Bill Hicks Explains the Great Wheel of Samsara

In Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism, there is a stress placed on three aspirations that lead to the state of becoming a Bodhisattva, a being of boundless compassion.

These three aspirations are a desire to escape the Wheel, an experiential understanding of Emptiness/Impermanence, and compassion for all the beings who don’t even know they’re trapped on Wheels of their own making, and who have nothing but fear of Emptiness/Impermanence (exemplified by Death). The Sanskrit terms are:

  • Samsara: The Wheel
  • Bodhichitta: Compassion
  • Shunyata: Emptiness/Impermanence.

While different schools of Buddhism stress different teachings of the Buddha (which number in the tens of thousands; often the number 84,000 comes up), it is fair to say that these three concepts are an accurate distillation of Buddhism.

Now, before going into a detailed analysis of the wheel and its iconographic representation (in another post), I want to start with a bit from the late, great Bill Hicks. Hicks was a comedian and, just as much, a philosopher. This was from one of his last performances before pancreatic cancer took his mortal coil; you can easily find the video online, but here’s a transcript:

The world is like a ride at an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it, you think it’s real, because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round and it has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly colored and it’s very loud. And it’s fun, for a while.

Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: ‘Is this real? Or is this just a ride?’ And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and they say ‘Hey! Don’t worry, don’t be afraid — ever — because… this is just a ride.’ And we kill those people.

‘Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride! Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry; look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.’ It’s just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that — ever notice that? — and we let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because… it’s just a ride, and we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort. No worry. No job. No savings and money. Just a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy bigger guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.

Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, into a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defense each year and, instead, spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would do many times over — not one human being excluded — and we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever. In peace.

-Bill Hicks

Now, a detailed look into the Vajrayana Buddhist Wheel requires a few more concepts, but at the root it all, everything that Bill Hicks said hits the mark.

That being said, my own life choices keep me bound to my own Wheel; still, before you can escape the Wheel, you have to understand it.

For my money, Bill Hick’s explanation remains the most succinct; someday, maybe we can all explore space together, both inner and outer, forever.

We only have to remember that it’s just a ride…

Bill Hicks, who rode from 1961-1994.

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