R T & C U L T U R E ии
S Y M B O L S
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The wheel is a symbol of the Buddha's teaching - referring directly to his first discourse; in Sarnath, India.
In Pali the wheel is called The Dhammacakka
or 'Teaching Wheel'.
A circle is a universal symbol of unity.
In ancient India the wheel was one of
the seven precious possessions of a great world ruler - "cakkavatti:
one who owns the wheel, sybmolises conquering progress and expanding
sovereignty" [c.f. Digha 29].
The wheel is probably the simplest symbol commonly
representing Buddhism; perhaps it is better called an
icon (in the general sense of the word). The Buddha image
is now more prominent but the wheel has been in use much longer and
its simple, symmetrical form lends itself easily to a wide range of
applications. Before the development of the Buddha image (approx.
1st century BCE) the wheel was used to represent the Buddha in that
the wheel is a symbol of his teaching and he often said 'those
who see the dhamma see me.'
The two thumbnails are good examples of the aniconic use of the wheel. They are both presented as symbols of the Buddha's first sermon in the deer park. In the first the wheel is raised on a pillar. There are a large number of deer around the base with a congregation of lay folk gathered - most with their hands in the respectful gesture (anjali). In the second, two deer kneel in respect before the wheel. [another example §]
This thumbnail shows the lion capital erected by King Asoka about 250 BCE in Sarnath. It is by far the most elaborate of all the columns he raised. The capital itself is about seven feet tall and sat on top of a pillar over thirty feet high. There are four small wheels on the capital base and the lions originally supported a much larger wheel. The sculpture is now in the museum at Sarnath and is the national emblem for India.
One of the activities pages gives instructions on how
to make a cut-out paper wheel and also has a few images
which may be of use.