Quality rating: good (4/5)


From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
Jump to: navigation, search
A Chakravatin, possibly Ashoka. First century CE. Andhra Pradesh, India.

Chakravartin (Skt., also cakravartirāja; P. cakkavattin; T. ’khor lo sgyur ba’i rgyal po; C. zhuanlun wang; J. tenrin’ō; K. chŏllyun wang 轉輪王), literally "wheel-turning emperor", refers to a type of universal monarch within Buddhist cosmology who rules over his domain in accordance with the dharma. According to tradition, there is only one cakravartin at a time within a world system, in a similar way that there is only one buddha at a time. The cakravartin has similar physically attributes to a buddha, but lacks the mental and supernatural powers of a buddha.

The power of the charavartin derives from a mystical wheel with divine attributes.

Four classes of Cakravartin

The Abhidharma-kosha identifies four classes of cakravartin; each has a wheel forged from a different element (gold, silver, copper, or iron), which corresponds to their power and the size of thier domain.[1][2]

Class Wheel Domain Description
suvarṇa-cakravartin[3] gold the four continents of a world system Rival kings sponteously surrender their lands when the cakravartin's wheel enters their lands
rūpya-cakravartin silver three continents of a world system (excluding Uttarakuru) Rival kings surrender when threatened by the cakravartin
tāmra-cakravartin copper two continents (Jambudvipa and Videha) Cakravartin conquers territory after initiating battle with rivals
ayaś-cakravartin[4] iron one continent (Jambudvipa only) Cakravartin conquers territory only after extended warfare with his rivals

According to Buswell and Lopez, "the cakravartins discussed in the sūtras typically refers to a suvarṇa-cakravartin, who conquers the world through the sheer power of his righteousness and charisma."[5]

Comparison to a buddha

Similarities: phyical marks of a great person

Cakravartins have similar physical attributes to a buddha. Like the buddhas, a cakravartin is said to be endowed with the thirty-two major marks and the eighty minor marks of a superior person.[2]


Cakravartins do not posess all of the mental and super-natural attributes of the buddhas. According to StudyBuddhism:

Although wheel-wielding emperors share the same bodily features of a Sambhogakaya and Supreme Nirmanakaya Buddha, they lack the other qualities of a Buddha and thus are not fitting objects indicating safe direction. For example, a wheel-wielding emperor cannot emanate innumerable bodies simultaneously throughout all universes in order to benefit all limited beings. Further, according to Mahayana, a Buddha’s enlightening body pervades all Buddha-fields (sangs-rgyas-kyi zhing) and all Buddha-fields appear in every pore of a Buddha’s enlightening body. Wheel-wielding emperor’s lack such inconceivable physical qualities.[2]


Chakravartin is a bahuvrīhi compound word, figuratively meaning "whose wheels are moving", in the sense of "whose chariot is rolling everywhere without obstruction". It can also be analysed as an instrumental bahuvrīhi: "through whom the wheel is moving". The equivalent Tibetan term (T. ’khor lo sgyur ba’i rgyal po) translates "monarch who controls by means of a wheel".

See also


  1. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Cakravartin
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 StudyBuddhism icon 35px.png The 32 Major Marks of a Buddha's Physical Body, StudyBuddhism
  3. Referred to in some texts as a caturdvīpaka-cakravartin, or “cakravartin of four continents”
  4. Some texts refer to a balacakravartin or “armed cakravartin,” which corresponds to this category
  5. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Cakravartin


Further reading

  • Jamgön Kongtrul, Myriad Worlds (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1995), pages 134-138, ISBN 978-1559391887
  • Robert Beer, The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols (Boston: Shambhala, 2003), pages 36-48.

External links

This article includes content from Chakravartin on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo