Tibetan prayer wheel
Tibetan prayer wheel
Prayer wheels in Tibetan language are also called Mani wheels. Mani wheels are found all over Tibet and in areas influenced by Tibetan culture. Prayer wheels are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. This belief derives from the Buddhist belief in the power of sound and the formulas to which deities are subject. For many Buddhists, the prayer wheel also represents the Wheel of the Law (or Dharma) set in motion by the Buddha. The prayer wheel is very useful for illiterate members of the lay Buddhist community, since they can "read" the prayers by turning the wheel.
Prayer wheels are used primarily by the Buddhists of Tibet and Nepal, where hand-held prayer wheels are carried by pilgrims and other devotees and turned during devotional activities. Rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many, many copies of the mantra (prayer) Om Mani Padme Hum, printed in an ancient Indian script or in Tibetan script, are wound around an axle in a protective container, and spun around and around. Typically, larger decorative versions of the syllables of the mantra are also carved on the outside cover of the wheel.
Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying this mantra, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion.
A prayer wheel is of a hollow metal cylinder, often beautifully embossed, mounted on a rod handle and containing a tightly wound scroll printed with a mantra.
The external cylinder of a prayer wheel is made out of repoussé metal, usually gilded bronze. The wheel is supported on a handle or axis made of wood or a precious metal. On the outside of the cylinder are inscriptions in Sanskrit (or sometimes Tibetan) script (often Om mani padme hum) and auspicious Buddhist symbols. This outer part is removable to allow for the insertion of the sacred text into the cylinder. The uppermost point of the prayer wheel forms the shape of a lotus bud.
The cylinder contains a sacred text written or printed on paper or animal skin. These texts might be sutra or invocations to particular deities (dharani or mantras). The most common text used in prayer wheels is the mantra Om mani padme hum.
Prayer wheels come in many sizes: they may be small and attached to a stick, and spun around by hand; medium-sized and set up at monasteries or temples; or very large and continuously spun by a water mill. But small hand-held wheels are the most common by far. Tibetan people carry them around for hours, and even on long pilgrimages, spinning them any time they have a hand free.
Prayer wheels at monasteries and temples are located at the gates of the property, and devotees spin the wheels before passing through the gates.
Larger wheels, which may be several yards (meters) high and one or two yards (meters) in diameter, can contain myriad copies of the mantra, and may also contain sacred texts, up to hundreds of volumes. They can be found mounted in rows next to pathways, to be spun by people entering a shrine, or along the route which people use as they walk slowly around and around a sacred site -- a form of spiritual practice called circumambulation.