The wheel of life for busy times

Traditionally, the Wheel of Life is placed at the door of Tibetan houses and painted at the entrance walls of Tibetan Buddhist learning institutions.
These days, almost nobody lingers at the doorstep of a house or monastery. Naturally, the Wheel of Life also suffers from a severe lack of attention.
The Wheel of Life is actually quite meaningful and telling of the non-stop busy-ness that we are experiencing. At the very center of the painting are three animals – the pig, snake and rooster. The pig symbolizes delusion, the snake, anger and the rooster, desire. They are eating one another’s tail, resembling the fact that our day is continuously made up of experiences of anger, delusion and desire.
We are at the beach on vacation. The waiter takes too long to deliver our coconut juice; we get annoyed. Then as we get tired of the book we are reading, we wish to swim. So we run towards the sea.
After a few hours, we get tired of swimming and wish to go back to our book. Sometimes, the temporary fear of a possible tsunami creeps into our mind. Both emotions are delusion, according to Buddhist epistemology – not knowing what we want and fear. Then of course, we dream of a candle-lit dinner that night, or we dread going back to the city to work – that is desire.
The second circle traditionally depicts the non-stop migration of beings in the six realms. We can already see this in our community. Successful careers dissolve into nothing, a pauper becomes a millionaire in a few years, the beauty contestant who was a nobody for three successive pageants is propelled to the top.
Surrounding the second circle are the six sub-realms of the Desire Realm – the gods, semi-gods, humans at the upper half, and the animals, hungry ghosts and hell beings at the lower half. Although all the six realms have suffering, the upper half has more favorable circumstances, the lower half is predominated by suffering.
In Buddhist principles, the mind is precursor to the physical body. The body is just a product of mind. So, for example, in the Hungry Ghost Realm, a group of hungry ghosts have throats as thick as a needle, with stomachs as big as mountains. This is because they are predominated by the affliction of stinginess. And stinginess makes us feel poor, despite how much we have.
Similarly, since our realm is predominated by desire, the five senses (plus the sixth, the mind) developed in humans is its primary result. If we step back a little, we can see that our whole life will be spent pleasuring these six senses, or working hard to pleasure these.
At the outermost circle are the 12 interdependent links. These 12 links are very broad and pervasive. This can be used to explain how the individual in a realm develops and disintegrates.
Or it can explain the different successive emotions that disturb us as we become more enmeshed in busy-ness. Nevertheless, it is a systematic account of the cycle of formation and disintegration.
At one o’clock is a blind man feeling his way with his cane towards nowhere. That is ignorance (first link). We are ignorant. We do not know where happiness really lies. Many people, like Buddhists, profess to a religion or belief system which try to point the way to happiness. But the mere association to a belief system is telling – that one is lost and trying to look for some sort of happiness: the blind man.
At two o’clock is a potter spinning the pottery wheel. That is karma or “formations” (second link). Spinning and spinning the clay, the pot is formed. Similarly, because of the karma of a very subtle, continuous and pervading force of desire in the human realm, the third link is formed – consciousness or mind.
Fast forward to six o’clock, we have a man and woman meeting. That is contact (sixth link). For busy people, this happens when we first encounter some form of work. Contact is a product of the six senses (the sixth being the mind) – the house with the six windows (the fifth link).
At seven o’clock is a man whose eye gets shot by an arrow – feeling (seventh link). When the wedding coordinator hears the words “job well done,” it is a pleasurable feeling to his mind. At that instant, the wedding project is termed a success. His previous failures and all his faults are forgotten. With eyes blinded, he has a distorted view of himself and his abilities.
At eight o’clock is a drunken man. The drunk is now engrossed in himself and what he can do. This is yearning (eighth link). For an office assistant, it can be yearning for a raise, a higher position or more work responsibilities. Anyway, all forms of busy-ness stem from yearning due to feeling – a previous feeling of success, pain or pleasure. Then a person picking fruit follows – grasping (ninth link). It is to grasp at things or ideas, or to hold on to someone, an experience or an emotion.
At 10 o’clock, a man and woman are making love, which is existence (10th link). At the very least, when we reach out to grasp something, we will look at, taste or smell the thing that we reached for. There is a follow-up reaction. Grasping, the previous link, results in existence.
This is followed by a woman giving birth, which represents birth (11th link), and at 12 o’clock, a dead man being carried to the grave, which symbolizes death (12th Link).
The whole thing is in a circular shape, a wheel, because it never stops turning. We keep on making contact, feeling, yearning, grasping, over and over. And so these result in a tirelessly spinning busy-ness.
The monster holding it is Yamantaka, resembling impermanence. Impermanence makes the whole wheel go around. Finally, at the upper corners, there is a standing Buddha pointing to the moon. That is Buddhism. I will gladly leave that out.
Most people do not believe in the concept of Reincarnation, or being reborn. But with the pace of preoccupation to endless activities in this life, a next life is needed by most people to “finish” these.