Yama holding the wheel of life. Distemper painting.

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About this work


Living a life of balance in harmony with the world is central to Asian philosophy, as is right behaviour to ensure eventual spiritual liberation. The Wheel of Life or Existence illustrates how right behaviour can influence rebirth. It depicts the Buddhist teachings on suffering, the nature of samsara or cyclic existence and the doctrine of karma or cause and effect. In the centre of the wheel are three animals; a pig, a cockerel and a snake, respectively symbolising the three poisons of ignorance, desire and hatred. Until these poisons are eradicated, they give rise to a meaningless cycle of death and rebirth into any of the six realms of cyclic existence

The circle surrounding the animals shows people going up to a higher realm because of their good karma and going down to the lower realms because of their bad actions. Around this are the six realms of cyclic existence into which one can be reborn: heavenly realm, jealous god realm, human realm, animal realm, hungry ghost realm and the hell realm. In the outer rim are twelve episodes that symbolise the conditioning that leads from ignorance (depicted as a blind man) to death (depicted as a corpse). Thus one continues to revolve and transmigrate through these different realms of existence until one has eradicated the three poisons. These three poisons are also the primary cause of disease

Physical description

1 painting : distemper ; sight of painted area 89.5 x 69 cm


Wellcome Collection 45161i

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