The Dharma Chakra
We are all familiar with the Dharma chakra. Chakra here means wheel which is the eight-spoke wheel that has become the ancient symbol of all of Buddhism.

But all the elements of the wheel—the rim, the hub, the 8 spokes can be arranged to form the shape of another object, like a basket or a target. It is a good Dharma School exercise to try to make as many figures from the spokes, rim and hub of the Dharma Chakra as possible.

The Dharma Chakra is the wheel of liberation. It is also the wheel of samsara—the life of suffering, anger and hatred. Samsara is that twisting, going, coming-all-together-at- once of life in this world. Deep level Buddhist philosophy tells us the wheel of suffering and the wheel of liberation can be one and the same.

This truth can be found in the mundane things of everyday life, like a machine for washing clothes. I realized this one day as I was stuffing the laundry into our washing machine at home. It too is a kind of chakra! It does indeed go around and around. Things get pretty tangled up in there. Sometimes clothes are hard to separate, especially if small items are mixed with big items like blankets and sheets. I have a duvet cover that requires regular laundering. The motion of the machine causes somehow smaller items to end up inside the duvet cover! How can such a thing happen inside a whirling tub anyway?

Then there is the matter of the missing socks. Always, always one sock of a pair goes missing. Finally I took to pinning them together with a safety pin. So I have mounds of safety pins awaiting employment on laundry day. Then I have to choose between losing safety pins and wearing unmatched socks.

But there are also wonderful things happening inside our washing chakra. The clothes get clean. Colours can be washed together, given modern threads. There are many choices to accommodate different needs. Clothes smell nice and fresh. When you wear the clothes from the washing chakra (our washing machine) they look and smell nice.

Remember, expect the unexpected. There are anomalies in life. It is nobody’s fault; it is just the way samsara is. Develop a sense of humour. Keep the heat down and the soap gentle. Choose the best settings for the desired outcome. Don’t overdo it or you will cause damage. Be sure you can handle the speed you choose. Harsh chemicals can spoil everything. Don’t try to cram too much in the machine or it will shut down. This is the dharma of the washing machine.

I am not trying to imply here that we may now replace the Dharma Wheel as a symbol of Buddhism with the washing machine. No need to worry there. The churning Dharma Chakra was originally the wheel of a war chariot. It has become the symbol for liberation. If we meditate on the meaning of the symbol, we may even find the truth of the Dharma in everyday objects like the churning of the washing machine. The truth of the Dharma is all around us, after all. It crops up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. I found this out on laundry day at our house.

Sensei Ulrich

May 27, 2012

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