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Craftsman making Wheel of Dharma in Xining. By reurinjan.

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The Dharmacakra (Sanskrit: धर्मचक्) or Dhammacakka (Pāli), Tibetan chos kyi 'khor lo (འཀོར་ལོ།), Chinese fălún 法輪, "Wheel of Dharma" or "Wheel of Law" is a symbol that has represented dharma, the Buddha's teaching of the path to enlightenment, since the early period of Indian Buddhism.[1] It is also sometimes translated as wheel of doctrine or wheel of law. A similar symbol is also in use in Jainism. It is one of the Ashtamangala Symbols



The Dharmacakra symbol is represented as a chariot wheel (Sanskrit cakram) with eight or more spokes. It is one of the oldest known Buddhist symbols found in Indian art, appearing with the first surviving post-Harappan Indian iconography in the time of the Buddhist king Aśokaḥ.[2] The Dharmacakra has been used by all Buddhist nations as a symbol ever since. In its simplest form, the Dharmacakra is recognized globally as a symbol for Buddhism.[3]


A simplified version of the Dharmacakra

In Buddhism—according to the Pali Canon, Vinayapitaka, Khandhaka, Mahavagga, Dhammacakkappavattanasutta—number of spokes of the Dharmacakra represent various meanings:

  • 8 spokes representing the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya magga).
  • 12 spokes representing the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppāda).
  • 24 spokes representing the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination and the Twelve Laws of Dependent Termination (Paticcasamuppāda).
  • 31 spokes representing 31 realms of existence (11 realms of desire, 16 realms of form and 4 realms of formlessness).

In Buddhism, Parts of the Dharmacakra also representing:

  • Its overall shape is that of a circle (cakra), representing the perfection of the dharma teaching
  • The hub stands for discipline, which is the essential core of meditation practice
  • The rim, which holds the spokes, refers to mindfulness or samādhi which holds everything together

The corresponding mudrā, or symbolic hand gesture, is known as the Dharmacakra Mudrā.

The Dharmacakra is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.

The dharma wheel can refer to the dissemination of the dharma teaching from country to country. In this sense the dharma wheel began rolling in India, carried on to Central Asia, and then arrived in South East Asia and East Asia.

Multiple turnings of the Wheel

Mahayana schools classify Buddhist teachings in turns of a sequential scheme of development. These phases are called "turnings" of the Dharmacakra (Sanskrit: dharmacakra-pravartana).

All Buddhists agree that the original turning of the wheel occurred when the Buddha taught the five ascetics who became his first disciples at the Deer Park in Sarnath. In memory of this, the Dharmacakra is sometimes represented with a deer on each side.

In Theravāda Buddhism, this was the only "turning of the wheel", and later developments of the Buddhist doctrine which do not appear in the Pali Canon or the Agamas are not accepted as teachings of the historical Buddha.

Other schools of Buddhism, such as the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna distinguish later "turnings". Specific accounts of them vary. In one, the first turning of the Dharmacakra is Gautama Buddha's original teaching, in particular the Four Noble Truths which describes the mechanics of attachment, desire, suffering, and liberation via the Eightfold Path; the second turning is the teaching of the Perfection of Wisdom sutra, a foundational text of Mahayana Buddhism; and the third is the teaching of the Mahavairocana Sutra, a foundational text of Tantric Buddhism.

In another scheme, the second turning of the Dharmacakra is the Abhidharma, the third is the Mahāyāna Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, and the fourth includes both the Yogacara sutras and Tathāgatagarbha sutras.

Other uses

In the Unicode computer standard, the Dharmacakra is called the "Wheel of Dharma" and found in the eight-spoked form. It is represented as U+2638 ().

Following the suggestion of Bhimrao Ambedkar, the Buddhist dharmachakra was used on the new Flag of India.[4]

The national flag of the former Kingdom of Sikkim in the Himalayas featured a version of the Dharmacakra.

Thai people also use a yellow flag with a red Dharmacakra as their buddhist flag.

The Dharmacakra is also the U.S. Armed Forces military chaplain insignia for Buddhist chaplains.

In Jainism, the Dharmacakra is worshipped as a symbol of the dharma.

Many other "cakras" appear in other Indian traditions, e.g. Vishnu's Sudarśanacakra, which is, however, a wheel-shaped weapon and not a representation of a teaching.


  1. ^ Albert Grünwedel, Agnes C. Gibson, James Burgess,Buddhist art in India. Published by Bernard Quaritch, 1901, page 67: "The wheel (dharmachakra), as already mentioned, was adopted by Buddha's disciples as the symbol of his doctrine ..."
  2. ^ Albert Grünwedel, Agnes C. Gibson, James Burgess,Buddhist art in India. Published by Bernard Quaritch, 1901, page 67: "The wheel (dharmachakra), as already mentioned, was adopted by Buddha's disciples as the symbol of his doctrine, and combined with other symbols - a trident placed above it, etc. - stands for him on the sculptures of the Asoka period."
  3. ^ Hermann Goetz, The art of India: five thousand years of Indian art. Published by Crown, 1964, page 52: "dharmachakra, symbol of the Buddhist faith"
  4. ^ Christopher S. Queen, Sallie B. King, Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist liberation movements in Asia. SUNY Press, 1996, page 27, [1]: "Ambedkar, as a member of Nehru's first cabinet, proposed the use of the Buddhist dharmachakra or "wheel of the law" on the new flag of India and the Ashokan lion-capital on the national currency."

See also

Further reading

  • Dorothy C. Donath (1971). Buddhism for the West: Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna; a comprehensive review of Buddhist history, philosophy, and teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present day. Julian Press. ISBN 0-07-017533-0.  .


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