The Wheel of Samsara

In today’s yoga session, the instructor talked about the Wheel of Samsara, which is a classic Indian Buddhist image. I’ve heard many interpretations of the image over time but this one spoke to the present moment I’m in. The instructor talked about it as the wheel of distracting emotions we move through in our day, rather than as a depiction of reincarnation/transmigration.

Each section shows an emotion and the key to navigating this is to recognize that it is all temporary. We are not our emotions. Our emotions pass through us. With practice we can observe without snagging them and keeping them.

It hit me today that we’ve all been living through a panoply of heightened emotional states that cause suffering for us as a group and as individuals.

Animals in the center of the wheel represent desire, hatred, and ignorance. These emotions give rise to each other in an endless cycle. The next circle is light and dark, birth and death, the endless circle that repeats itself.

The circle that really struck me was the third circle from the center, which shows the six worlds representing attachment, greed, ignorance, hatred, envy, and desire. In Buddhism, these are the cause of suffering. I think they map surprisingly well to the Christian concept of seven deadly sins, but that could just be my ignorance of Christian theology talking.

When I look around I see these causes of suffering inside myself and often expressed by my friends as well. In our normal days we experience all these emotions, but sometimes we get stuck in one or another.

With the pressure of current events, I think it is even easier to get stuck in one or another of these. I need to watch out for that in my own life, observing the emotions and letting them go. And I need to be compassionate toward others going through this in their lives. Because it is all temporary. People experience wrath or fear or greed and then it goes away. They let their envy or their ignorance get the better of them and then it goes away.

Because fictional characters are people too (mostly), they also get stuck in these emotions and like the rest of us they suffer. I’ve heard that it is the author’s job to make sure the characters suffer in the story. But perhaps the author’s job is really to discover which of the emotional worlds the character is stuck in and then explore that world until they are ready to move on. I like that way of looking at things better than conceptualizing the author as some sort of great sadist who exists to torture their characters.

If I were a brilliant thinker I’d have more to say about this. But I’m just me and this is what I’m thinking about today: living with compassion and  helping my characters explore the source of their suffering so that they can get unstuck.

I hope you are aware of your emotions passing through and past you and that you will soon be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

Be well, friends! And stay well.


Image credit: ID 99892368 © Ipek Morel Diplikaya |

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