Buddhist prayer wheel is an inseparable part of the Buddhist and Tibetan tradition. The prayer wheel is actually a hollow metal cylinder, beautifully embossed and mounted on top of a rod. The inner portion of the hollow cylinder contains a tightly scrolled paper or other material full of printed or hand written mantra. Mainly used in the Tibetan culture than other cultures of Buddhism, the Buddhist prayer wheels are used as an aid to meditation and as a means of accumulating wisdom, good karma and means of putting bad karmas and negative energy aside.
Ancient records tells us that the Buddhist prayer wheels was introduced to our word by a famous Indian Buddhist scholar, a philosopher and a saint; Nagarjuna. Saint Nagarjuna is credited with the rise of the Mahayana Buddhism during the first century BC. He is also famous for founding the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy. Every existing Buddhism schools today accept all the Buddhist philosophies that emerged from the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy, founded by saint Nagarjuna, a Buddhist teacher highly respected in Buddhism for his unmatchable compassion and concern for others, his extreme intelligence and goodness. Apart from the introduction of the Buddhist prayer wheels, he is remembered for his contribution of transformation in Buddhism that spread the Mahayana Buddhism vision of universal responsibility and concern throughout his life in Central and East Asia.
Buddhist prayer wheels have been made in Tibet for many centuries, which range highly in size and styles. These Buddhist prayer wheels range from simple hand held prayer wheel and table top prayer wheel to enormous size of eight to twelve feet tall and with diameter of five to six feet. It is not only the size or magnitude of a prayer wheel that defines its types. There are many types of Buddhist/Tibetan prayer wheels like Mani wheel(a hand prayer wheel), Water wheels (turned by flowing water), Fire wheel (turned by the heat of a candle or electric light), Wind wheel ( a type of prayer wheel is turned by wind), Stationary prayer wheels etc.
Most often build in the periphery of stupas and monasteries, number of Tibetan prayer wheels might range from a few to hundreds for people to spin them as they walk past or when they rotate around the temple or stupa in clockwise fashion. Rotating these prayer wheels and reciting is considered one of the most thoughtful and beneficial act. A fine example of huge numbers of prayer wheels in one place can be the famous Soyambhunath stupa, where numerous Buddhist prayer wheels are installed around the huge stupa of Soyambhunath. The mantra to recite while one is turning the Buddhist prayer wheels is: "OM MANI PADME HUM" or "OM MANI PEME HUNG".
This six syllable mantra is very important and sacred in Buddhist culture. Initially originated in India, this mantra moved from India to Tibet as Buddhism spread. This mantra first started as OM MANI PADME HUM which is in Sanskrit but as it moved to Tibet it was pronounced OM MANI PEME HUNG as Tibetan people found it hard to pronounce correctly in Sanskrit.
Meaning of this mantra is in its syllabus. Though the mantra is interpreted in various ways depending upon different Buddhist philosophy school, here is the explanation of the mantra by Tsangsar Tulku Rinpoche. The manta has six syllabuses and each syllabus means something and represents something.
The six syllabus of the mantra that is written inside the scroll of a Buddhist prayer wheel are:
OM: is a spiritual Sanskrit sound of Hindu foundation, holy and significant in a variety of Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM, it represents Generosity, purifies Pride / Ego and itself is represented by color white with symbol of Deity- Wisdom.
MA: represents Ethics, purifies Jealousy / Lust for entertainment and itself is represented by color Green with symbol of Deity- Compassion.
NI: represents Patience, purifies Passion / desire and itself is represented by color Yellow with symbol of Deity- Body, speech, mind quality and activity.
PAD: represents Diligence, purifies Ignorance / prejudice and itself is represented by color Blue with symbol of Deity- Equanimity.
ME: represents Renunciation, purifies Poverty / possessiveness and itself is represented by color Red with symbol of Deity- Bliss.
HUM: represents Wisdom, purifies Aggression / hatred and itself is represented by color Black with symbol of Quality of Compassion.
About the six syllable mantra, Amitabha Buddha has said “Anyone who recites the six syllables while turning the dharma wheel at the same time is equal in fortune to the Thousand Buddhas.” The prayer wheels are extremely powerful tool for praying. It accumulates the merit and helps to purify the obstacles of life.
How to Use a Prayer Wheel
Things done in a system or a discipline is always fruitful. There are certain rules to abide by if someone wants to use the Buddhist prayer wheel as a means of worshipping. According to the tradition and rules, a Buddhist prayer wheel always must be turned or rotated in the clockwise direction with full concentration of body, mind and speech. The activity is very easy to do, it’s meaning and principles are genuine and its benefits are great. Turning the Buddhist prayer wheels does not require much physical strength and many repetitions.
Turning the Buddhist prayer wheel is said to produce same merits and benefits that could be only gained after recital of mantras inside for hundreds and thousands of times. It is widely believed that the meditational gods, goddess and dharma automatically help us when we rotate the Buddhist prayer wheels following its rules.
When to Use a Prayer Wheel
A specific time to turn the prayer wheel is not actually defined, but one can turn the prayer wheel anytime during his/her daily meditation or mantra recitals or during when some spiritual practices are performed. For eg, Chenrezi, the heart sutra, a praise to the twelve deeds of Lord Buddha etc. But the Buddhist prayer shouldn’t be spun while a Lama is delivering a speech or while he is teaching. The prayer wheel can also be spun while circumambulating a stupa and even when you are watching TV, listening to music or reading books along with all of your other daily works.
Benefits of Tibetan Prayer Wheels
As we have already stated, Buddhist or Tibetan prayer wheels product astonishing and inconceivable benefits. Following are some of the benefits of prayer wheels
• It is believed that the Dakinis, Meditational Deities and Dharma Protectors repeatedly help to those who turn the prayer wheel.
• It is also believed that the Buddhist prayer wheels has great power and turning it would give the power of rapid blessing; its procedures are swift; the power of spinning the wheel stands for freedom from anti-Buddhists, demons/obstacles, vow-breakers, 360 evil spirits, 80,000 ghosts, 18 untimely deaths, forestalls all obstacles; and guards you against all negativities.
• The prayer is definitely a precious jewel. It is believed that the prayer though the Buddhist prayer wheels grant everything a worshipper asks for.
• There is a heavy belief that turning the Buddhist prayer wheels with remorse and guilt will help you eliminate the four bad deeds, the five actions of immediate retribution, the eight of the wrong views and finally the ten non-virtues.
• It is also believed that if a person sees you turn the wheels, or touches while you are turning the wheels or even struck by your shadow when you are turning the wheel, he/ she will never go to the lower three realms and will be established on the prime stage of buddhahood.
• Turning or spinning the Buddhist prayer wheels is considered so powerful that, it is compared with power of one hundred monks praying for the whole life. It’s considered even powerful than 108 mediators visualizing the vajra protective circle.
• It is widely believed that any man or women who have turned the Buddhist prayer wheel shall obtain whatever they wish, but those wish should be in harmony with the dharma, the laws of life.
• Any person who turns the Buddhist prayer wheels in his life shall never again born with any anomalies in his/her life, never born with disorders like blindness, deafness, muteness or as a cripple.
• One shall achieve impartial enlightenment and shall act for the benefit of other being.
Despite all these great things about the Buddhist prayer wheels, true practice of Tibetan prayer wheels is not as in its prime like it used to be. With a huge number of Tibetans in exile, there are few people who practice their culture and tradition truly. After Taking over Tibet, the new Chinese governments have placed the mechanical wheels in numerous places ranging from trucks, buses, cars, parks and many other public places, but the core of this tradition, the spiritual training and practice is in poor condition.
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