Translation from language to language is never clean. Nuances, and sometimes complete meanings, can’t always be expressed from one language to another. This series of articles takes ‘spiritual’ terminology from various traditions and aids us in translating the concepts so that they help guide us toward Awakening. These translations are not intended to be more ‘correct’ than other translations — but they are designed to help us see how these ideas can guide us toward Awakening.
If you Google ‘Wheel of Samsara’, you’ll find very detailed descriptions of the traditional yogic symbol. For those of us who want to explore the symbol in-depth, there are layers of meaning awaiting us. But on a simplified level, the idea of the Wheel can help us get some clarity regarding how we live our lives.
The Wheel describes a constant cycle of rebirth (no reason to invoke unfounded beliefs in past lives – I’m talking about rebirths into new modes of living) into different relationships with the world. Sometimes we are full of hunger and passion, and can never be satisfied. Sometimes we feel like we’re in blissful heaven. Sometimes we are dwelling in our own personal hell.
Whatever our current mode is, it is always somewhere on the Wheel – and by its very nature (and life’s very nature), we will move to different places on the Wheel throughout our lives.
The Grand Illusion
The grand illusion of the Wheel of Samsara is that this is all perfectly normal. Fully immersed in the Wheel’s spell, we assert that it’s normal to move from happiness to depression, from bliss to despair. Our lives move along, and as different things befall us, we either jump for joy or stare in utter disbelief that life can be so horrible.
Thus, we are shocked when we hear of a sudden death or a disaster. We lose ourselves in the glory of our victories. And for much of our lives, we move along in a state of reaching for goals we’ve never even examined.
In essence, we are asleep, moving in dreams of terror and passion, never realizing that there is anything outside the Wheel.
Creating the Wheel
Perhaps the complexity of the traditional Wheel symbol is there to remind us that all of this moving in cycles requires a pre-fabricated world-view if it is to stand upright. Indeed, it’s impossible to move within these cycles if we don’t spend years of our lives creating a backdrop upon which this system can operate.
We have created an immense mental map that we lay over our perceptions so that our minds are constantly revolving around the implications of our actions. How will this affect my life? How will this decision mold my future?
In effect, our lives have become a constant effort to uphold a method of living that creates the Wheel of Samsara, and ensures that we will always dwell within its power. We are the creators of this grand illusion, and though we’re hardly aware of it, we all work very hard every day to ensure that this grand illusion stays ‘real’ for us. We work very hard to stay on the Wheel. Indeed, most of us refuse to believe there is any other way of living in this world.
But there is something else. It is very possible for us to step off the Wheel of Samsara, and to see, quite vividly, the creation-game that we were so intent upon before.
We might call this ‘stepping off the Wheel’. When we do it, we will probably be amazed at the amount of effort we put into creating the problems that we once believed were an inevitable part of life. We find that there is life outside the Wheel, and that this life is indescribably simple. We may even be infused with a great new respect for those who dwell upon the Wheel, for we clearly see the marvelous and incredibly complex illusion that they are creating. We become a simple observer, watching all the people of the world like they are magicians, wielding the magic of creation. Then we are able to see people with the compassion of great respect (as opposed to compassion born of pity).
You see, this other way of living is not a dull, grey existence (which is what we imagine if we think about a life without despair, bliss, frustration or, desire).It is an existence where we discover an entirely new way of living – a way where there is a new emotion (akin to wonder or delight) that infuses us, and in which we are able to experience all the nuances of life (including emotions of joy, sadness, excitement, and fear) in a new and amazing way.
This new way of living has been called many things by many people. Some call it enlightenment, or yoga, or awakening, or going to heaven, or non-dualism. But all of these names do us more disservice than service, because they create a false picture in our heads of what this new way is, and they surround it with unnecessary mystique and complexity.
We might better call it ‘ordinary living’.
Stepping Off the Wheel
Entire religions and philosophies have been created in order to try to help us step off the Wheel and discover ordinary living. Buddhism, Taoism, and Yoga are three which offer fairly direct methods. Many other religions and philosophies, including Christianity (if understood in a manner which lies outside mainstream interpretations), can point the way. There are many techniques and practices.
In the end, when we strip all of these down, remove their baggage and decorum, and all the trappings that make them so attractive to our egos, they deliver a simple message.
When we can discover the singular trick of ceasing to apply effort to our situation, life unfolds marvelously before us.We discover that we have been trying to force the flower bud opened when all we really had to do was watch it open all by itself.
This trick is so vastly simple that we find it almost impossible to do. No matter what we try, we discover that we’re trying – even if we try not to try! Our quest teaches us, over and over, that all our efforts are in vain, for every effort returns us to some point on the Wheel.
In the end we ,may give up in frustration, but even this can just be more trying in disguise. What, then, can we do?
You are free to choose from any of the pathways that point toward ordinary living. This website can also be a guide. But the real answer can only be found within yourself. You know it, and you are the very one hiding the answer from yourself. You are the magician, the illusionist, and only you can cease weaving the illusion. Then everything will be plain, clear, and bare before you.
Explore. Discover the manner in which you weave your illusion. Find out what, if anything, lies outside the illusion we’re all weaving. And relax. Because you’re living the answer right now. Everything you do is the answer you’re seeking.
All of this – all that you can experience or imagine – is life outside the Wheel.