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.

drepung monastery

Deprung is old. Very old. 500 years old! Located at the foot of Mount Gephel, Drepung one of the “great three” Gelukpa university monasteries of Tibet.

It was also home to the Dalai Lamas until Portola Palace was built by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama. It was known for the high standards of its academic study, and was called the Nalanda of Tibet (a reference to the great Buddhist monastic university of India).

drepung monestary (1)Today the population at the monastery in Lhasa is about 300 monks, due to population capping enforced by the Chinese government. However, during our visit (in 2006) we were told it was once as high as 10,000. As the Dalai Lama resides in exile, so does Drepung. It has exile campuses in South India on land given to the Tibetan community in exile by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The monastery in India today houses over 5,000 celibate monks, with around 3,000 at Drepung Loseling and some 2,000 at Drepung Gomang. Hundreds of new monks are admitted each year, many of them refugees from Tibet.

Drepung monastery was shut by Chinese authorities on 14 March 2008, after monk-led protests against Chinese rule turned violent and businesses, shops and vehicles were looted and torched. The People’s Republic of China claims that 22 people were killed in the riots but Tibetan sources put the figure much higher. The monastery reopened 2013 after being shut for five years.

photo location Drepung Monastery, Tibet
Copyright Kate McKenna. All Rights Reserved