented an ancient Indian treasured Buddhist manuscript to the President.

Symbols that depict Dharma Wheel

Many symbols depict the Dharma Chakra. One of the most familiar symbols is Tableau which is sustained on a lotus flower podium with two deer, a buck and a doe on both sides. This symbol depicts the first preaching of Buddha. His first sermon is said to be preached to the five monks in the deer park. This deer park was home to a ruru deer, and it is believed that many deer gathered there to listen to the Buddha’s first sermon. Many believe that deer are effusions of bodhisattvas.

Dharmachakra is also symbolic to the people of Thailand. One can notice that many Buddhist temples in Thailand have yellow flags with a red Dharmachakra. One can see the Dharmachakra flag in Thailand, also known as Dhammachak and has 12 spokes depicting twelve links of dependent origination.

One can see Dharmachakra in the Indian flag, too, with 24 spokes depicting the Ashoka Dharmachakra.

Things That Use Dharma Wheel

Many religions use the Dharma Wheel symbol as jewellery. It is an ideal pendant and earrings one can wear or have. Many religions use different shapes to symbolise their culture, but Dharma Wheel is a universal symbol that represents many religions. This wheel shape has deep religious meanings that are followed by many people all over the world. Not only this, the Dharma Wheel can be seen in the wheel of a cart or a ship.

Buddhists and Hindus portray their faith by wearing dharma wheel jewellery or clothing (same as Christians wear a cross as their jewellery and have religious faith in it.) It may also prove to good luck and spread optimistic energy. The Dharma wheel represents the path to awaken the spirituality in oneself. Many people consider the Dharma wheel symbol as their lucky charm.

If one notices the older styles of ships, one will see that the Dharma wheel resembles eight-spoked Dharma Chakra. Many believe that the resemblance isn’t a coincidence but it is a way of calling Buddha to protect the ship and its crew from any disaster on their voyage. Many sailors have a traditional tattoo of the Dharma wheel, which was taken as a symbol of direction, purpose as well as life’s journey.

Dharma Chakra is often seen in some statues or idols of Buddha in which index and thumb fingers touch and form a circle (circular shape just like Dharma wheel). Also, people who meditate or practise yoga use this hand gesture. Buddha used this hand gesture in his first speech as well as many people use it to calm their mind and soul.

One can say that Dharma Chakra is the essence of life around which everything revolves, as well as is the ultimate path to enlightenment.

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