the path of the bodhisattva


The Tibetan Wheel of Suffering offers my Western eyes a contemplative tool by which to explore how psychological patterns –unconscious drives and needs, impulsive and reactive responses, learned and conditioned habits, and obsessions and compulsions – serve to keep me locked in self-defeating or misguided mental formations.

The Wheel of Suffering illustrates the prominent suffering within each six separate realms of existence; deva, asura, human, animal, hungry  ghost, and hell. It also offers hope and instruction by which to ease suffering through the inclusion of six tiny figures symbolizing the bodhisattva.

  • Within in the deva realm is a bodhisattva holding a lute signifying the joy and happiness that arises from a peaceful mind in unison with sensory experience.  The sound of the lute also alerts those in this realm that pleasures are temporary and that the happiness that comes with letting go of the emotional fusion with self and with another far exceeds that which arises from indulgence.
  • Inserted in the asura realm is a bodhisattva wielding a flaming sword, representative of discriminating awareness needed to free one paralyzed by their own jealousy.
  • Placed within the human realm is a bodhisattva holding an alms bowl and staff symbolizing an ascetic engaged in a true comprehension of identity.
  • Included in the animal realm is a bodhisattva holding a book representing the need for wisdom that arises through thought, speech, and reflection.
  • Introduced in the hungry ghost realm is a bodhisattva holding a bowl filled with spiritual nourishment.  These spiritual morsels: grace, faith, mindfulness, centeredness, compassion, loving-kindness, and equanimity, all contain the nutrients of wisdom to ease their torments.
  • Within hell, the lowest and worst of the three lower realms, is a bodhisattva holding a mirror indicating that the seeing and acknowledging, with nonjudgmental awareness, of unwanted emotions will alleviate suffering.

Many in the west conceive the bodhisattva as spiritual warriors who are compassionate beings whose sole and unique purpose in this world is to work for the benefit of all beings.

They are also generally considered as beings who, through their asceticism and transformation, have arrived at a state of awakening, but have renounced to enter into the completion of this awakening as long as there is a single being who suffers.

Yean-Yves Leloup notes within Compassion and Meditation, “a bodhisattva is a being who is undaunted by the multitude of beings who are not free, undaunted by the time, which seems to be needed for all to be free, and would sacrifice their own head and all their limbs” for the well-being of all sentient beings.

He also notes, “The Christian tradition maintains that one is never saved alone.  It is as if someone refused to experience paradise, or to see God, as long as there is one being who does not participate in this vision… As long, as a single being does not know the uncreated Creator and Love, the foundation of being and life, then perhaps we could say that one renounces, not the knowledge itself, but the savoring of this knowledge in its fullness…a cosmic state of consciousness, open to all beings.  My own body is the body of the universe, and as long as a single being suffers in this universe, I cannot know the fullness—in Christian terms, the beatitude.” (pages 39-40)

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