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The dharmachakra (which is also known as the wheel of dharma) is one of the Ashtamangala of Indian religions such as Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It has represented the Buddhist dharma, Gautama Buddha's teaching and walking of the path to Nirvana, since the time of early Buddhism.[note 1] It is also connected to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which has a meaning of "to hold, maintain, keep",[note 2] and takes a meaning of "what is established or firm", and hence "law". It is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman- with the meaning "bearer, supporter" in the historical Vedic religion conceived of as an aspect of Ṛta.
The wheel is also the main attribute of Vishnu, the Vedic god of preservation. Madhavan and Parpola note Chakra sign appears frequently in Indus Valley civilization, on several seals. Notably, in a sequence of ten signs on the Dholavira signboard, four are the chakra.
Common Dharmachakra symbols consist of either 8 or 24 spokes.
Unicode Symbol: ☸ (U+2638: Wheel Of Dharma)
According to the Puranas of Hinduism, only 24 Rishis or Sages managed the whole power of the Gayatri Mantra. The 24 letters of the Gayatri Mantra depict those 24 Rishis. Those Rishis represent all the Rishis of the Himalayas, of which the first was Maharshi Vishvamitra and the last was Rishi Yajnavalkya, the author of Yājñavalkya Smṛti which is a Hindu text of the Dharmaśāstra tradition.
- Anurāga (Love)
- Parākrama (Courage)
- Dhairya (Patience)
- Śānti (Peace/charity)
- Mahānubhāvatva (Magnanimity)
- Praśastatva (Goodness)
- Śraddāna (Faith)
- Apīḍana (Gentleness)
- Niḥsaṃga (Selflessness)
- Ātmniyantranā (Self-Control)
- Ātmāhavana (Self Sacrifice)
- Satyavāditā (Truthfulness)
- Dhārmikatva (Righteousness)
- Nyāyā (Justice)
- Ānṛśaṃsya (Mercy)
- Chāya (Gracefulness)
- Amānitā (Humility)
- Prabhubhakti (Loyalty)
- Karuṇāveditā (Sympathy)
- Ādhyātmikajñāna (Spiritual Knowledge)
- Mahopekṣā (Forgiveness)
- Akalkatā (Honesty)
- Anāditva (Eternity)
- Apekṣā (Hope)
Also an integral part of the emblem is the motto inscribed below the abacus in Devanagari script: Satyameva Jayate (English: Truth Alone Triumphs). This is a quote from the Mundaka Upanishad, the concluding part of the sacred Hindu Vedas. In the Bhagavad Gita too, verses 14, 15 and 16, of Chapter 3 speaks about the revolving wheel thus: "From food, the beings are born; from rain, food is produced; rain proceeds from sacrifice (yagnya); yagnya arises out of action; know that from Brahma, action proceeds; Brahma is born of Brahman, the eternal Paramatman. The one who does not follow the wheel thus revolving, leads a sinful, vain life, rejoicing in the senses."
The Dharmachakra is one of the ashtamangala of Buddhism.[note 3] It is one of the oldest known Buddhist symbols found in Indian art, appearing with the first surviving post-Indus Valley Civilization Indian iconography in the time of the Buddhist king Ashoka.[note 1]
The Buddha is said to have set the dhammacakka in motion when he delivered his first sermon, which is described in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The wheel itself depicts ideas about the cycle of saṃsāra and furthermore the Noble Eightfold Path.
Buddhism adopted the wheel as the main symbol of the chakravartin "wheel-turner", the ideal king or "universal monarch", symbolising the ability to cut through all obstacles and illusions.
According to Harrison, the symbolism of "the wheel of the law" and the order of Nature is also visible in the Tibetan prayer wheels. The moving wheels symbolize the movement of cosmic order (ṛta).
Beyond the Buddhism religion
- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, first Vice President of India has stated that the Ashoka Chakra of India represents the Dharmachakra.
- In the Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana, two kings named Jadabharata of the Hindu solar and lunar dynasties respectively are referred to as "Chakravartins".
- Jagdish Chandra Jain referred to this icon in Kalinga. In Jainism, the Dharmachakra is worshipped as a symbol of the dharma.
- Other "chakras" appear in other Indian traditions, e.g. Vishnu's Sudarśanacakra, a wheel-shaped weapon.
- The former Flag of Sikkim featured a version of the dharmachakra.
- Thai people also use a yellow flag with a red dhammacakka as their Buddhist flag.
- The emblem of Mongolia includes a dharmachakra together with some other Buddhist attributes such as the padma, cintamani, a blue khata and the Soyombo symbol.
- The dharmachakra is also the insignia for Buddhist chaplains in the United States Armed Forces.
- In non-Buddhist cultural contexts, an eight-spoked dharmachakra resembles a traditional ship's wheel. As a nautical emblem, this image is a common sailor tattoo.
- In the Unicode computer standard, the dharmachakra is called the "Wheel of Dharma" and found in the eight-spoked form. It is represented as U+2638 (☸).
The Flag of the Romani people also contains a 16-spoke red chakra in the centre, representing the itinerant tradition of the Romani people.
USVA headstone emblem 2
In Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, the Fǎlún (法輪/法轮) is described as “an intelligent, rotating entity composed of high-energy matter.” Practitioners of Falun Gong cultivate this Law Wheel, which rotates constantly in the lower abdomen, the same focal point described as Lower Dāntián.
- Grünwedel e.a.:"The wheel (dharmachakra) as already mentioned, was adopted by Buddha's disciples as the symbol of his doctrine, and combined with other symbols—a trident placed above it, etc.—stands for him on the sculptures of the Asoka period."
- Monier Williams, A Sanskrit Dictionary (1899): "to hold, bear (also: bring forth), carry, maintain, preserve, keep, possess, have, use, employ, practise, undergo"
- Goetz: "dharmachakra, symbol of the Buddhist faith".
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- Grünwedel 1901, p. 67.
- Monier Willams
- Day 1982, p. 42-45.
- Beer 2003, p. 14.
- The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives By Jane McIntosh. Page :377
- The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives By Jane McIntosh. Page :377
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- Kamal Dey v. Union of India and State of West Bengal (Calcutta High Court 2011-07-14). Text
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