The Dharma Wheel
It is easy to understand how the Sun in its apparent rounds is a symbol of cosmic order, and it is this fact, along with its illuminating glory, that contributes to its being worshipped as a deity in so many cultures. But the sun in its seasonal journey is itself a symbol of the circling heavens with their myriad stars and planets, and the cosmic order that all that, in turn, represents.
The golden wheel that drives the universe is the seal of Buddha Dipamkara (Lamp-lighter.) The great Buddhist teacher, Atisha (early 11th C.) is called Shrijnana Dipamkara after him.
Dharma in the sense of cosmological pattern, order or Universal Law is sometimes represented by a multi-spoked wheel in which each line actually represents ten, so the wheel is referred to as made of a thousand spokes. In an account of Buddha Shakyamuni's Awakening (or, Enlightenment,) Brahma makes him a gift of that great thousand-spoked wheel, which then becomes his seal.
The Dharma Wheel has become the universal symbol of the Buddhist system. Besides incorporating the two major aspects -- order and brilliance -- it alludes to other, more particular, concepts.
Ven. Tenga Rinpoche explains that the wheels that appear as marks on the soles of Buddha Shakyamuni's feet are related to his generosity in exerting himself to accompany others on their way.
Buddha's teachings are represented by this wheel sometimes in the form of a studded chariot wheel, or at places of instruction, as a wheel framed by a pair of deer.
That symbol refers to his visit at Sarnath near Varanasi where Buddha delivered his first sermon that is described as the initial "setting in motion of the Wheel of the Law " (Skt. dharma-chakra-pravartana).
Later this chakra (Sanskrit word for wheel) came to resemble the ship's navigational wheel, for a ship is the emblem of prosperity. However, the eight spokes stand for the Eightfold Path as well as the 8 directions. Sometimes, the spokes have the form of vajras.
A dharma wheel with many more spokes is found on the proclamation pillars of the Buddhist convert king, Ashoka (3rd-century BCE.) It is a metaphor of the divine chariot that symbolizes the Chakravartin or World Emperor -- one whose earthly influence is comparable to that of a deity.
Some 200 years later, another Buddhist king, the Greek Menander (reigned 160–135 BCE), employed the 8-spoked Dharmachakra on his coinage. (In Buddhist scripture he is known as "King Milinda.")
By the Power of the Wheel
At the Kagyu email list, Ani Trinlay, quoting another person, passed this on:
This wheel has figured prominently in Indian culture for hundreds of years. For example, a coin of South India was known as the chakra. We learn that in 1738 Alexandre Dumas negotiated the purchase of Karaikal, a town near Pondicherry, for 400,000 chakras.
The 24-spoked wheel on the Triranga -- the Indian flag -- besides bearing all the connotations already mentioned, also evokes the 16-spokes of Gandhi's economic liberation and independence movement -- the spinning wheel (Hindi: charkha) used to produce thread for the weaving of "homespun" cotton fabric (khadi.)
The practice of home spinning in India had been banned by the British to protect the textile industries of England. Therefore Gandhi-ji set an important example by spinning, in symbolic protest of colonial rule.
The Romani Wheel
A sixteen-spoked chakra was adopted as the international Romani
("Gypsy") symbol at the First World Romani Congress in London in 1971.
A green and blue flag with a red
culture hero: Any legendary figure credited with bringing civilization to a land or society.