Himalayan Art Resources

Wheel of Life Main Page

Wheel of Life Masterworks

- Art History

- Iconography

- Religious Context


The Buddhist cosmology model (Bhavachakra, Samsara Chakra) of the environment and inhabitants is based on the Abhidharma literature of the Theravada and Sutrayana vehicles. Within the Vajrayana system various divergent models are presented with the foremost being that of the Kalachakra Tantra. In the field of Himalayan Art, under the category of Painting, the subject of the Wheel of Life belongs to the sub-category of Charts. The Wheel of Life compositions can also be described as Mandala-like, but not an actual mandala.

The early models of the Wheel of Life depict five divisions of beings; gods, humans, animals, ghosts and hell beings. Later models from Central Asia and China also divide the gods into two groups, happy gods and jealous gods. In this model the two types of gods are always depicted at war with each other. In the Himalayas and Tibet both variant models of four, five and six divisions are found and explained according to different Buddhist and artistic traditions.

Database Search: All Images

Jeff Watt 3-2007 [updated 9-2016, 5-2017, 1-2020]