The Wheel itself is held in the clutches of a demon, who symbolizes impermanence. In the hub of the wheel are a cock, a snake, and a pig, symbols of lust, anger and ignorance respectively, the three cardinal sins in Buddhism.
In the rim around this hub is a narrow band, one half showing the upward path leading to the superior worlds of rebirth, and the other showing the downward path leading to the inferior worlds of rebirth. Beyond this narrow band this Wheel is divided into five segments. These segments depict the different worlds of rebirth.
At the top left is the Region of the Gods and Asuras, and to the right, the Region of man. These are the superior worlds of rebirth. In the center below is the hell region, wherein Yama, the King of the dead, presides over the judgement. At the left is the Region of animals, and at the right, the Region of the tortured spirits. The last three regions are inferior worlds of rebirth.
In the outer rim are twelve scenes, which the Buddha called the usual nexus, the chain of cause and effect, or the reasons for transmigration. These symbolize the various stages through which man passes from birth, namely:
- Married life
- The birth of an heir
- Decay and death
And then rebirth through countless existences. At each death man is reborn according to his Karma, into one or another of these six worlds, until he, like Buddha, through enlightenment reaches perfection and, no longer "bound to the wheel," passes on to Nirvana to become one with the Universal spirit.
The painting of the Wheel is very complex; the profound symbology must be carried out perfectly. The joys and punishments in the six regions of rebirth are vividly portrayed in miniature. In the outer rim the various incidents of the casual nexus are also represented in minute detail.