prayer wheels

Tibetan prayer wheels (called Mani wheels by the Tibetans) are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being.

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.

Viewing a written copy of the mantra is said to have the same effect — and the mantra is carved into stones left in piles near paths where travelers will see them. Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel is also supposed to have the same effect; the more copies of the mantra, the more the benefit.

Traditionally wheels were not used at all in Tibet except for spiritual purposes — carts and similar wheeled devices were known from other cultures, but their use was intentionally avoided. The idea is said to have originated as a play on the phrase “turn the wheel of the dharma,” a classical metaphor for Buddha’s teaching activity.

Mani wheels are found all over Tibet and in areas influenced by Tibetan culture. There are many types of Mani wheels, but small hand-held wheels, like the ones shown here, 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.

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.

Photo location: Jokhang Temple Market, Old Town Lhasa, Tiber
Copyright Kate McKenna. All Rights Reserved.

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