Bhavacakra or Bhavachakra, known as the wheel of life is painted in the Buddhist temples in Tibet and India. It is a symbolic representation of the wheel of life.
Here is the gist of Bhavacakra:
- Ignorance of mistaking non-self as self-leads to aversion and attachments.
- This, in turn, leads to volition, action and the pleasant or unpleasant consequences of the actions.
- Depending on the consequences, a person enjoys or suffers the fruits of his action.
- The 12 nidanas give a clear picture of dependent origination. It states that everything is interconnected with various casual links. Nirvana or liberation is the only thing which is not affected by dependent origination.
- The five aggregates are impermanent and clinging to them causes suffering.
- There is a way to get liberated. It is called as eightfold path.
This is a mandala and can be used for meditation. To know more about the mandalas, read the following posts:
- A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning
- The Truth About Yantras, Chakras, Temples, Tantra and Agamas
(I will make a detailed video about this shortly. Subscribe to my Youtube channel to watch the videos in time: http://bit.ly/shanmugamy )
Here are some useful infographics which give the details about various aspects of Bhavacakra mandala.
(You can also interpret these realms as the periods of your current life. For example, a person might be in any of the following realms for a few months:
Sometimes we are like devas, very happy and pleased;
Sometimes like asuras, even though happy we don’t feel content and this leads to craving, attachment and aversion;
Sometimes like humans, being more responsible and showering love to friends, families and others;
Sometimes like animals, just eating and sleeping;
Sometimes like a hungry ghost, deprived of our needs and feel totally dissatisfied, frustrated and helpless;
Sometimes like beings of the hell, going through extreme suffering that seems to be endless.
The idea is to convey that none of these states are permanent and a proper spiritual practice is the only way to find permanent bliss in life.)
Just a short info-graphic I made which includes the quotes of Lao Tzu, Buddha, Ashtavakra, Ramana Maharshi, Osho, and Meister Eckhart.. The quotes are direct pointers to the non-dual truth. For more quotes, visit this page: Inspiring Quotes of Lao Tzu, Buddha and Many Others.
The answer is actually pretty simpler than what most people think.
First of all, any kind of experience or any way of experiencing life cannot be really described.
How will you describe stomach pain? Go ahead and try it… You may say ‘it is very painful; my stomach is really aching as if something is biting it, crushing it or pinching it’.. But this doesn’t really describe the stomach pain. These words do not translate the experience of stomach pain.
But still, the person who hears the word ‘stomach pain’ recognizes what it is. How? Because the person who hears it has already experienced pain before. The word ‘stomach pain’ has been associated with an experience that you are pretty familiar with and there is consensus on it among everyone because almost everyone has experienced stomach pain.
When you look at a tree, what is actually happening is an experience of a certain pattern of sense perception. This experience of perceiving a tree is completely private to your inner world. But as soon as you utter the word ‘tree’, the other person understands what it is. Why? Because the word ‘tree’ is associated with certain kind of visual perception which everyone is familiar with. And there is consensus on it among everyone because almost everyone has seen a tree and used the word ‘tree’ to name it.
All perceptions that happen through our five senses are nothing but experiences. But you can communicate what you are experiencing simply because another person has also experienced these perceptions and we have associated a word for each individual pattern of sense perceptions.
When I say ‘I looked at a beautiful flower on a cold winter morning during sunrise while hearing the sounds of birds’ you get the picture right? But a person who is blind and deaf from birth will not get the complete picture. He only understands how a ‘cold winter’ feels like because that is the only thing he has experienced among a myriad of sense perceptions which are actually conveyed in that sentence.
In fact, your entire life happens only on the basis of conscious subjective experience. You understand that there is an external world only by inference. And only because of certain consensus that exists about this ‘external world’, we are able to deal with practical things in life. That is why we call the external world as ‘maya’ because it is actually an appearance that appears in the conscious subjective experience. This is self-evident. You just need to shift the focus to see it.
A small kid less than one-year-old thinks that an object doesn’t exist as soon as it disappears from its view. Only later, it starts inferring using the intellect that an object continues to exist even after it is hidden from the view. This is called object permeance and is one of the concepts in psychology:.
The same way, a child later develops ‘‘ with which it knows that others also have a mind. Please note that all this have been accomplished only by the inference of the intellect (Buddhi) alone! It is this inferential knowledge, which has become reified or solidified in our mind as time passed by. The nature of Buddhi is to categorize things, and one of the earliest categorizations that it did was the division between ‘me’ and the ‘world’. The reification of this categorization is what ego or ‘ahamkara’ is…. A spiritual practice is nothing but retracing our steps and going back to the source.
When we are talking about enlightenment, we are not talking about a distinct experience but a way of experiencing reality.
How can I explain how it feels like to not to have a sense of separate self to a person who is not experiencing the reality that way?
How can I explain how it feels like to be out of psychological time, to a person who is still trapped in psychological time?
How can I explain how it feels like to live with an unaltered state of consciousness to a person whose consciousness is altered by duality?
I can only give some clues. It feels more authentic than the regular way of experiencing reality; it feels as if a huge load has been lifted off of your shoulders; it feels as if you are weightless; it feels pure, innocent, conflict-less and it really is indescribable simply because most of the people are not experiencing life this way.
But even if you understand all this, it would be only an intellectual understanding. It is self-realization which gives you a direct perception of the truth. Only then you really see it, just like how a person who was blind from birth suddenly sees the world one day after his eyesight has been cured. Whatever he has heard by verbal testimony is now confirmed by his direct experience.
Read the following posts for more about enlightenment and spiritual path:
A short comic on spiritual enlightenment and the spiritual path. A young guy visits an old self-realized man living in the forest to receive instructions on the spiritual path. The comic includes a portion of the poem that I wrote, which you can read here: https://nellaishanmugam.wordpress.com/2017/06/24/you-are-the-truth-a-poem-about-non-duality/.
For a complete guide for spiritual seekers, visit this page: For the seekers of liberation.
When it comes to spiritual enlightenment, whether you will really reach self-realization or not depends on how much you are seeking or how deep your seeking is. Some people have just a thought-induced seeking. They see ‘spiritual seeking’ as an ideal quality to have and spiritual enlightenment as kind of a ‘cool thing’ to attain. But this curious seeker will reach nowhere. He still sees spiritual enlightenment as something to gain or attain. But spiritual enlightenment is really a profound rediscovery of what you already are!
The seeking should come from a longing at the bottom of heart to become liberated rather than just a thought-induced craving. When there is such a deep longing to be liberated from the bondage which makes a person be prone to suffering, you are ready to proceed on the spiritual path. Every one has such a longing but he or she believes that this longing can be fulfilled by the objective outcomes of life and by improving one’s self-concept. Once a person realizes the futility of it, he will be ready.
Non-Doing and Doing
There is a direct approach to spiritual enlightenment. It doesn’t involve doing anything but abiding as a non-doing witness (click here to read more). But this is not possible for everyone because people have invested too much in their dreams and the self-concept. They have a lot of conditioning to break and their minds are too heavy. So for almost all the seekers, it is necessary to do certain practices as a groundwork. The practices help you to attain certain inner purification and develop discrimination (Viveka).
So basically there are two kinds of spiritual practices. The first category is everything that involves doing something. The second category is not really a practice but a non-doing. Self-inquiry, mindfulness, and witnessing belong to this category. If you find witnessing a difficult thing to ‘do’, you must focus more on these ‘doing’ practices which mainly involves concentration. These practices can help you to prepare the ground. In other words, doing leads to non-doing.
Many traditions advocate implementing these two simultaneously. For example, Buddha advocated Samadhi to prepare the ground and Vipassana as the non-doing meditation. He called them as SammaSamadhi and Sammasati. Devotional practices such as chanting are also said to prepare the ground but only if they are practiced with a complete sense of surrender and not looking for the fruit of such actions. Such a devotee personifies the truth or the inner guru and engages in chanting, singing etc.
Preparing the Ground
Here, I will suggest three different systems of practice to prepare the ground. You can pick any one of these three but don’t mix them together. It is very important to not get attached to the techniques. The techniques themselves cannot help you to reach liberation. Liberation is only possible via non-doing, a direct approach such as ‘witnessing’. So, you need to let go of the techniques at some point and focus more on the direct approach.
Osho has developed certain techniques for modern men. I recommend these meditations the most than the other ones. They constitute different kinds of meditations that involve many activities. You can try them all and do them from time to time but pick one meditation that works for you and try to do it every day.
Here are the links which describe each meditation in detail:
I usually don’t recommend Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga has many pitfalls. The main purpose of any Yogic Kriya is to abide as long as possible in the after-poise-effect of Kriya once a Kriya is done. Whatever technique you follow in a kriya is only meant to still the mind and help you abide as the witness. But most of the organizations who teach Kriya Yoga today give more importance to the techniques and make it way more complicated than it actually is. You also end up spending way more time, money and energy than you have to.
If you are already practicing Kriya Yoga through another organization or you are interested in learning Kriya Yoga, I strongly recommend the book Kriya Yoga Exposed by SantataGamana. This book will give you the essence of Kriya Yoga. Click here to read more about the book.
Samatha is the Buddhist Practice that helps to achieve the stillness and purification of the mind. It is just a close monitoring meditation in which you maintain an unwavering attention to a certain object of meditation. You need to sit in a comfortable posture, close your eyes and fix your attention on the object of meditation. Whenever your mind wanders you need to bring the attention back to the same object. This is the essence of Shamatha. It is pretty similar to the meditation in Ashtanga Yoga.
There is a category for the objects of meditation which is called as kasina. A kasina is a device representing a particular quality used as a support for concentration. You can choose one among the ten kasinas mentioned here: earth, water, fire and air, light, space and the colors blue, yellow, red and white. You can read more about Samatha here: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/gunaratana/wheel351.html
Here, you can learn a 3-level meditation: 3-Level Meditation using Visual Meditation Aids based on Vajrayana and other Tantras.
The third level is the actual Shamatha meditation and the first two are based on different psychological concepts. You can also use this as a practice to prepare the ground and practice them whenever you can and as much as necessary. Keep in mind that all these techniques are only intended to prepare you towards non-doing meditation.
This is a very important question! Because, there are a lot of misconceptions regarding spiritual enlightenment, and an answer to this question will clarify this…
Disclaimer: Everything written here is based on my own experience…
Is spiritual enlightenment known or experienced?
First, let me give you a short answer: It is both!
But I have to clarify what I mean by ‘knowledge’ and what I mean by ‘experience’ in this context…
Knowledge in general sense means anything that you know using your five senses. You know there is a tree by seeing it; you know there is a dog near you by hearing its barking and so on…
Knowledge also means conceptual and factual knowledge. You may know the capital of Japan, you may know what photosynthesis is; you may know the descriptions of 7 chakras; you may know the life history of Buddha and ideology of Buddhism.
But what you know after enlightenment cannot be really classified under the above categories. Spiritual enlightenment is a realization of something very significant.
Once you wake up from a nightmare, you know that it was just a dream… Can this knowledge really be called as a factual knowledge or some knowledge gathered through five senses? There is actually a profound realization that happens when you wake up from the dream. Now you know that after all, it is just a dream.
A typical human being is identified with his body and his mind… He is deeply identified with his thoughts, emotions, concepts, ideas, beliefs etc. He is also identified with everything that he calls as ‘his’: His family, his clothes, his house, his nation, his community, his values etc…All this is centered around the idea or notion of a ‘personal self’… When someone asks you who you are, whatever your answer may be, your typical reply usually describes everything you are identified with.
After enlightenment, a person realizes once and for all, that none of this is ‘me’ or ‘mine’.. He realizes that the whole idea of a separate personal self is an illusion. He realizes that he is never ever separate from the existence…He realizes that there is no ‘me’ and there is no ‘other’… He realizes that the whole idea of ‘me’ is a dream! This realization also removes the idea that he is the doer of the actions.. If there is no personal self, who is there to do anything? Actions happen, and they still happen out of conscious choice, but not with a sense of doer-ship…
But this is not an intellectual understanding; this is not a verbal assertion; this is not a temporary glimpse; this is a permanent and irreversible knowledge.
There is a word called ‘self-knowledge’ or ‘atma-jnana’.. But this word can be easily misunderstood.. For knowing anything, there has to be a knower, knowing and the object of knowledge.. But this self-knowledge is not an object of knowledge; it is not something that you gain. It is actually a merger of the knower, known and knowledge…It is the dissolution of all the psychological distinctions including the idea that ‘I am the knower and I am separate from this object of knowledge’’…
In other words, you don’t know the real Self, You are that! You just realize this without a doubt.. This ‘real self’ is not something to be pointed out as this or that… It in itself doesn’t have such attributes..
An excerpt from” I am That” by Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“Q: What am I?
M: It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are. For as long as knowledge means description in terms of what is already known, perceptual, or conceptual, there can be no such thing as self-knowledge, for what you are cannot be described, except as except as total negation. All you can say is: ‘I am not this, I am not that’. You cannot meaningfully say ‘this is what I am’. It just makes no sense. What you can point out as ‘this’ or ‘that’ cannot be yourself. Surely, you cannot be ‘something’ else.
You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable. Yet, without you, there can be neither perception nor imagination. You observe the heart feeling, the mind thinking, the body acting; the very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive. Can there be perception, experience without you? An experience must ‘belong’. Somebody must come and declare it as his own. Without an experiencer, the experience is not real. It is the experiencer that imparts reality to experience. An experience which you cannot have, of what value is it to you?”
But don’t over-complicate it, don’t over-intellectualize it.. That is the main pitfall.. You can’t really think about it or imagine how it feels like to not have a sense of a ‘separate personal self’… When people speculate about it, they start to speak or write about it without knowing what they are talking about and cause misunderstanding to themselves and others…
All you can do is to inquire your every thought, every emotion and every sensation and see if there is really a ‘me’ in it. This inquiry is done only by witnessing your moment to moment experience including thoughts, emotions, and sensations as a passive non-judgmental observer… As you step back from your mental process and witness it, there is a recognition that you are not what you witness or observe as every thought passes by..
What is the Relationship between Experience and Spiritual Enlightenment?
Now I am going to address the other aspect, which has also caused a lot of misconceptions…
When I talk about the experiential aspect of enlightenment, I am not talking about distinct experiences that come and go… I am not talking about a special experience or an altered state of consciousness..
Most importantly, spiritual enlightenment is not spiritual experience..Both are different.. You may go through tons of spiritual experiences and just return to the duality..
I am talking about experiencing the reality without the distinctions of a ‘me’ and the ‘other’…
Every person experiences life or ‘the feeling of being alive’ each and every moment. But this experience is not pure. It is clouded by duality. You see and experience everything through a filter called a ‘separate personal self’.. This is the reason why you feel a difference between being alone and being with a person.
Just imagine how it feels like to be in a room alone and how it feels like to be in a room where there is already another person. It may be someone you know or a stranger. That doesn’t matter. There is a difference. Apart from the fact that you are mentally aware that there is another person there, you also have a distinct feeling that someone is there with you… But you absolutely won’t have such a feeling when the experience of reality is pure and devoid of any duality.
Also, the absence of duality removes all the conflicts, suffering and craving associated with a limited personal self. The reality is felt in its purity without any distortions. Your life then becomes free-flowing, conflict-less, guilt-free, fearless, peaceful and fulfilled.
Enlightenment also changes the way you sense the psychological time. Your existence doesn’t feel like it is time-bound. It almost feels like there is no dimension called ‘time’..
For more, about Spiritual enlightenment, read: What is Spiritual Enlightenment?
You can also get this book for more clarity: The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta: Shanmugam P: 9781973364542: Amazon.com: Books
(originally posted as an answer to a question in Quora)