The Gankyil or “wheel of joy” is a symbol and ritual tool used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism. It is composed of three swirling and interconnected blades.

The Gankyil as the inner wheel of the Dharmachakra is depicted on the Flag of Sikkim, Joseon Empire, and is also depicted on the Flag of Tibet.


In addition to linking the Gankyil with the “wish-fulfilling jewel“, Robert Beer makes the following connections:

The gakyil or ‘wheel of joy’ is depicted in a similar form to the ancient Chinese yin-yang symbol, but its swirling central hub is usually composed of either three or four sections. The Tibetan term dga’ is used to describe all forms of joy, delight, and pleasure, and the term ‘khyil means to circle or spin. The wheel of joy is commonly depicted at the central hub of the dharmachakra, where its three or four swirls may represent the Three Jewels and victory over the three poisons, or the Four Noble Truths and the four directions. As a symbol of the Three Jewels it may also appear as the “triple-eyed” or wish-granting gem of the chakravartin. In the Dzogchen tradition the three swirls of the gakyil primarily symbolize the trinity of the base, path, and fruit. — Robert Beer, The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols

The “victory” referred to above is symbolized by the dhvaja or “victory banner“.

The divisions of the teaching of Dzogchen are for the purposes of explanation only. Realization is not something that must be constructed; to become realized simply means to discover and manifest that which from the very beginning has been our own true condition: the Zhi (gzhi) or Base. And, in particular, in Dzogchen-which not a gradual Path-the Path consists in remaining in the unveiled, manifest condition of the primordial state or Base, or in other words, in the condition which is the Fruit. Theis why the Gankyil, the symbol of primordial energy, which is a particular symbol of the Dzogchen teachings, has three parts which spiral in a way that makes them fundamentally one. The Gankyil, or “Wheel of Joy”, can clearly be seen to reflect the inseparability and interdependence of all the group of three in the Dzogchen teachings, but perhaps most particularly it shows the inseparability of the Base, the Path, and the Fruit. And since Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, is essentially the self-perfected indivisibility of the primordial state, it naturally requires a non-dual symbol to represent it.

Wallace (2001: p. 77) identifies the ānandacakra with the heart of the “cosmic body” of which Mount Meru is the epicenter:

In the center of the summit of Mt Meru, there is the inner lotus of the Bhagavan Kalacakra, which has sixteen petals and constitutes the bliss-cakra (Ananda-cakra) of the cosmic body.

Associated triunes

Ground, path, and fruit

  • “ground”: “base”
  • “path”: “method”
  • “fruit”: “product”

Three humours of traditional Tibetan medicine

Attributes connected with the three humors:

  • Desire: is aligned with the humor Wind
  • Hatred: is aligned with the humor Bile
  • Ignorance: is aligned with the humor Phlegm

Learning, Reflection, and Meditation

  • Study
  • Reflection
  • Meditation

These three aspects are the mulaprajna of the sadhana of the prajnaparamita, the “paramita of wisdom“. Hence, these three are related to, but distinct from, the Prajnaparamita that denotes a particular cycle of discourse in the Buddhist literature that relates to the doctrinal field of the second turning of the Dharmacakra.

Mula dharmas of the path

Dzogchen teachings focus on three terms:

  • View
  • Meditation
  • Action

Essence, Nature, and Energy

An important Dzogchen doctrinal view on the Sugatagarbha qua ‘Base’ that foregrounds this is ‘essence‘, ‘nature‘ and ‘power‘: the triune of which are indivisible and iconographically represented by the Gankyil.

Where essence is openness or emptiness, nature is luminosity, lucidity or clarity (as in the luminous mind of the Five Pure Lights) and power is universal compassionate energy, unobstructed

Triratna doctrine

The Triratna, Triple Jewel or Three Gems are triunic are therefore represented by the Gankyil:

  • Buddha
  • Dharma
  • Sangha

Three Roots

The Three Roots are:

  • Guru
  • Yidam
  • Dakini

Three Higher Trainings

  • discipline
  • meditation
  • wisdom

Three Dharma Seals

The indivisible essence of the Three Dharma Seals is embodied and encoded within the Gankyil:

  • Impermanence
  • Anatta
  • Nirvana

Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma

As the inner wheel of the Vajrayana Dharmacakra, the Gankyil also represents the syncretic union and embodiment of Gautama Buddha’s Three Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma. The pedagogic upaya doctrine and classification of the “three turnings of the wheel” was first postulated by the Yogacara school.

Trikaya doctrine

The Gankyil is the energetic signature of the Trikaya, realized through the transmutation of the obscurations forded by the Three poisons and therefore in the Bhavachakra, the Gankyil is an aniconic depiction of the snake, boar, and fowl. Gankyil is to Dharmachakra, as still eye is to the cyclone, as Bindu is to Mandala. The Gankyil is the inner wheel of the Vajrayana Dharmacakra.

The Gankyil is symbolic of the Trikaya doctrine of Dharmakay, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya and also of the Buddhist understanding of the interdependence of the Three Vajras: of mind, voice and body.

The divisions of the teaching of Dzogchen are for the purposes of explanation only; just as the Gankyil divisions are understood to dissolve in the energetic whirl of the Wheel of Joy.

Sound, light, and rays

The triunic continuua of the esoteric Dzogchen doctrine of ‘sound, light, and rays’ is held within the energetic signature of the Gankyil.

The doctrine of ‘Sound, light, and rays‘ is intimately connected with the Dzogchen teaching of the ‘three aspects of the manifestation of energy‘. Though thoroughly interpenetrating and nonlocalized, ‘sound‘ may be understood to reside at the heart, the ‘mind’-wheel; ‘light’ at the throat, the ‘voice’-wheel; and ‘rays’ at the head, the ‘body’-wheel.

Some Dzogchen lineages for various purposes, locate ‘rays‘ at the Ah-wheel (for Five Pure Lights pranayama) and ‘light‘ at the Aum-wheel (for rainbow body), and there are other enumerations.

Three lineages of Nyingmapa Dzogchen

The Gankyil also embodies the three tantric lineages as Penor Rinpoche, a Nyingmapa, states:

  1. The Lineage of Buddha’s Intention, which refers to the teachings of the Truth Body originating from the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, who is said to have taught tantras to an assembly of completely enlightened beings emanated from the Truth Body itself. Therefore, this level of teaching is considered as being completely beyond the reach of ordinary human beings.
  2. The Lineage of the Knowledge Holders corresponds to the teachings of the Enjoyment Body originating from Vajrasattva and Vajrapani, whose human lineage begins with Garab Dorje of the Ögyan Dakini land. From him the lineage passed to Manjushrimitra, Shrisimha and then to Guru Rinpoche, Jnanasutra, Vimalamitra and Vairochana who disseminated it in Tibet.
  3. Lastly, the Human Whispered Lineage corresponds to the teachings of the Emanation Body, originating from the Five Buddha Families. They were passed on to Shrisimha, who transmitted them to Guru Rinpoche, who in giving them to Vimalamitra started the lineage which has continued in Tibet until the present day.

Three aspects of energy in Dzogchen doctrine

The Gankyil also embodies the energy manifested in the three aspects that yield the energetic emergence of phenomena and sentient beings:

  • dang: which is essentially infinite and formless
  • rolpa: which may be perceived as the thoughtform of “the eye of the mind“, or the transpersonal imaginal manifestation
  • tsal: which may be conceived as the manifestation of the energy of the individual, as apparently an ‘external‘ world

*This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Gankyil, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0 (view authors).