Whenever I travel to the countries in the Himalayas where Tibetan/ Mahayana Buddhism thrives, I’m always enchanted with the ubiquitous sights of fluttering prayer flags and spinning prayer wheels. They’re such blissful and mystical sights to behold, even if you don’t know exactly what they stand for. But just what exactly do they mean to the Buddhists?
Prayer flags are colorful rectangular pieces of clothes inscribed with prayers, mantras and auspicious symbols. Buddhists believe that the prayer flags generate spiritual vibrations that are released when blown by the wind and the prayers are carried in the air like silent prayers. Any person and place touched by the wind will be happier and uplifted. (Hmmm…no wonder I’m always happy when I’m in the Himalayas.)
Prayer flags come in horizontal or vertical forms. Horizontal ones called “Wind Horse” are the more common and come in set of five 5 flags in 5 different colors. Each color represents the 5 basic elements: blue for space, white for air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth. Buddhists believe that balancing these elements brings harmony to the environment and good health to the body and the mind.
Prayer flags are also use to appease local spirits and gods. Hence, prayers flags are planted in places where they may reside like mountains, lakes, streams and valleys.
Prayer flags are always seen hanging in high passes and spiritual places like stupas and temples. They are also hanged in any place that people wish to be blessed or protected.
Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, wish fulfillment, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity.
(I met Keith exactly a month after I return from my trip in Tibet in 2006. My friends who traveled with me joked that he was probably my reward for hanging too many prayer flags during the trip.)
Prayers wheels are cylindrical wheels containing scrolls that are repeatedly inscribed with mantras. By turning the prayer wheels clockwise, it is believed that the mantras inside are activated and released. The mantras are said to purify negatvity, generate compassion, remove barriers to enlightenment and bring benefit to all sentient beings.
Buddhists believe that mindfully spinning a prayer wheel produces the same benefits and merits as orally reciting the number of mantras inside the prayer wheel. The more revolution one makes the greater the merits.
Prayers wheels come in big cylinder or a series of smaller cylinders. They are normally made of brass, wood, tin or stone. Prayers wheels also come in handheld and table top forms
On this modern age of technology come some convenient forms of prayer wheels like the ones that can be run by electricity. It also comes in a form of an Iphone App! (The wheel in the app will rotate if you move your iphone in circling motion or it will spin by itself with a push of a button.) I’m not sure though how effectively these high-tech wheels can benefit all sentient beings. But I think its better that people try find a place for them in this extreme techno era rather than leave them behind.
May peace and happiness be upon you by just reading this blog post about prayer flags and prayer wheels