The Wheel Of Life



The Wheel Of Life

Buddhist Model of Compulsive Life & Liberation

Dr. Miles Neale

Rubin Museum and Nalanda Institute

Wheel of Life

Tibet, early 20th century

Pigments on cloth

Rubin Museum of Art

C2004.21.1 (HAR 65356)

The Three Compulsive Instincts

1. Delusion/Confusion (Pig) – Reification and Misperception of Reality

2. Desire/Clinging (Bird) – Mindless Acquisition and Fear-based


3. Hatred/Aggression (Snake) – Mindless Repulsion and Defensive


The Ascent and Decent of Consciousness

According to Actions (karma)

• Consciousness ascends towards favorable states of experience as a result

of wholesome actions (Realms = God, Demi-god, and Human)

• Consciousness descends towards unfavorable states of experience as a

result of unwholesome actions (Realms = Animal, Hell, and Ghost)

• Wholesome and unwholesome actions are distinguished by the intention

to cause either ease or harm to oneself and others.

• As long as intentional actions (both good and bad) remain rooted in

fundamental delusion, beings will be endlessly bound to the compulsive

life cycle (samsara).

The elimination of of the root delusion is the cause of liberation.

The Six Psychological States/Realms

Three Favorable States or Higher Realms (God, Demi-god,

and Human) result from wholesome intentional actions.

Three Unfavorable States or Lower Realms (Animal, Ghost,

and Hell) result from unwholesome intentional action.

Animal Realm

• Animal Forms: Impulse-bound beings struggling to survive.

• Primary Affliction: Fear

• Psychological experience of moderate anxiety, fear,

trepidation, being compelled by immediate drives of safety,

hunger and sexual gratification. Largely ignorant about the

mind’s latent capacity for self-correction, self-regulation and

consciously determined freedom.

Ghost Realm

• Ghostly Forms: Addicted beings with insatiable appetites.

• Primary Affliction: Greed.

• Psychological experience of addiction, chronic

dissatisfaction, inner emptiness, meaninglessness, more acute

or moderate varieties of anxiety, OCD etc.

Hell Realm

• Hellish Forms: Tormented beings locked in war against all.

• Primary Affliction: Hate

• Psychological experience of acute trauma, intense anxiety,

major depression with suicidality, hopelessness, despair,

psychotic states of delusion, paranoia, and dissociation,

antisocial personality, and extreme borderline personality.

Human Realm

• Human Forms: Insecure beings clinging to childish love.

• Primary Affliction: Naive clinging.

• Psychological experience of tolerable suffering, mild states of depression,

anxiety, grief, yearning and existential distress, mixed intermittingly with

pleasure and joy.

Of all six realms, the Human realm is said to provide the optimal

conditions to seek liberation: A balance of optimal frustration with access

to reflective capacities and motivation for change.

God and Demi-god Realm

• Godly Forms: Narcissistic Souls Playing Out Fantasy Lives

• Primary Affliction: Pride, Self-involvement

• Psychological experience of great pride, talent, charisma and good fortune that

leads to a kind of self-absorption or narcissism. Also a pseudo spiritual union or

power, which is more like an infantile regression, and still within compulsive life.

• Titanic Forms, Shame-Based Souls Driven to Beat Everyone

• Primary Affliction: Envy, Competitiveness

• Psychological experience of growing power and ego striving, yet intense jealousy,

competitiveness, and envy.

Twelve Links of Dependent Origination


Buddhist model of causality –

the 12 chain links that dependently condition

our experience of compulsive life.

Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

1. Unconscious Reification and Misperception (Avidya)

2. Traumatic Imprints (Samskara)

3. Distorted Consciousness (Vijnana)

4. Primitive Self Construct (Namarupa)

5. Distorted Sense Perceptions (Ayatana)

6. Sensory Contact (Sparsa)

7. Hedonic Sensation (Vedana)

8. Afflictive Reaction (Trishna)

9. Compulsive Action (Upadana)

10. Traumatic Self-Identification (Bhavana)

11. Repetition Compulsion (Jati)

12. Tragic Aging, Illness, and Death (Jara-marana)

Unconscious Reification and Misperception


• Link 1: Self-Reifying Delusion aka Unconscious Misperception


• Image: A blind, old woman with a cane.

• Causality: Through misperception, the instinctual impulses and traumatic

imprints are conditioned.

• Misperception is of two types: reification of I and things as well as the

lack of understanding as to how things are produced (karma).

• Links 1 & 2 relate to the past.

Traumatic Imprints (Samskara)

• Link 2: Karmic Propensity aka Instinctual Impulses aka Mental

Formations aka Traumatic Imprints (Samskara).

• Image: A woman molding clay on a potters wheel.

• Causality: Through the instinctual impulses and traumatic imprints (in

the past life) defuse consciousness (in the present life) is conditioned.

• Implicit memory and past trauma as well as principal of associations and


• Links 1 & 2 relate to the past.

Distorted Consciousness (Vijnana)

• Link 3: Defuse Consciousness aka Mental Continuum (Vijnana).

• Image: A monkey jumping from roof to roof.

• Causality: Through diffuse consciousness, the self-construct (mind/body

life systems) is conditioned.

• Consciousness is not a discrete thing/entity but a continuity of nexus

moments of awareness ie. When eye and visual object meet, seeing

consciousness arises.

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Primitive Self Construct (Namarupa)

• Link 4: Name and Form aka Mind/Body System aka Primitive Selfconstruct.

Self-identity (Namarupa).

• Image: One man rowing a boat (sometimes two men in a boat, taken to

mean the mind and body body).

• Causality: Through the primitive self-construct the distorted sense

perceptions are conditioned ( i.e. the 5 physical sense-organs, and

consciousness as the sixth).

• Synonymous with the five aggregates or life systems (skhandas). 4 of

mind – sensation, conception, emotion, consciousness and 1 of body

(four elements).

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Distorted Sense Perceptions (Ayatana)

• Link 5: Six Senses, aka Sense Bases, aka Sense faculties, aka Distorted

Sense Perceptions (Ayatana).

• Image: A prosperous looking house with many doors and windows.

• Causality: Through the six distorted sense perceptions, sensory contact is


• Perceptual Faculties include: Eyes, Ears, Nose, Tongue, Body, and Mind

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Sensory Contact (Sparsa)

• Link 6: Sensory Contact (Sparsha).

• Image: A couple embracing.

• Causality = Through sensory contact, hedonistic sensation is conditioned.

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Hedonic Sensation (Vedana)

• Link 7: Feeling aka Hedonic Sensation (Vedana).

• Image: A man with an arrow piercing his eye.

• Causality: Through hedonistic sensation, afflictive emotional reactions

are conditioned.

• Classified into three types: unpleasant/painful sensation, pleasant

sensation and neither/neutral sensation.

• This link is associated with the karmic ripening/effect in the present of a

previous karmic cause.

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Afflictive Reaction (Trishna)

• Link 8: Craving aka Afflictive Reaction (Trishna).

• Image: A man indulging in wine.

• Causality = Through afflictive reaction, compulsive actions are


There are three primary, habituated reactions: Mindless aversion to

unpleasant sensation, mindless clinging to pleasant sensation and

mindless disinterest or disengagement to neutral sensation.

• This link is associated with causal karma in the present, to ripen as a

karmic effect in the future.

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Compulsive Action (Upadana)

• Link 9: Grasping aka Obsession aka Compulsive Action (Upadana).

• Image: A monkey (sometimes a person) hoarding fruits.

• Causality: Through compulsive action the process of traumatic self-identification

is conditioned.

The way afflictive reactions habituate over time becomes compulsive actions.

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Traumatic Self-Identification (Bhavana)

• Link 10: Becoming aka Existence aka Traumatic Self-identification


• Image: A pregnant woman or sometimes a couple embracing as a prelude

to sexual union.

• Causality: Through traumatic self-identification in the present, a

traumatic repetition compulsion in the future is conditioned.

• Links 3-10 relate to the present.

Repetition Compulsion (Jati)

• Link 11: Birth aka Traumatic repetition, aka Repetition Compulsion


• Image: A woman in labor.

• Causality = Through the traumatic repletion compulsion, tragic illness,

aging and death are conditioned.

• Links 11-12 relate to the future.

Tragic Aging, Illness, and Death (Jara-marana)

• Link 12: Mindless or Tragic Aging, Illness and Death (Jaramaranam).

• Image: A corpse being carried to the cremation ground.

• Causality: Mindless death, further conditions misperception in future


• Links 11-12 relate to future.





Traumatic Self-Identification



Traumatic Repetition


ess Aging and Death





Unconscious Misperception





Traumatic Imprints



Diffuse Consciousness




Compulsive Action






Primitive Self-Construct




Afflicted Reaction



Distorted Sense Perceptions




Hedonic Sensation

Initial Contact



7 6

Causal Development Over Phases of Time

Links Time Relation

Misperception (Avidya) Past Cause

Past Action (Links 1-2)

Afflicting Reaction (Klesha) Present Effect

Present Reaction (Links 2-7)

Compulsive Action (Karma) Present Cause

Present Action (Links 8-10)

Traumatic Life (Samsara) Future Effect

Future Reaction (Links 11-12)

Dr. Miles Neale

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