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A prayer wheel is a cylindrical 'wheel' (Tibetan: 'khor) on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather, or even coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit externally on the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

Nomenclature and etymology

Prayer wheel or Mani wheel (Tibetan: mani chos-'khor). 'Mani' (Tibetan; a contraction of Sanskrit: cintamani), 'chos' (Tibetan; Sanskrit: Dharma) and 'khor' (Tibetan: khorlo; Sanskrit: chakra).

Origins

A man with a prayer wheel on a 1938 photo
The earliest recorded prayer wheels was written by a Chinese pilgrim around 400 CE. in Ladakhmarker. The concept of the prayer wheel is a physical manifestation of the phrase "turning the wheel of Dharma," which describes the way in which the Buddha taught.

Practice

It is said that prayer wheels are used to accumulate wisdom and merit or good karma and to purify negativities such as bad karma. The idea of spinning mantras comes from numerous Tantric practices where the Tantric practitioner visualizes mantras revolving around the nadis and especially around the meridian chakras such as the heart and crown. Therefore prayer wheels are a visual aid for developing one's capacity for these types of Tantric visualizations. The spiritual method for those practicing with a prayer wheel is very specific (with slight variations according to different Buddhist sects). The practitioner most often spins the wheel clockwise, for the direction the mantras are written is that of the movement of the sun across the sky. However, on rare occasions advanced Tantric practitioners such as Senge Dongma, the Lion-Faced Dakini spin prayer wheels counterclockwise to manifest a more wrathful protective energy. Before, during and after the practitioner turns the wheel, it is best to focus the mind and repeat the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, as this increases the merit earned by the wheel's use. Intoning the mani mantra with mindfullness and the "Bodhicitta" motivation dramatically enhances the effects of the prayer wheel. However, it is said that even turning it while distracted has benefits and merits and it states in the lineage text that even insects that cross a prayer wheel's shadow will get some benefit. Each revolution is as meritorious as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll, and this means that the more Om Mani Padme Hum mantras that are inside a prayer wheel then the more powerful it is. The wheel must not be spun too fast or frantically, but held upright (if a hand-held wheel) and turned smoothly with the motivation and spirit of compassion and bodhichitta (the noble mind that aspires to full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings). Which, it's been stated, are some of the benefits attributed to the practice of turning the wheel. It helps wisdom, compassion and bodhichitta arise in the practitioner. The practitioner should also repeat the mantra as many times as possible during the turning of the wheel, and keep a calm meditative mind. Also, there's a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of asking the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to dedicate any accumulated merits that you may have gathered during practice to all sentient beings. This is standard with Tibetans completing any Buddhist practice including the practice of the prayer wheel.
Thubten Zopa Rinpoche has commented that installing a prayer wheel has the capacity to completely transform a place "...peaceful, pleasant, and conducive to the mind."Simply touching a prayer wheel is said to bring great purification to negative karmas and obscurations.

Om Mani Padme Hum

The most commonly used mantra in prayer wheels is Om Mani Padme Hum. This mantra is the resonant vibration that helps tune a human being toward enlightenment energies. This beautiful mantra was given to us by Avalokatishvara (Sanskrit) or Chenrezig (Tibetan), the deity that is the embodiment of compassion. By chanting this mantra one harmonizes in the choral resonance of pure compassion. This tends to have a calming effect and allows one to tame, open and develop the mind.

Types

Mani Wheel

The Mani wheel, or the hand prayer wheel, is a cylindrical body mounted on a wooden or metal handle. The cylinder itself is weighted down with a cord or chain allowing it to be spun by a slight rotation of the wrist along with the mantra it contains.

Water Wheels

This type of prayer wheel is simply a prayer wheel that is turned by flowing water. The water that is touched by the wheel is said to become blessed, and carries it purifying power into all life forms in the oceans and lakes that it feeds into.

Fire Wheel

This wheel is turned by the heat of a candle or electric light. The light emitted from the prayer wheel then purifies the negative karmas of the living beings it touches.

Wind Wheel

This type of wheel is turned by wind. The wind that touches the prayer wheel helps alleviate the negative karmas of those it touches.

Stationary Prayer Wheels

Many monasteries around Tibet have large fixed metal wheels set side by side in a row. Passersby can turn the entire row of wheels simply by sliding their hands over each one.



Samurai Prayer Wheels

Originated in the Okinawa province, during the late Muromachi period samurais took up the practice of using prayer wheels as weapons. They would attach a small blade in place of a steel ball as a counter balance. The prayer wheel's sole purpose was decorative, and they were never used in battle.

Electric Dharma Wheels

Some prayer wheels are powered by electric motors. "Thardo Khorlo," as these electric wheels are sometimes known, contain one thousand copies of the mantra of Chenrezig and many copies of other mantras. The Thardo Khorlo can accompanied by lights and music if one so chooses. However Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said, "The merit of turning an electric prayer wheel goes to the electric company. This is why I prefer practitioners to use their own 'right energy' to turn a prayer wheel".

Digital Prayer Wheels

The Dalai Lama has commented that animated GIFs on websites work just as well as other prayer wheels. As the GIF image turns, waves of compassion emanate in all directions to the surrounding area.

Some have suggested that the spinning of a hard drive (several thousand rotations per minute) can act in similar function to a prayer wheel by saving an image of Om mani padme hum or other mantra on their local machine. [4154]

Internet-operated Prayer Wheel

This type of Prayer Wheel is a Stationary Electric Prayer Wheel which can be activated over a web interface. Before turning the wheel a wish or a mantra can be entered at the web interface. Via a webcam the user can watch the wheel. [4155]

References



Gallery



Image:Prayer wheels in Samye.jpg|
Prayer wheels at Samye Monastery.
Image:Swayambhunath Prayer Wheels.jpg|
Girls Turning the prayer wheels at Swayambhunathmarker Stupa, Kathmandumarker.
Image:Tibetan Child with Prayer Wheel.jpg|Child with a prayer wheelImage:Yellow Lamas with Prayer Wheels.jpg|1905 illustration of monks with prayer wheelsImage:Stupa & prayer wheels. Main street, McLeod Ganj.jpg|Stupa & prayer wheels. Main street, McLeod Ganjmarker.File:Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-07-24-11, Tibetexpedition, Mönch mit Gebetsmühle.jpg|Monk with prayerwheel. 1938.Image:Prayer Wheels at the Potala in Lhasa.JPG|Prayer wheels at the base of the Potalamarker in Lhasamarker, Tibet.

See also



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