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Van Tuyle !

Loyd Van Tuyle
Peter Barr
Contemplation and Action
28 January 2015
Comparing and Contrasting Shiva as Lord of the Dance and The Wheel of Life
Shiva as Lord of the Dance (in Sanskrit: Nataraja) and The Wheel of Life (in Sanskrit:
Bhavachakra) were influenced by religious traditions that are closely related in Hinduism and
Buddhism, respectively. The commonalities of these traditions are visible through the art of both
pieces, but the significant differences that distinguish them from one another are also present in
each piece of art. These differences are not only useful in the comparison of the beliefs of either
religion, but also present interesting aspects that reveal the nature of the time and place where
these religious traditions took hold.
Perhaps the most conspicuous commonality that Shiva as Lord of the Dance and The
Wheel of Life share is their circular composition. Shiva is depicted surrounded by a ring of fire
that represents the conceivable universe, while The Wheel of Life depicts the Six Domains of
Desire which contain all the forms spirits experience in the universe. All that live in this universe
are subject to the process of samsara, or reincarnation through the laws of karma. Also, this cycle
of samsara is facilitated by a sort of death personified. In Shiva as Lord of the Dance, this
symbol of death is represented in Shiva himself, who dances to the rhythm of the universe;
destroying so that the process of samsara may continue. In The Wheel of Life, Yama is the
presiding force over the process of death where ones spirit, or Atman, can transition from vessel
to vessel.

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Another commonality between the two religions that is important in the analysis of these
two pieces is that this process of samsara, and thus the process of life, is marked by inevitable
suffering. Both religions see the way to cease this suffering to transcend this process of life,
death, and rebirth. However, Buddhism is more clear on how one may save themselves from this
cycle. Hinduism claims that by listening to your Dharma, which is different for each person
depending on who you are in your current life. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha was said
to have revealed this path to enlightenment (known as the Eightfold Path) after discovering the
root to all suffering was, in fact the act of desire (revealed through Buddhas Four Noble
Truths). This is relevant to the interpretation of these pieces because in The Wheel of Life, the
Buddha is depicted outside of the titular wheel of life. This is indicative of Buddhisms focus on
transcendence, a feature, while an aspect of Hinduism as well, is not as clearly defined or
integral to the identification of itself as a religious tradition.
Another interesting comparison that can be gathered between Shiva as Lord of the
Dance and The Wheel of Life is their depiction of evil or ignorance within the composition.
In Shiva as Lord of the Dance, ignorance is embodied in the epileptic dwarf named Apasmara.
Ignorance, along with greed and hatred, are depicted at the center of The Wheel of Life.
Apasmara is under Shivas foot because if he were to be destroyed, the value of true knowledge
would be lost because there is no ignorance. Ignorance is literally central in the Wheel of Life,
because without it, along with greed and hatred, the wheel of life would not be a wheel where
ones Atman moves in accordance to their Karma, but a path that would offer no growth to take
place, only a meaningless and unrewarding progression towards the Deva (God) realm
categorized by bliss. Being all knowing would remove reward from life and would ultimately

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make life a meaningless process, and thus ignorance is actually integral to the religious beliefs of
both Buddhism and Hinduism.
While analysis on how each composition reflects the aspects that govern the identity of
their creators religious beliefs is rewarding, analysis on where and when the pieces were
constructed offers insight into how these persisting religious beliefs have spread and evolved
since their conception. Shiva as Lord of the Dance was crafted at least 600 years earlier than
The Wheel of Life- with an extremely early estimate dating it to 1000 years before its Buddhist
counterpart. This is a testimony to how enduring a religious tradition Hinduism is. It is also
worth noting that The Wheel of Life had its origins in eastern Tibet, which is now a part of
modern-day china. This spread from Buddhisms birthplace in India shows another major
difference between these religions- where their followers are located today. Hinduism is still
practiced throughout India as it has been since for nearly the dawn of recorded history, but
Buddhism is far more mobile. Buddhism is practiced widespread, in various sub-schools, across
China, within India, Sri Lanka, and Japan1. While I do not place much weight on anecdotal
claims, I was familiar with what an image of Buddha represented and looked like far earlier than
I was exposed to any sort of knowledge about Shiva or any other Hindu deity. Whether this is
further evidence for the mobility of Buddhism or just a personal case of my ignorance and
insulation as a youth would have to be determined by a study that I do not have the resources to
These pieces of work, upon comparison do a great deal to reveal the beliefs and history of
Hinduism and Buddhism. Both pieces are representative of pantheistic religions that began on

Both Hinduism and Buddhism have smatterings of followers across the world.

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the Indian Peninsula that believe in the process of samsara and other similarities often overlap, or
at least mirror each other, because Buddhism arose from Hinduism. It is important, however, to
understand the differences between these religions in order to better understand the difference
between the beliefs of their followers to avoid the troublesome act of amalgamating these beliefs
under the umbrella of Eastern Religion, a process that diminishes the unique aspects of both
religions and undermines an understanding of how these religions shape the world we live in.