Why is a wheel a symbol of the Dhamma?

That’s my whole question.

Hi Gabe!
I moved your question to Q&A since the Discussion category is more suited for lengthy discussions on EBT specific content.

Maybe this link might be a good starting point …



We can answer at multiple levels, but historically I believe it inherits the symbolism of the Indo-European people, who perhaps invented, or at least were early adopters, of the spoked wheel. The horse-drawn chariot became the devastating military technology of its day, enabling them to spread from their homeland west to Europe, and south to Persia and later to India.

If you look at crucial symbolic contexts such as the Dhammacakka or the “Wheel-turning Monarch”, the fundamental meaning is “unstoppable force”. The Buddha adopted the militaristic symbolism and used it in the sense that the Dhamma could not be stopped.


Makes a lot of sense. Thanks!


Samsara is a loop. Mahakalpa is formed by creation kalpa, existence kalpa, destruction kalpa and emptiness kalpa. Every 7 fire doomsday if followed by 1 water apocalypse. Every 7 water destruction is followed by 1 wind destruction.

I’m sure that, as a very ancient symbol, it is a multivalent symbol many meanings, and that’s why it has lasted.

I think that another way you can understand is this way: the wheel represents samsara and also liberation. This is because a wheel can turn forwards and can also stop and turn backwards. This symbolizes samsara and how one can stop the cycle and reverse it. Just my own thoughts on this.


At little bit off-topic but recent research suggests that this was not the case in Europe:

“Our results reject the commonly held association between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe around 3000 BC driving the spread of Indo-European languages. This contrasts with the scenario in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium BC Sintashta culture.”



Ohh thanks, that’s interesting. The paper is super-dense though, i couldn’t really follow the argument.

Indeed, and one dimension that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the sun: the giant wheel of light that rolls unstoppably across the sky.


Ah yes

Another idea often tied to this symbol is dependent arising, since all the different spokes on a wheel are mutually supporting each other. If you take out a bunch of them the wheel stops spinning.

Wikipedia has information on history of Dharmacakra:

Similar wheel/chakra symbols are one of the most ancient in all South Asian history. Madhavan and Parpola note that a wheel symbol appears frequently in Indus Valley civilization artifacts, particularly on several seals. Notably, it is present in a sequence of ten signs on the Dholavira Signboard. As a solar symbol it first appears on clay seals of the Indus Valley civilization from 2500 BCE

Dharmachakra - Wikipedia

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I ask the same question, but maybe with a little difference in tone: “Why is the wheel the symbol of the Dhamma?!”

I feel weird about the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta. I understand that it is universally accepted as the first (as in the quintessential) Buddhist sermon, the encapsulation par excellence of the dhamma as a whole. But it’s also been shown to be very stitched together sutta with a questionable basis in any historical event. I also question the internal logic of the discourse as a whole.

I don’t know if the sutta precedes the symbol or the symbol the sutta, and perhaps it doesn’t matter, since everyone has shown that the wheel precedes Buddhism by millennia. But, still, I would say the relationship is there. The wheel as a symbol is inextricably tied to the elevation of the DCPS.

To my mind, I have long wondered (more so since seeing Gombrich’s lectures on it) why the so-called third sermon with its fire symbolism was never brought to the forefront. It seems to me just as, if not more, profound than the DCPS, with fire as a symbol correlating far more directly to more facets of Buddhist theory.