The Wheel of Life Thangka, an exceptional piece of Tibetan art, demonstrates the wealth of symbolism and intricate detail found in Buddhist paintings. Also known as the Bhavachakra, the Wheel of Life is a symbolic representation of the cyclical nature of existence, elucidating the principles of samsara and karma within Buddhist cosmology. The Wheel of Life Thangka embodies the essence of the Buddhist teachings, the Four Noble Truths:
The existence of earthly suffering;
The origin and cause of suffering;
The cessation or prevention of suffering;
The practice path leading to liberation from suffering.
The Wheel of Life mandala's meaning delves into the cause of all suffering and its effects, mirrored in earthly phenomena. At the painting's centre, three animals often symbolise the primary afflictions: a pig - symbol of ignorance, a snake representing aversion, and a rooster signifying attachment. These creatures intertwine, illustrating the interconnectedness of these afflictions and their role in perpetuating the cycle of rebirth.
Encircling the central core, six realms of existence emerge: the god realm, the demi-god realm, the human realm, the animal realm, the hungry ghost realm, and the hell realm. Each realm conveys a specific aspect of suffering and embodies the diverse experiences within samsara. Depicted in a circular form, the Wheel of Life mandala serves as a visual reminder of the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, as well as karma's role in determining one's position in the cycle. The painting's ultimate purpose and symbol is to guide viewers out of the world of suffering and into the realm beyond, known as Nirvana.