Wheel of Existence

The Wheel of Existence expresses the cyclical nature of life manifested in various forms, all under the grip of the Lord of Death.

Wheel of Existence, early 20th century (Tibet), pigments on cloth, 81 x 58.7 cm (Rubin Museum of Art, New York). Speakers: Dr. Elena Pakhoutova, Senior Curator, Rubin Museum of Art and Dr. Beth Harris

Rubin Museum senior curator Dr. Elena Pakhoutova and Smarthistory’s Dr. Beth Harris reflect on a thangka painting of the Wheel of Life, also known as the Wheel of Existence. The painting depicts the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth (samsara) in various forms, which are in the grip of the Lord of Death, Yama.

The Rubin Museum of Art has teamed up with Smarthistory to bring you an “up-close” look at select objects from the Rubin’s preeminent collection of Himalayan art. Featuring conversations with senior curators and close-looking at art, this video series is an accessible introduction to the art and material culture of the Tibetan, Himalayan, and Inner Asian regions. Learn about the living traditions and art-making practices of the Himalayas from the past to today.

About the Rubin Museum

The Rubin is a global museum dedicated to sharing Himalayan art through a dynamic digital platform, participatory experiences, exhibitions, and partnerships. Inspired and informed by Himalayan art, the Rubin invites people to contemplate the human experience and deepen connections with the world around them in order to expand awareness, enhance well-being, and cultivate compassion.

Image: Wheel of Existence; Tibet; early 20th century; pigments on cloth; Rubin Museum of Art; C2004.21.1 (HAR65356)

This work at the Rubin Museum of Art

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Learn more about the Wheel of Life on Project Himalayan Art, a resource from the Rubin for learning about Himalayan, Tibetan, and Inner Asian art and cultures:

A Visual Explanation of Buddhist Cosmology

Art & Religious Practices

The Wheel of Existence

Cite this page as: Dr. Elena Pakhoutova, Senior Curator, Rubin Museum of Art and Dr. Beth Harris, "Wheel of Existence," in Smarthistory, March 29, 2024, accessed April 15, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/wheel-of-existence/.