The Dharmachakra (धर्मचक्र (dharmacakra)), the "Wheel of Dharma" or "Wheel of the Law," is a symbol representing Buddhist doctrine and the dissemination of the Buddha's teachings on the path to enlightenment, since the beginning of the Indian Buddhist period. It is one of the eight auspicious symbols.
The Dharmachakra is represented as a chariot wheel (Sanskrit: chakra) with eight or more spokes. It is one of the oldest Buddhist symbols, appearing as early as the time of the Buddhist king Ashoka (second century BC), before any representation of the Buddha in human form.
It appears on the capital with lions or "Ashoka's Pillar" discovered in Sarnath. Since then, it has been used as a symbol of faith in all Buddhist countries.
It is an important iconographic motif of the Dvaravati culture in Southeast Asia (life in the tenth century).
In Buddhism, according to the Pali Canon, the Vinaya Pitaka, the Khandhaka, the Mahavagga and the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the number of rays of the Dharmachakra has a meaning:
8 rays represent the Noble Eightfold Path (āryāṣṭāṅgamārga); 12 rays represent the twelve links of conditioned coproduction (pratītyasamutpada); 24 rays represent the twelve links of packaged coproduction and the twelve links of packaged cessation; 31 rays represent the thirty-one worlds (11 worlds of desire, 16 worlds of form, and 4 formless worlds). The other parts of the Dharmachakra also have significance:
its general circle (chakra) shape symbolizes the perfection of the Dharma teaching;
the hub represents discipline, the essential center of Buddhist meditation; the rim, which holds the spokes together, refers to the concentration (or samadhi) that holds it all together.
The gesture (mudra) of setting the Wheel of the Law (Dharmachakrapravartana) in motion is known as Dharmachakramudra.
The Dharma wheel can also symbolize the propagation of the Dharma teaching from country to country. In this sense, it has rolled from India to Central Asia, Southeast Asia and then to East Asia.
Multiple turns of the wheel
The Mahayana schools classify the Buddhist teachings according to a cycle of successive developments. These phases are called "turns" of the Dharmachakra (Sanskrit: Dharmachakra-pravartana).
All Buddhists agree that the first round of the Law took place when Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment in the gazelle park at Sarnath. In memory of this event, the Dharmachakra is sometimes framed by two gazelles.
In Theravada Buddhism, there is only one "turn of the wheel" and later developments of Buddhist doctrine not present in the Tipitaka or Agamas are not considered teachings of the historical Buddha.
Other schools, such as the Mahayana and Vajrayana, distinguish between several "turns. Their number varies. According to one version, the first round is the original teaching of Gautama Buddha, in particular the Four Noble Truths, which describes the mechanism of attachment, desire, suffering and liberation through the Noble Eightfold Path;
the second round is the teaching of the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom), a foundational text of the Mahayana; the third round is the teaching of the Maha Vairochana Sutra, an essential text of Tantric Buddhism.
Vulture Peak is known to be the place where the teachings of the second setting of the Dharma wheel were given. Zhìshēng (en) (zh: 智昇; fr: Zhishang) establishes a division of the Buddha's teachings according to the "Three-Turned Wheel of the Law " in the Catalogue of Shakyamuni's Teachings of the Great Tang of the Kaiyuan Period (en: Catalog of Śākyamuṇi's Teachings of the Kaiyuan era of the Great Tang Era;
zh: 大唐開元釋教錄; pinyin: Dà Táng Kāiyuán Shìjiào Lù) or simply the Kaiyuan Catalogue (completed in 730 CE).
In the 1st turn of the wheel correspond the teachings expounded for bodhisattvas in the Avataṃsaka sūtra known as the Flower Garland Sūtra; in the 2nd turn, the teachings of the three vehicles of the Agama, Vaipulya, and Wisdom period sūtras, intended for people of inferior abilities, unable to grasp the teaching of the Flower Garland Sūtra ;
and at the 3rd turn of the wheel, the spontaneous teaching of the Lotus Sūtra, which unites the three vehicles in the One Vehicle, with which two sutras are associated:
The Sūtra of Infinite Senses (jp: Muryogi Kyō) and the Sūtra of Meditation on the Dignity of the Seeker of Enlightenment (jp:Fugen Kyō), respectively prologue and epilogue to the Lotus Sutra, according to Zhiyi's commentaries. The second round of the Lotus Sutra is the second round of the Sūtra.
According to another version, the second round of the Dharmachakra is the Abhidhamma, the third is the Prajnaparamita of the Mahāyāna, and a fourth would gather the sutras of the Chittamatra and the Tathagatagarbha (Buddha nature).
In the Unicode computer standard the Dharma wheel has eight spokes :
Mongolia's coat of arms features a Dharmachakra associated with other Buddhist symbols such as the lotus flower, the chintamani, a blue khata and the soyombo.
At the suggestion of Bhimrao Ambedkar, the Dharmachakra was adopted on the flag of India in 1947.
The flag of the ancient kingdom of Sikkim, designed in 1670, featured a version of the Dharmachakra.
A red Dharmachakra with 12 rays also appears on the yellow Buddhist flag of Thailand.
The Dharmachakra is also the insignia of Buddhist military chaplains in the United States armed forces.
In Jainism, the Dharmachakra is revered as a symbol of Dharma.
Other chakras appear in other Indian traditions, including the Sudarshana Chakra of Vishnu, a wheel-shaped weapon that does not represent a teaching.
The Dharmachakra is also used as an emblem by Kerdik worshippers, a local Indian Ocean folk tradition.
The Dharma wheel is found atop the roof of some Tibetan monasteries, surrounded by two standing deer, an innovation of the Karmapa.