The Wheel

Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


 The primordial power of the universe moves in circles. A vast wheel describes the wholeness of Life from its motionless center to its whirling rim. This creative power is in the center and radiates outwards like the rays of the sun. The wheel is Life, it is Law, it is Time. It is the foundation of all worlds and the eternal expression of compassion. Wheels revolve within wheels, time within time and worlds within worlds. Every molecule in the universe is a wheel of life involved in larger cycles of change. The motion of a patient Hindu peasant walking upon a water wheel involves every level of rotary force. The wheel which moves the water from one channel to another is but the most obvious form of this force. The physical energy of his body is sustained by cyclic motion at every level, while the water disturbed by the action of the wheel moves in circular waves. The whole life of this man is a wheel marking the stages between birth and death; his daily thoughts may rest upon the motionless source of all life even while his feet tirelessly turn the water wheel.

 If man has come to focus upon the physical rather than the symbolical and philosophical wheel, this indicates the degree to which consciousness has descended into matter. We have moved progressively along the broad sweep of the rim of consciousness in this great cycle of evolution. We have lost the wisdom of the Cheyenne Medicine Man who spoke of men as 'Living Medicine Wheels.'

 The wheel symbolizes the interconnected concepts of manifestation, duration and change as well as the dynamic equilibrium of the contrary forces of contraction and expansion. The Secret Doctrine tells us that "wheels are the centres of force around which primordial cosmic matter expands, and passing through all the six stages of consolidation, becomes spheroidal and ends by being transformed into globes or spheres." The zodiac symbolizes the process whereby fecundated primordial energy passes from potential into active energy and then returns to its source. The involution and evolution of life takes place in a great wheel. The apparent orbit of the sun through the twelve divisions of the zodiac corresponds to twelve degrees or stages in the action of the active principle upon the passive. A similar dynamic process is symbolized by the wheel of Tao where the yang and the yin, the positive and negative patterns, appear to be moving into one another, while in fact at any moment in time each occupies half of the sphere in a process of dynamic balance.

 Perhaps the most profound conception of the wheel focuses upon the still center or hub, without which there would be no dynamic process, no apparent motion, no manifest balance in nature and in man. The hub of the wheel is still while all revolves around it and radiates from it. The Buddhist Wheel of Life is depicted with detailed forms along its spokes and rim, whereas the hub is undecorated and represents the formless center of life. Ancient scriptures speak of the Great Wheel which is parentless {Anupadaka) and without form, from which emanates the New Wheel for the pilgrimage of Life. The Secret Doctrine intimates how Fohat forms the germs of lesser wheels which extend in six directions from the one central wheel in which the Lipika reside, while the Sons of Light stand at each angle. This is the First Divine World, a great wheel made up of seven wheels. Then Fohat, as primordial Light in circular motion, forms a winged wheel at the four corners of the Second Divine World. Upon the Seven Laya Centers which are the imperishable foundations of the universe, Fohat builds seven wheels in the likeness of older wheels. In this manner the solar wheels evolve, each planet a lesser wheel within the larger whole.

 The imagery of an old hymn describes the wheels seen by Ezekiel in the fiery whirlwind – "The Big Wheel run by power and the Little Wheel run by the grace of God . . ." From the awakening of Kosmos, primordial matter tends inevitably toward circular movement, "Deity becomes a Whirlwind." The Great Wheels are Maha Kalpas. The revolutions of our chain of seven planets are Rounds. Atoms filling space continuously vibrate with that motion which keeps the wheels of life perpetually turning. The inner synthesizing principle correlates all forces. At the center stands the Silent Deity, the conscious guiding noumenon. In the language of the Bhagavad Gita, "Ishwara resides in every mortal being and puts in motion, by its supernatural power, all things which mount on the wheel of time."

 The voice in the fiery whirlwind and Ezekiel's wheels are the manifested foundations of Law. The fiery wheel revolves while the pramantha or spoke takes fire by friction, conducting it to the rim. This was implicit in the myth of Prometheus. This is also the basis for the idea of grace or compassion expressed by the spokes of Being radiating from the hub of the wheel. If Compassion is the Law of Laws, then its structure delineates the wheels upon which Karma is enacted. The wheel is Law, but it does not roll in any linear sense. It turns upon the ocean of chaos, transforming it and compelling a new succession of forms.

 It is said that Buddha gave a turn to the Wheel of The Law by bringing the Light of Illumination from the Still Flame at the center of the wheel into his earthly, temporal vestures. He conducted the fire out onto the rim of the wheel and increased the rotary movement of terrestrial life. The Law quickens by the presence of such a One. Karma is stirred and mankind feels the heat of the Central Flame. So it was that Krishna appeared at the beginning of Kali Yuga, heralding an age of increasingly rapid change, giving a crucial turn to the wheel.

 Chinese tradition divides the wheel, recognizing eight basic dynamic movements in the cosmos, interrelated by two principles. The Cosmic transformations are reflected in the world by combinations based upon these patterns, each relating to the fundamental duality of the yin and the yang, the interplay between the pairs of opposites. The spokes of the wheel emphasize divisions of a whole wherein duality balances.

 In Hinduism, the spokes of the wheel come alive, becoming transmitters of Light, witnesses of the Eternal Center and compassionate supporters of the rim. Siva stands in the center of the universe, surrounded by fire. Poised and motionless, he yet engages in the eternal dance of motion. Siva, the Initiator of all Initiates, destroys the dying forms clutching at the rim of life. The divine process of progressive enlightenment discussed in Hindu metaphysics follows a spiralling motion, just as a point moving toward the center of a rotating wheel describes a spiralling path. The spoked wheel provides the channels whereby the periphery can come to know the source of the whole. The structure of the Law enables the centrifugal and centripetal forces to interbalance ceaselessly, whirling around a fixed point of Truth and Balance. Again, in the zodiac, the cardinal points initiate, while the fixed points contain and sustain, but the mutable points are fluidic and enable constant reassertion of a new dynamic balance.

 The Cheyenne Elders taught that the universe is a great Medicine Wheel. It is the "mirror of the People and each person is a mirror to every other person." The Medicine Wheel is the Living Flame of the Lodges and all things are contained within it. Every person is a Living Medicine Wheel and was originally a Power existing somewhere in time and space but having no form. Each Power possessed boundless energy and beauty. These Living Wheels needed only the understanding of limitation, the experience of substance, the learning of the heart to become whole. Heamavihio, The Breath of Wisdom, and Miaheyyun, Total Understanding, are but two of the words in the Cheyenne language which express this wholeness. For man to become whole, he must learn the Whole Wheel.

 By understanding the Whole, one becomes the Whole and transcends it, for the true center of the wheel is a metaphysical point which is not on the wheel itself. The ideal is set forth by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, where he says: "I established this whole Universe with a single portion of myself, and yet remain separate." The disciple moves along wheels within wheels, striving to approach the position of the sage "who has attained the central point of the wheel and remains bound to the 'unvarying mean' in indissoluble union with the Origin, partaking of its immutability and imitating its non-acting activity."