The Buddhist Wheel of Life has got to be one of the most famous and enduring models of the human condition ever created, and one of the most profound and stimulating aids to managing your life. My simple summary of it probably does not do justice to the depth of wisdom it contains, and I am sure a Buddhist scholar would find much to take issue with. But no disrespect is intended; in fact I am full of respect for the tradition from which this most valuable tool comes.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation. In one sense, the wheel of life represents the cycle through which beings are reborn from one life to another, sometimes changing realms as they are reborn, according to the net effect of the actions they have performed. But you do not have to believe in reincarnation to benefit from considering the wheel of life. We all know from our everyday experience that our decisions and actions can increase or reduce the happiness of ourselves and others in this life, and you don’t need to take it any further than that.

The wheel is meant to be a mirror, facing us, in which we see our life reflected. We see ourselves in the mirror, but of course we know we are not in the mirror but sitting in front of it. So we are both in the mirror and not in the mirror (very Zen!)

This simply signifies that although at one level we are caught up in the cycle of life with all its imperfections and temporary nature, at another level, there is a part of us which has the potential to free itself from this cycle and attain pure lasting happiness.

The image in the mirror is an optical illusion. It seems real but is actually just a reflection. That is why you sometimes hear it said that Buddhists believe life is an illusion – that’s not quite true, though; they don’t believe it is an illusion, they believe it is real, but that we usually do not see it the way it really is – we see something more akin to an illusion. Think of it as being like the way people used to think that the sun revolved around the earth, until we worked out that in fact it was the other way round.