At the heart of symbolism

The wheel, from the Centre to the circle


Buddhist wheel of the Law

A universal symbol

Shaped as a circle, the wheel turns around a fixed axis passing through its hub. The representation of the wheel can be found in almost all populations, even in the pre-Columbian civilisations. They knew its principle but did not make use of it. It seems that the symbolic aspect preceded and even prevailed over the practical use in these societies.

The wheel rotates

Centre, and circleThe wheel (from the Latin rota) evokes rotation, movement. The mobile external circle symbolizes the World in continual change and the motionless interior Axis, the image of the primeval Unit, of the non manifested Principle at the origin of the World manifestation in the broadest sense of the word. The Centre is the Whole and contains the circle in a potential state; on the other hand, the circle is nothing without the Centre. The immutable Centre produces everything through its irradiation along the spokes of the wheel and all things find their source within the Unity while moving back to the Centre 1.

The ends of a diameter of the circle symbolizes opposites which are changed into complementary as they approach the centre of the circle where they are unified. The centre of the circle represents the reflection of the Principle in the domain of manifestation; it constitutes the point of balance between antagonisms, the happy medium where all things are in harmony.

Representation of the wheel

Traditionally, the wheel is represented by a circle divided into four sectors by two perpendicular diameters. Such an image naturally refers to the movement alongside the circle and the four season cycle, the four lunar phases, the four periods of the day, the four ages of mankind or humanity etc.

The image of the point at the centre of the circle was also described as a solar symbol a long time ago. However, if the sun, as the regulator of the cosmic cycles, can be regarded as an image of the Centre of the World, it could not be identified to the Principle as such, the only true Centre of the World. It follows that the point at the centre of the circle remains before all a symbol of the World in its potential and manifested form.

The point surrounded by a circle has also been considered as a solar symbol or, more precisely, of the apparent movement of the sun. Nevertheless, the “solar wheel” can not supplant the “World wheel”.

Just like the points of the circle, the spokes of the wheel can be in indefinite multiplicity. However, the number of spokes of the wheel is generally even for obvious axial symmetry reasons and mostly amounts to:

4 + 2 → 6 + 2 → 8 + 4 → 12 + 4 → 16 + 8 → 24 + 4 → 28

The symbolism of the number of spokes gives all its meaning to the wheel.

1 back The centre is sometimes surrounded by several concentric circles as in the image of a wave moving on the water surface. In this case, these circles represent various states whose degree of manifestation is related to their distance from the centre. Then, the progression alongside each circle corresponds to the various modes of the associated state.

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