What is Dharma? Understanding the Dharma and the Dharma Wheel

The Dharma Wheel

Dharma is a word that is found in both Buddhism and Hinduism.

In Buddhism it is often referred to, and most commonly known as, the teaching or religion of the Buddha.

It is the second of the Triple Gems of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha).

Dharma is typically focused on the principles of karma and the law of reincarnation, but means so much more.

The term comes from the ancient teachings of Hinduism and roughly translates to “natural law.”

Dharma is really that which supports the natural law of the universe.

The Dharma Wheel

The Dharma Wheel is one of the oldest Buddhist symbols.

It can be thought of as the same way the Star of David represents Judaism or how the cross symbolizes the Christian religion.

The Dharma Wheel, or dharmachakra, as it is known in Sanskrit, is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols known in the Buddhist religion.

The Dharma Wheel is represented by a chariot wheel with a fluctuating number of spokes depending on the artist’s depiction.

It is most often gold, but can be any color.

The center, or hub, is often a ying­yang symbol, although can also be another wheel or even empty space.

There may also be three shapes swirling together.

Understanding dharma comes to an understanding of the Dharma Wheel.

The wheel has three separate parts including the hub, the rim, and the spokes.

Although there enough meanings proposed by many different experts of what these parts mean, there are some common perceptions of what each stands for.

The Three Parts of the Whole

The main circle or the rim of the wheel is can be thought to mean the understanding of dharma.

This is an understanding of the natural law of the universe, a complete awareness of the Buddha’s teachings.

The rim of the wheel is the meditation that holds the wheel together.

As one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism, meditation is what keeps us connected to the practice.

The hub of the Dharma Wheel is representative of the moral discipline that is an integral part of following the practice.

Within the hub are often three swirls that are often said to be the Three Gems.

The spokes on the Dharma Wheel will be different according to different meanings practiced throughout the religion.

It is rare for the Dharma Wheel to have only four spokes, but when it does it is representation of the Four Noble Truths.

When there are eight spokes present, this is expressive of the Eightfold Path.

Ten spokes on a wheel means all the different directions, and twelve spokes demonstrates The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.

Twenty­four spokes on the Dharma Wheel indicates the previous twelve as well as the reversing of these Twelve Links and the attainment of liberation.

When there are thirty­one spokes on a wheel they are a representation of ancient Buddhist cosmology, known as the 31 Realms of Existence.

The Turning of the Dharma Wheel

There is also what is known as “the turning of the dharma wheel.”

This is an allegory of the Buddha’s teachings of dharma in the world.

It has been said that the Buddha turned the wheel three times.

The first turn was his first sermon after reaching enlightenment.

It was here that Buddha explained the Four Noble Truths.

The second turning was a summary of the perfection of wisdom of the teachings of emptiness, or sunyata.

The final turn of the Dharma Wheel was an introduction to the principle of Buddha nature, or the already enlightened nature of all beings.

A Path to Liberation

Dharma is sometimes thought of or referred to as religion, but has far deeper meaning than such a term.

Those that follow the Dharma are set forth by certain spiritual, ethical, moral, and social rules that are responsible for the well­being of the entire human race.

Dharma does not force any belief upon a person that follows it, instead allowing them to choose the right path for themselves and conduct themselves in a manner that is hoped to one day lead to personal liberation.

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Abe Cherian

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