The Culture Mandala, Vol. 7 no. 2, December 2006 - Article Copyright © Maggie Grey 2005

The Bhavachakra or Wheel of Life Mandala as a Buddhist Paradigm for International Relations

by the late Maggie Grey (9.3.1946 - 31.8.2005)



The 20th century was the human community's most violent one;(1) the 21st century began with a violent global spectacle whose reverberations persist and expand, insinuating the global community into a conspiracy of propaganda, terror and counter-terror. The Wheel of Life (2) also provides a violent global spectacle: monstrous Death tyrannizing life, causing pain, conditioning terror. A Realist paradigm in Oriental silks, this ancient cartoon of the human condition implies not only the death of individuals but of states and empires, worlds and world-views.(3) Expounding the primary causal mechanisms of human behaviour, the theory of Codependent Origination (Skt: Pratityasamutpada; Tib: ten del) and its pictorial corollary, the Wheel of Life (Skt: Bhavachakra; Tib: srid paâi Îkhor lo) are foundational Buddhist texts, sometimes known as 'the Buddha's slogan'.(4) Codependent Origination delineates the processes by which all phenomena come into existence; not from or for their own sake but as a result of other equally contingent phenomena.(5) The Wheel expands this theme by analyzing the role of psychophysical phenomena, primarily ignorance, desire and aggression, in generating over time, a contemporary global community characterized by conflict, structural violence and terror.

The text of Codependent Origination

The concept of Codependent origination is clearly expressed in following section of the Rice Seedling Sutra: -

Due to the condition of ignorance, action arises;

due to the condition of action, consciousness arises

due to the condition of consciousness, name and form arise;

due to the condition of name and form, the six sense spheres arise;

due to the condition of the six sense spheres, contact arises;

due to the condition of contact, feeling arises;

due to the condition of feeling, attachment arises;

due to the condition of attachment, grasping arises;

due to the condition of grasping, the potentialized level of karma

called existence arises;

due to the condition of existence, birth arises;

due to the condition of birth, aging and death arise.(6)

What is a mandala?

The word mandala derives from the Sanskrit manda meaning 'essence' and la meaning 'container', 'possessor' or 'signpost'. A further meaning of mandala is circle, signifying completeness, wholeness, everything in the universe.(7) A mandala therefore, like a pie chart or a satellite image, is a cultural technology of visual reduction. "The real purpose of the mandala is to inspire the transmutation of sight into insight".(8) The mandala's formal, highly coded properties of 'integration, harmony, and transformation',(9) can endow abstract cognitive processes with mathematical legitimacy, ideological clarity and aesthetic form, thus stimulating the articulation and execution of goals.(10) 'God geometrizes'.(11)

What is the Wheel of Life mandala?

The mandala of the Wheel maps five narrative codes arranged in concentric circles. In the hub, three animal icons signify the core of human frailty; surrounding that, a circle, half white and half black, with human bodies falling and rising, signifies the outcome of good and bad actions;(12) and encompassing that, the six 'realms of existence' signify habitual psychological modes. In the outer rim, scenes of mundane life signify a universal sequence of human 'errors'. The wheel is embraced by Mara/Death. Beyond the Wheel, the figure of one pointing at the moon, signifies the possibility of overcoming the conditions of the Wheel. The positive imagery of the codes aims to encourage the 'good life' while the negative imagery aims to question those behaviours that have historically given rise to significant suffering. For the political analyst, whether state or non-state, the text may be read both as analytical tool and historical narrative.

What is the political symbolism of the Wheel?

The very concept of chakra (lit: wheel), as exemplified in the original Sanskrit title of Codependent Origination, Bhavachakra, literally The Wheel of Becoming, as well as the illustration of Mara/Death grasping a huge wheel, have political potency. The chakra in 6th Century BCE India was a recognizable symbol of kingship and the rule of law: it signified the wheel of the king's war chariot (13) as well as a 'disk-shaped weapon' (14) and was a metaphor for emerging geo-strategic and monarchical power. Indeed, Buddhism deliberately adopted the chakra symbol in order to subvert its political associations; both the political and philosophical systems used the term 'Wheel of Law'. The chakra that has adorned the Indian national emblem and flag since Independence in 1947 embodies traditions of both power and philosophy, as does India's recent foreign policy.(15)

How does the Wheel of Life mandala relate to International Relations?

From Asian civilizational traditions, a 'lost' model of Political Realism, the doctrine of Codependent Origination and its corollary, Bhavachakra, or the Wheel of Life mandala, may be regarded as tools for the analysis of international relations. The doctrine delineates the processes by which all phenomena come into existence; not from or for their own sake but as a result of other equally contingent phenomena. It may be argued that within the field of international relations, it is Death, not the State, which is Sovereign and to the extent that international relations are conditioned by the primary mechanisms of the Wheel: ignorance, desire and aggression, international relations will be predicated ultimately, not on the death of individuals but on species death.(16) This is because international relations, both in theory and practice, reflect short-term state and corporate perspectives that are dangerously insufficient for the complex security needs of the global community of the 21st century.

Although the term 'mandala' in a political context is ancient,(17) in the present day 'mandala politics' as a paradigm for international relations was reinvented by Rosita Dellios.(18) For example, in 1997 Dellios proposed the repoliticization of the mandala concept for use in East Asia, in the period of post-Cold War 'strategic fluidity' and with concerns for an Asian Way and identity politics of inclusion and consensus.(19) Arguing that East Asian security and welfare issues would be more harmonious if based in indigenous cultural constructs and orientations, rather than 'parallel Western technostructures',(20) she proposed that architectures of current consultative fora be moulded to mandala proportions and values as an integrative means for transcending the nexus of 'economic animal', 'cultural amnesia' and 'militarism' that currently condition the East Asian political realm. Dellios pointed out that a political 'architecture of meaning' could be formulated round crucial Asian concepts of "morality, constructive internationalism, exemplar politics, civilization, jen (human heartedness), - the outer expression of which is li; harmony, transcendence".(21) Such a return to mandala politics would signify an integration of international perspectives within the global realm. "Whether that principle is called stability (as it has been in the Western International Relations system) or harmony in the language of Eastern ideals, depends on the prevailing international political culture".(22)

As a counterpoint to Dellios' Idealist models, the Wheel of Life mandala discussed here serves as that model most likely to engender on the one hand, a 'realistic' diagnosis of the universal human condition, and on the other, a non-violent sustainable resolution of inherent tensions. Unlike much alleged 'Realist' decision-making currently enervating most state policies, Codependent Origination, a non-state-centric theory, actively posits an interdependent and environmentally sustainable, non-violent world order that prioritizes human and environmental security above short-term national or corporate interests. Such a perspective resonates with those Interdependence theories stressing "mutual dependence".(23) It is also compatible with its obverse in the broad outlines of Dependency Theory.(24) The non-violence of Codependent Origination is consistent with the United Nations Charter as well as the work of Peace Studies theorists such as Johan Galtung,(25) much Feminist International Relations theory (26) and the work of many sub-state actors such as those, vanguarded by Hans Kung,(27) who seek a 'global ethic'.(28)

How are International Relations conditioned by the primary mechanisms of the Wheel: ignorance, desire and aggression?

While desire and aggression have similar meanings in the Buddhist lexicon as in any other, the term 'ignorance' has a specific set of meanings needing elucidation. The Sanskrit term is avidya: 'without correct understanding'.(29) The attribution implies that conventional wisdom, underlying our cultivated 'common sense', is an historically sophisticated and subtle fantasy (moha), constantly reinforced by constructed politico-cultural environments, the relative stability and longevity of human (and other) bodies,(30) and by particular uses of language and memory. Early Buddhism ascribed three universal characteristics to all phenomena: impermanence, suffering and no-self. "Sabbe samskara anitya. Sabbe samskara dukkha. Sabbe dharma anatman". "All conditioned phenomena are impermanent. All conditioned phenomena [are imbued with] sorrow. All dharma are without Self".(31) With the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism in the 1st-2nd centuries C.E., a fourth characteristic was added, emptiness (sunyata).(32) It is the general failure to comprehend, acknowledge and act upon these characteristics of all phenomena including importantly, political phenomena, that the Wheel has denoted as delusional and predisposing suffering and premature Death.(33)

The first aspect of ignorance lies in the propensity of humans to conceive of phenomena, including political phenomena, as nitya or permanent. The Wheel, with Death at the helm, regards all phenomena as impermanent and in constant flux. The Wheel predicts that human desires for permanence, though impossible, will find powerful expression in persuasive political forms that attempt to construct permanence or stasis where flexibility, mutability and change are the original World Order.

This delusion of permanence has popularly manifested in kings, pharaohs and emperors who 'reign eternal';(34) it is powerfully reflected in the United Nations Security Council Permanent Membership;(35) but finds most dangerous manifestation in the political 'mandate' that the global economy and world order are sustainable and 'permanent'. The American President's declaration, for instance, that "We will not do anything that harms our economy", is but one example of this delusion.(36) According to Codependent Origination, if the contemporary global political economy is regarded as sustainable or 'permanent' then global ecology and human security appear increasingly 'impermanent'. Permanence is a difficult concept for the political realm and resides in delusion.

The second form of ignorance refers to the inescapable reality that suffering imbues all phenomena: Sabbe samskara dukkha. Though suffering is enabling as 'the basis of our capacity for empathy',(37) in most other respects it is disabling. Dukkha is a Sanskrit word whose roots (dus: bad and kha: space) are derived from the application of an axle to a chariot wheel and imply initially, problems arising from an ill fit.(38) The concept of dukkha then has this added meaning of dislocation or disabling: of a fracture for instance between political explanations and political realities, between tradition and contemporary practice or between a global hegemonic version of how the world is, and a more adequate multi-civilizational expression of that greater reality.

In the political realm, where the state has a traditional 'monopoly on violence', sorrow and dislocation have been frequent outcomes of state activity. Political actors such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao were responsible for cataclysmic 20th century suffering; likewise the United States and other developed powers, locating much of their own domestic dislocation 'offshore', brought exploitative and often violent conditions to millions of Latin Americans, Middle Easterners and Asians. As former US President Eisenhower said: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."(39)

The third form of ignorance (Sabbe dharma anatman) refers to the virtual nature of phenomena, be it the self, the state, or the United Nations.

The 'identitylessness' of phenomena points ... to the way in which things exist: not independently but, in a sense, interdependently. Far from undermining the notion of phenomenal reality, the concept of dependent origination provides a robust framework within which to situate cause and effect, truth and falsity, identity and difference, harm and benefit".(40)

Inevitably, political constructs such as 'nation', 'state', and 'non-state actor' as well as the international relations policy and action generated by such, will, like selves, be the illusory production of myriad component and collective entities and processes, all of which are themselves conditioned,(41) impermanent and relative.(42) Statesmen come and (thankfully) go, political parties and ideologies rise and fall; the nation is an 'imagined community',(43) the 'virtual state' anticipated,(44) or already arrived.(45) Like selves, nations and states are processions of momentary entities and events; like selves, nations and states try to project a stable, monolithic unity, an essence, which is delusional, given the mutability of the political sector.

The fourth form of ignorance, termed sunyata or 'emptiness', is a key Buddhist concept and a simplified form of Codependent Origination.(46) Since human persons have no unique origin other than the historical complexity of past and contemporaneous phenomena, humans are regarded as essentially 'empty' or lacking independent existence.(47) They are contingent beings dependent on a myriad of complex factors including all other human beings, dead and alive. Yet the human species is bound by the same needs for fresh air, water, nutrition and physical security as are whales, worms and wombats; all living species are both ancestrally linked and contemporaneously interdependent.(48) Further, archaeogenetics attest to the common origin of all races in East Africa 80-100,000 yrs ago, making the human species an undifferentiated and genetically interdependent species.(49)

Political ignorance arises with the insistence that socio-political formations are real, substantial, permanent, and susceptible to the elimination of suffering (or the accomplishment of all desires/state interests). This insistence conditions unsustainable desires which, unsatisfied, produce both state and non-state aggression.

How did the Buddha deploy the Wheel of Life mandala?

The Bhavachakra or Wheel of Life mandala, the first Buddhist example of the mandala model, has an explicitly political history. According to tradition, although conceptualized on the night of Gotama's 'Enlightenment', the mandala was first given concrete form as an act of political reciprocity. During the period of the Buddha's teaching, King Udrayana of Vatsa (6th C BCE), presented an ally, King Bimbisara of Magadha (c558-c491 BCE), with precious armour guaranteeing invincibility in battle.(50) Bimbisara felt obliged to reciprocate and his Prime Minister reminded him that Gotama the Buddha was then residing in his kingdom (51) and surely an appropriate gift would be a portrait of this great teacher. When Bimbisara sought a portrait from him, the Buddha suggested that, he himself should design and commission the gift for the king. Various artists were employed under the Buddha's direction, to construct a mandala: the Wheel of Codependent Origination.(52) We might assume that this Wheel of Life, being painted for a king, had pertinence to political affairs.

This assumption is strengthened by the strict 'apolitical' conditions pertaining to the original dissemination of Codependent Origination. The institution of the Sangha, or Buddhist clerical community, was entirely dependent on the beneficence of the Indian polity and wider community. The monastic way of life was a negation and implicit criticism of the lifestyle of civil society yet monks and nuns were reliant on an elaborate system of donation from that same civil society.(53) Early canonical texts frequently refer to 'conspicuous acts of feasting and donation' by kings, nobles, and merchants.(54) The Enlightenment occurred within the kingdom of Magadha, and it is known that within a few months, King Bimbisara had presented the Buddha with a large garden and bamboo grove. According to the canonical account, he was also the first person to feed the entire Sangha and to give them a monastery; he may also have donated a village of 500 people, 'to be their servants'.(55) How many times and under what circumstances the Buddha and the King met, is unknown.(56) One canonical tale tells how the king suspended river ferry tolls for all monks after the Buddha was once stopped at the Ganges for lack of money.(57) It is certain that the king once asked the Buddha that the beginning of the monsoon retreat be postponed. Agreeing, the Buddha uttered the fateful line: 'I prescribe, monks, that you meet kings' wishes'.(58)

In such a context, it is not surprising to learn that Buddhism connoted the political realm as a 'necessary evil'.(59) In the Vinaya Pitaka (1, 122), the list of monastic rules, kings are grouped with thieves in a list of disasters one must face. Kings are often depicted as 'those who do filthy things' and likened to such inevitable evils as fire, and birds of prey.(60) In the later Mahayana text of the Lotus Sutra, those wishing to help people in distress are advised not to align themselves with kings or bureaucrats.(61) Buddhist pragmatism however has generally acceded to the notion of two realms of action: an ethical realm (samparaya), centred round the Sangha, and a temporal one (diittadhamma), centred round the king. This abjuring of, yet dependence on the political realm, meant that the elaboration of a doctrine concerned with 'ignorance, desire and aggression', needed to focus on the individual; the ignorance, desire and aggression of the political collective had to remain implicit. In this author's opinion, the concept of dukkha, as 'dislocation', is irrevocably linked to this need to refrain from political comment. In effect, delusion, desire and aggression were 'dislocated' from the political sector and inured from this most potent criticism; as history shows however, they remained stimuli of political activity which, in the two and a half millennia since, need immediate redress.


International Relations emerged as a systematic Western imperial discipline following World War I. Neither in its content nor its contributors, did the discipline at first acknowledge a multicivilizational realm of discourse: the world was constituted by the great powers and their dominions, a historical 'delusion' assumed to be the natural and inevitable result of the contemporary prominence and superiority of Western civilization. Despite the nominal dismantling of empires and the emergence of egalitarian theories of international behaviour, the discipline of International Relations has remained largely monocultural, simplistic and Eurocentric. Codependent Origination provides one resolution to this intercivilizational void.(62) Simply viewed as a visual metaphor of international relations, the Wheel of Life mandala is more satisfying than either the Realist billiard table or the Interdependence cobweb. Global perspectives certainly require visual reduction, but to reduce interactions to a few balls on green baize is to misread significantly the complexity and capacity for change within human nature while strategically predicating 'human world order' in an already-normalized violence. If the dependent conditions of international relations are perceived as originating with the universal 'we the peoples', as expressed in the preamble to the United Nations Charter, rather than with sovereign states, then the Wheel of Life/Codependent Origination may enable a more harmonious global community.

The traditional and global view of mandalas as universal models; the implicit political associations of the mandala of the Bhavachakra; Dellios' application of mandalas to Asian political architecture and regional diplomacy; emerging political applications such as the XIV Dalai Lama's Kalachakra Initiations (63) and Bhutan's model of children's rights,(64) the potential of mandala concepts to stimulate new political insights and instrumentalize Eastern self-disciplines, the rise of China and India as 21st Century powers, and the violence and exploitation of the contemporary international community, all strengthen the claims of this article that Codependent Origination and the Bhavachakra/Wheel of Life mandala be read as a model of political behaviour, including international political behaviour and World Order. The Wheel narrates a psychophysical sequence that can be shown to have both an institutional parallelism and chronological or historical narration, thus offering application as analytical and pedagogical tool in the explication of contemporary politics at all levels but with particular relevance to International Relations.

It is also the case that the visual text of the Wheel is an explicit warning for this new 21st century 'global' community of six and a half billion 'citizens'. It is not to argue that there is one definitive reading of the texts; simply that their reading is advisable. Alien metaphors within the traditions of political science, mandalas are nevertheless the vehicle of a civilizational wisdom too long excluded from the analysis of worldly affairs and consequently, International Relations. The time is long due when civilizational perspectives other than the Western, were gathered into the global intelligence networks where their technologies of transformation might find normalization, naturalization and effective application within secular realms. "In addition to poetic and artistic experience, mysticism also provides us with a graceful, profound and universal language for dialogue."(65)

Death, the text proclaims, is the only superpower; Death dominates the global community and all its productions: human bodies, ideologies, foreign policies and realms of power. The doctrine of Codependent Origination stresses the fact that no political event: not a weapons sale, not a foreign policy determination, not an act producing terror, occurs for its own sake: all political phenomena are dependent in their origination and within that dependency, the primary stimuli are ignorance, greed and aggression. Yet this Realist text offers Idealist recommendations: political action that acknowledges the interdependence of the global community (thus confounding ignorance), political action that focuses national interests on needs rather than desires (thus confounding greed), and political action that eschews violence including structural violence (thus confounding aggression), is political action that will generate international peace and human security. In Crossing the Divide: Dialogue among Civilizations, the UN's 'eminent persons' argued:

Perhaps the most relevant feature of the last part of the twentieth century was and is the speed and pace of change [anitya]. If we look at the state of the world as a computer model, where the basic hardware - the institutions that are the machinery of civilization - have been recognized worldwide, we would also have to say that the software - namely the rules and codes of conduct, the rules of management and the actors present - do not seem to fit the hardware itself. We may therefore be observing a fundamental mismatch [dukkha) between hardware and software, needs and capabilities.(66)

The realist text of Dependent Origination, in conjunction with Idealist mandalas, provides that 21st century software.



1. R. J. Rummel, in Death by Government, gives a "reasonable middle estimate" of 170 million government murders committed between 1900 and 2000 (R. J. Rummel, Death by Government, Transaction Pub., New Brunswick, N.J., 1997 and also available at Rummel's website: Death by Government, Chapter 1: 20th Century Democide,

2. Picture available at

3. Lama Van Tassell, Refuge. p. 3, The Coombspapers Archives, Australian National University, at, p. 3.

4. XIV Dalai Lama cited in Elizabeth Napper, Dependent Arising and Emptiness: A Tibetan Buddhist Interpretation of Madhyamika Philosophy, Wisdom Publications, London, 1989, p. 3.

5. Codependent Origination, also known as Dependent Origination, pertains to a general theory of causation and interdependence while the Wheel pertains to human particulars within the general causal field. See Maggie Grey, 'Codependent Origination', The Culture Mandala, Vol. 7, No. 1, December 2005; available online at International Relations Portal:

6. The text, derived from the Rice Seedling Sutra, is given by Gyatso, Tenzin, H. H. XIV Dalai Lama, The Meaning of Life; Buddhist Perspectives on Cause and Effect, trans. Jeffrey Hopkins, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2000, pp. 38-39.

7. See Maggie Grey, 'Encountering the Mandala: The Mental and Political Architectures of Dependency', The Culture Mandala, Vol. 4, No. 2, November 2001; also available online at International Relations Portal:

8. Manly P. Hall, Meditation Symbols in Eastern & Western Mysticism: Mysteries of the Mandala, Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, California, 1988, p. 14.

9. Jose & Miriam Arguelles, Mandala, Shambhala, Berkeley, Ca., 1972, p. 33.

10. "Mandalas [may be] based upon mathematical formulas and equations. Their very exactitude bestows a kind of certainty ... [and] helps to restore confidence in universal laws and their operations" (Hall, op. cit., p. 14).

11. Plutarch wrote 'Plato said God geometrizes continually', Convivialium disputationum, Liber 8:2.

12. Many thangkas of the Wheel omit this 'Rising and Falling' sequence.

13. Robert A. F. Thurman, Inside Tibetan Buddhism: Rituals and Symbols Revealed, Collins Publishers, San Francisco, 1995, p. 16.

14. Ben Meulenbeld, Buddhist Symbolism in Tibetan Thangkas: The Story of Siddhartha & other Buddhas Interpreted in Modern Nepalese Painting, Binkey Kok Publications, Havelte, Netherlands, 2001, p. 28.

15. In a chilling example, the 1974 Indian detonation of a 'peaceful nuclear device' was called Buddha smiles. In 1998, when further nuclear detonations occurred, the metaphor was Buddha smiles again (Roberta Wohlstetter, "The Buddha Smiles": Absent-Minded Peaceful Aid and the Indian Bomb (Los Angeles: Pan Heuristics, 1977).

16. Argued more extensively in: Maggie Grey, 'Political Realism: An Eastern Paradigm', 4th IIDS International Conference on Development, The International Institute for Development Studies (Australia) in collaboration with The Management Foundation, The University of Indonesia, Bali, 15-19 December 2003.

17. Mandalas found early political application in India. Kautilya's Arthashastra or The Science of Means, a 3rd Century BCE Indian 'Realist' text, used the mandala concept as the primary explanatory mechanism for 'balance of power'. It dealt with domestic government, the national economy, interstate relations and the conduct of war; it proposed a raj mandala (literally: the king's realm) or Power Realm, a monarchical balance-of-power schema for the exploitation of regional power. The Arthashastra was composed for King Chandragupta and may have been of composite origin and times, though it is traditionally attributed to Kautilya, aka Chanakya and Visnugupta.

18. Rosita Dellios:

19. Dellios, 'Mandalas of Security', op. cit. p. 412.

20. Ibid, p. 411.

21. Ibid, p. 415.

22. Ibid, p. 416.

23. Robert O. Keohane & Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence, 3rd ed., Pearson Addison Wesley, 2001, pp. 7-8.

24. Theotonio Dos Santos, 'The Structure of Dependence', American Economic Review, Vol. 60, May 1970, pp. 231-236. For a summary of such models, see Robert Packenham, The Dependency Movement: Scholarship and Politics in Dependency Studies, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass., 1992.

25. For a global survey of Peace Studies programs, see Directory of College and University Peace Studies Programs, available at See also Peace and Conflict Research Centers, Institutes, Organizations & Networks, at

26. See Cynthia Enloe, The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives, Uni. California Press, Berkeley, 2000 and J. Ann Tickner, Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post Cold War Era, Columbia Uni. Press, New York, 2002.

27. Led by Hans Kung, in 1993, at the second Council of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago, 6,500 interdenominational delegates met to discuss the possibility of generating a global ethic. The Council affirmed that "a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the religions, and that these form the basis of a global ethic [and that] this truth is already known, but yet to be lived in heart and action". Cited in Hans Kung & K. J. Kuschel (eds), A Global Ethic: The Declaration of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Continuum, N.Y., 1993, p. 14.

28. The Council outlined two principles of a global ethic: that there be no new global order without a new global ethic; and that every human being must be treated humanely. This was followed by four irrevocable directives: commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life; commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order; commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness, commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women (ibid., pp. 24-32). A notable omission was a commitment to environmental sustainability.

29. The word does not imply that 'the ignorant' know nothing, but that the understandings they have are based on delusional premises. Conversely, the word buddha, from the root budh to awaken, means "to awaken from the sleep of ignorance and spread one's intelligence to everything that can be known" (Jeffrey Hopkins, 'Introduction' to H. H. The Dalai Lama, The Meaning of Life: Buddhist Perspectives on cause and effect, trans. Jeffrey Hopkins, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2000, p. 1.

30. Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press, New York, 1974, p. 65.

31. Dharmapada Ch. XX, Verses 277-9. The term 'conditioned phenomena' refers to phenomena which are not self-generating (sva-bhava) but whose existence is dependent or conditional on already existing phenomena. The term dharma is complex: Buddhism generally concedes two meanings: a macrocosmic one referring to eternal truths, and a microcosmic one, referring to the constantly changing phenomena of everyday life. It is the latter that is here relevant; all the phenomena that form part of everyday existence, are said to have been determined or conditioned by chains of cause and effect external to those phenomena (Rahula, op. cit., p. 45; Hsueh-li Cheng, Empty Logic: Madhyamika Buddhism from Chinese Sources, Philosophical Library, New York, N.Y., 1984, p. 76). When extrapolated to the international community, it implies a very complex network of causality that can be neither understood nor legitimated simply by reference to contemporary events, policies and personalities.

32. R. H. Robinson & W. L. Johnson, The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction, 3rd edn, Wadsworth Publishing, California, U.S.A., 1982, p. 69. Sometimes too, ignorance of Codependent Origination is included; however, most agree that the concept of sunyata is a simplification of the doctrine of Codependent Origination and not a separate concept.

33. Basham, A. L. The Wonder that was India, Fontana Ancient History, 1967, p. 272. In fact the significance of 'death' to the Wheel is traditionally elaborated in regard to individuals but it may be contended that exactly the same delusional processes are being applied by political actors and that this predisposes not only the deaths of individuals, but attendant on the delusions, the potential for widespread catastrophic, even universal death, due to state and non-state violence, the degeneration of ecological systems as well as the potential for biological catastrophe through viruses, plagues, and even biological warfare.

34. "By the Grace of Heaven, Emperor of Japan, seated on the Throne occupied by the same Dynasty changeless through ages eternal" (Part of formal address on letters to Emperor Hirohito - Jeff Taliaferro, 'The Emperor of Japan', at - Visited July 2002). Julius Caesar legislated for his own calendrical memorialization (Suetonius, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, cited in Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment & Frank Turner, The Western Heritage to 1715, Macmillan, New York, 1979. p. 159) and Akhenaton, the heretical monotheistic pharaoh (r.1367-1350 BCE) composed a Hymn of Universal Maintenance that envisioned the pharaoh, "Living and flourishing forever" (cited in Kagan et al., op. cit., p. 21).

35. Since 1945, the self-appointed five 'permanent members' of the Security Council have been the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and France. Their self-appointed veto power has guaranteed them wide ranging powers over the global community and has allowed these guarantors of 'international peace and security' simultaneously to be responsible for most global arms transfers. Just three of the members, the United States, Russia and China collectively accounted for 78.8% of the world total of arms agreements, valued at $20.8 billion (the world total was nearly $26.4 billion) in 2001. 60.5% of those transfers went to developing states (Rachel Stohl, 'Arms Trade: Global Arms Sales Fall but US has Most Exports', Centre for Defence Information, paper presented at United Nations Small Arms Conference, 2001). Attempts to expand the UN SC permanent membership have thus far not been successful.

36. US President G W Bush speaking in April 2001 of the Kyoto Climate Treaty. (Robin Pomeroy, 'World Alarmed at Bush's Kyoto Climate Views', Reuters, March 30, 2001, Climate Ark, at

37. Tenzin Gyatso, Tenzin, H. H. the XIV Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom, Modern World: Ethics for a New Millennium. Little, Brown & Co., London, U.K., 1999, pp. 141-2.

38. As Leggett says, dukkha occurs "when the space is uneven or gritty, so that wheel and axle grind against each other or stick and won't move smoothly". Similarly, the word sukkha, usually translated as happiness, is derived from su: good and kha: space, implying a good fit, "when there is space so that the wheel can turn freely on the axle" (Trevor Leggett cited in Martin Goodson, The Wheel of Life, The Buddhist Society United Kingdom, at According to Kurtz: "The suffering of which the First Truth speaks is the pain that seeps into all finite existence. Like an axle dislodged from the centre of a wheel or a bone slipped out of its socket, life becomes dislocated, especially on six occasions: in the trauma of birth, the pathology of sickness, the morbidity of decrepitude, the phobia of death, and the entrapment in what one abhors and the separation of what one loves" (Lester R. Kurtz, Gods in the Global Village: The World's Religions in Sociological Perspective, Pine Forge Press, California, 1995, p. 36).

39. Dwight D Eisenhower, in his "Chance for Peace" address, April 16, 1953.

40. The Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom, op. cit., p. 45

41. The term 'conditioned' refers to the fact that no phenomena are sva-bhava or capable of self-generation.

42. Because sentient beings are necessarily in flux, they are also existentially impermanent; the erroneous notion that they are permanent and absolute is termed "eternalism".

43. Benedict Anderson, 'The Origins of National Consciousness', in A. Sreberny-Mohammadi, Dwayne Winseck, Jim McKenna & Oliver Boyd-Barrett (eds), Media in Global Context: A Reader, Arnold Pub., London, 1997, pp. 58-66.

44. See Jane E. Fountain, Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change, Brookings Institution Press, 2001.

45. According to Rosecrance, the virtual state, evident since the Cold War, refers to "a country which has diversified most of it production abroad and is now concentrating on high-level international services". He sees Hong Kong as the archetype and England, Scotland, Switzerland and Germany, as significant examples. (Richard Rosecrance, Excerpted from soon to be published: Global Economic Transformation: The Rise of International Services and the Virtual State, Centre for International Relations, University of California, Los Angeles.)

46. Jay Garfield, 'Dependent Arising and the Emptiness of Emptiness: Why did Nagarjuna Start with Causation?', in Philosophy East & West, Vol. 44, No. 2, April 1994, pp. 220-232. The doctrine of emptiness "is identical with the doctrine of dependent origination" (ibid., p. 226); "Emptiness is equivalent to dependent co-arising, the principle that Gautama enunciated as the Middle Way between being and non-being" (ibid., pp. 69-70); "What is dependent co-arising we call emptiness", Madhyamikakarika XXIV, 18, (cited in Yoshinori, op. cit., p. 193); and "On a subtle level [Codependent Origination] is explained as the main reason why phenomena are empty of inherent existence" (H.H. The Dalai Lama in Meaning of Life, op. cit., p. 35). See also Elizabeth Napper, Dependent Arising and Emptiness: A Tibetan Buddhist Interpretation of Madhyamika Philosophy, Wisdom Publications, London, 1989, Chapter 6, pp. 339-360.

47. Emptiness is also conceptualized as "the absence of svabhava" or self-origination, self-creation: according to the sunyata doctrine, nothing exists as a result of its own efforts (Robinson and Johnson, op. cit., p. 69; Garfield, op. cit., p. 220). Synonyms of emptiness include "blank essence" and "relativity". Nor is it only people who are empty: "Samsara is empty, and nirvana is empty; the Buddhas are empty, as are the beings whom they guide" (Robinson & Johnson, op. cit., p. 69). Emptiness, as explained by Nagajuna, the 1st Century BCE Buddhist formulator of the Madhyamika School, is itself also empty (Garfield, op. cit., 220-232). Emptiness is not connoted as an absolute void, or a transcendent ground on which material phenomena stand but simply that aspect of conventional reality that signifies impermanence, dependence on external conditions and linguistic conventions. "Emptiness and the phenomenal world are not two distinct things. They are rather two characterizations of the same thing" (ibid., p. 229). Emptiness itself is empty because it too is a dependent phenomenon, without independent existence. It is important to note that the pre-creation monotheistic concept of deity (Ahura Mazda, Yahweh, God, Allah) would not be empty, according to this doctrine, if such a concept is, in theory, self-creating, or sva-bhava.

48. According to Noble Laureate, Peter Doherty, "We already know that the overall DNA sequence similarity between humans, chimpanzees and white mice is 99% and 83% respectively. We have about the same number of genes as white mice. Humans have some 30,000 protein coding genes, compared with 6,000 in baker's yeast, 13,000 in the fruit fly, 18,000 in a worm and 26,000 in a plant. Some 60% of the predicted proteins from the fruit fly, 43% from the little worm and 46% from yeast, have human equivalents. ... The inescapable conclusion is that all species, including us, stem from ancient, common ancestors (Peter Doherty, 'The Map of Life - Professor Peter Doherty at the National Library of Australia', ABC Radio 2001, available at

49. Colin Renfrew & Katie Boyle (eds), Archaeogenetics:  DNA & the population prehistory of Europe, Oxbow Books, 2000.

50. King Udrayana ruled Vatsa, a small kingdom in northern India, contemporaneous with Magadha; its capital was the city of Kausambi, known since the 2nd millennium BCE (Basham, op. cit., pp. 26 & 39).

51. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, was also living in the kingdom of Magadha during Bimbisara's reign. The king appears to have been unusually liberal in his accommodations with political and social philosophy. His son Ajatashatru was of a different disposition.

52. Sermey Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, King Udrayana and the Wheel of Life; Mahayana Sutra and Tantra Press, New Jersey, 1985.

53. S. Tambiah, 'The Reflexive and Institutional Achievements of Early Buddhism', (pp. 453-471) in S. N. Eisenstadt (ed.), The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations. New York, State University of New York Press, 1986, p. 467.

54. Thurman, op. cit., p. 2; Tambiah, op. cit., p. 469. The most celebrated merchant and guild-master, Anathapindaka, donated the Jetavana arama, a 20 acre 'pleasure grove' just beyond the perimeter of Rajagrha. It contained a kutuhala-sala and residence halls to protect the monks from the monsoon rains.

55. R. F. Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Columbo, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1988, p. 97 and 115. It was not only the wealthy who feted the Sangha; C. Rhys Davids ('Notes on Early Economic Conditions in Northern India', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Gt Britain & Ireland, 1901, p. 886) talks of an entire street clubbing together to entertain a Buddhist community to a feast.

56. It is known that the Buddha preached in ardha-magadhi, a prakrit or dialect of this city and of the central Ganges region. This was not his native tongue but more importantly, it was not Sanskrit, implying a further challenge to the brahmins, who regarded Sanskrit as the only sacred language. Buddhist monks adopted the vernacular wherever they missionized (Romila Thapar, A History of India, Vol. 1, Penguin, Calcutta, 1992, p. 63; Sangarakshita in Basham 1975, op. cit., p. 89). Buddhist legend has the Buddha teach meditational techniques to Queen Vaidehi, wife of Bimbisara (Sangharakshita, A Survey of Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Methods through the Ages, Tharpa Publications, London, 1987, p. 363).

57. Sanderson Beck, History of Ethics: Ancient Wisdom and Folly to 30BC, Vol. 1, World Peace Communications, Ojai, California, 2002. Also at

58. Vinaya I, 138.

59. In the Temiya Jataka or Mugapakkha Jataka, as cited in Gombrich (op. cit., p. 70), a legend reveals the Buddhist focus on the importance of virtue and the insignificance of state. A prince is born. The king wishes his son to inherit the throne but the baby believes he will be obliged to sentence prisoners to death and that will cause him 80,000 years torment in hell. The prince therefore mimics an idiot in order that the king, his father, will decide against his becoming the next ruler. Eventually the king is so disgusted by his imbecile son that he orders him killed, but as the executioner is poised, the youth delivers an enlightened sermon. The king is summoned, all are reconciled, and the entire realm begins life again in the wilderness. The majesty of state is abandoned.

60. Ian Harris, 'Buddhism and Politics in Asia: the Textual and Historical Roots' (pp. 1-25) in I. Harris (ed.), Buddhism and Politics in Asia, Pinter, London, 1999, p. 2.

61. Basham, op. cit., p. 84.

62. It is not the contention here that the intercivilizational void be addressed only by the application of Buddhist principles. Indeed elements of all civilizations, such as the sociological insights of Islam and the ecological insights of Indigenous belief systems, are equally needed this century.

63. In 2002, the XIV Dalai Lama officiated at Kalachakra Mandala Initiations for World Peace, in Graz, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia. Details of the Dalai Lama's visits may be found at (VisitedMay 2002). In Australia, Gyuto Monks have performed many mandala peace-offerings including the Powerhouse, Brisbane, Australia, May 2002 and Brisbane Museum Dec. 2003. The Australian Gyuto Monks web site is at: Renowned ecologist David Suzuki's book (Greystone, 1998) and video series, The Sacred Balance, also stresses the need to find a mandala inspired balance in nature.

64. Bhutan has based its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a mandala designed by Bhutanese children. See UNICEF website for this mandala at

65. President Mohammed Khatami, Address to the U.N. Round Table: Dialogue Among Civilizations, September 5, 2000; available at (Visited July 2002).

66. Ahmad Kamal Aboulmagd (ed.), Crossing the Divide: Dialogue Among Civilizations, School of Diplomacy & International Relations, Seton Hall University, New Jersey, 2001, pp. 33-4.


The Culture Mandala, Vol. 7 no. 2, December 2006 - Article Copyright © Maggie Grey 2005


The Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies,

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences,

Bond University, Queensland, Australia