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A Chakravatin, possibly Ashoka. First century CE. Andhra Pradesh, India.

Chakravartin (Skt., also cakravartirāja; P. cakkavattin; T. ’khor lo sgyur ba’i rgyal po འཁོར་ལོ་སྒྱུར་བའི་རྒྱལ་པོ་; 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

Phyical attributes

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]

According to Gateway to Knowledge, the major and minor marks of the Buddha are superior to those of the Chakravartin, in that the marks on the Buddha are more clear and distinct.[6] Also, the Buddha has a few marks that are not found on the Chakravartin, such as the protuberance on the crown of the Buddha's head.[6]

Mental attributes

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".[7]


  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
  6. 6.0 6.1 Mipham Rinpoche 2002, s.v. paragraphs 21.149-150.
  7. Chakravartin (Wikipedia)


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

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