Buddhist Prayer Wheels or “Mani wheels” are hollow cylindrical wheels used in prayers and religious ceremonies. These wheels are made up of wood, metal, or stone and mounted on a rod handle made up of precious metal or wood. They are an integral part of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The Buddhist prayer wheel is also used in meditation. Buddhist texts also say that these wheels provide good karma, wisdom, and keep all the negative energy aside. Inside the hollow cylinder, you will find a tightly scrolled paper or other material that contains a Buddhist mantra in either printed or handwritten form.
Moreover, you can remove the outer part and insert the sacred text into the cylinder. The “Life Tree” in the middle of the wheel gets made up of precious metal or wood. There are thousands, and even millions of mantras (depending upon the size) wrapped around the life tree.
Furthermore, Yak grease allows the wheels to spin freely without making any noise. The size of the Tibetan prayer wheels can range from small sticks to the size of big oil drums. The trail of koras also gets lined with Buddhist prayer wheels. Pilgrims spin the wheels along their journey in the kora circuit. Read further to know what is a prayer wheel, its origin, meaning and other related information.
Where did Prayer Wheels Originate From?
The wind prayer wheels were first used in Tibet in the fourth century. The concept of the wheel was “turning the wheel of dharma,” as taught in ancient Buddhist texts. Buddhist Prayer wheels are also mentioned in the “The School of Shakyamuni sutra”.
Moreover, it’s origin even leads back to the Indian guru, Arya Nagarjuna. Indian Buddhist masters Tilopa and Naropa and Tibetan masters Marpa and Milarepa also practiced the use of prayer wheels in their teachings.
Spinning prayer wheels have the same effect as reciting the sacred texts aloud, according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. You will find “Om Mani Padme Hum” inscribed in Tibetan and Sanskrit along with other Buddhist symbols like Dakinis, Protectors in these wheels. The eight auspicious symbols “Ashtamangala” are also found in these wheels used in prayers.
Types of Buddhist Prayer Wheels
There are various sizes and styles of Buddhist prayer wheels. You can find these wheels that are hand-held to those that can stand on a tabletop. Besides that, there are also enormous wheels that are eight to twelve feet tall and five to six feet in diameter. Various types of Buddhist prayer wheels based on their design and purpose are as follows:
Mani wheels are the most common form of hand Tibetan prayer wheels. It has a cylindrical metal body mounted on a metal or wooden handle that can turn on a circular motion. The cylinder has a cord or chain which allows it to get spun easily with just a slight rotation.
Fire wheel is the prayer wheel that gets spun by the candle’s heat or electric light. The wheel then emits the light that purifies the living beings that touch the wheel by the cleansing of the negative karma.
The water wheels are those Tibetan prayer wheels that get automatically turned by flowing water. The water that touches the wheel is generally considered a blessed water. It can purify all the living forms in the rivers, lakes and eventually the oceans.
Monasteries across Nepal, Tibet, and other parts of the world have attached metal wheels. They are either placed side by side in a row or separately if it’s a large one. Pilgrims can slide their hands over the row of wheels.
Wind wheel is a Tibetan prayer wheel that gets spun by the force of the wind. The wind cleanses the negative karma of the living beings that touch the wheel.
Electric dharma wheels
Electric dharma wheels are those wheels that get powered by electric motors. Electricity is also a source of energy. These prayer wheels get spun continuously without stopping.
You can find these Tibetan prayer wheels around Buddhist stupas and monasteries. There are hundreds of these wheels that pilgrims spin in a clockwise direction reciting “Om Mani Padme Hum”. Swayambhunath and Boudhanath are the two most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites where you can find hundreds of these wheels.
Meaning of the Mantra in the Buddhist Prayer Wheel
Most prayer wheels have the six-syllable mantra of “Om Mani Padme Hum.” The meaning of the six syllabi in the Buddhist prayer wheel is as follows:
Om is a Sanskrit sound originally with a Hindu foundation, but equally sacred and significant in Buddhism and Jainism as well. Om represents generosity and, when chanted, purifies one’s pride/ego in the human body. It gets represented by the color white with the symbol of Deity-wisdom.
Ma represents jealousy, ethics, and lust for entertainment in the human body. Denoted by the color green, it has a symbol of Deity-compassion.
Ni represents patience and purifies passion/desire in the human body. Represented by the color Yellow, it has the symbol of Deity-body, speech, mind, and activity.
Pad represents diligence and purifies ignorance/prejudice in the human body. It gets denoted by the color blue and has the symbol of Deity-Equanimity.
Me represents renunciation and purifies poverty/possessiveness in the human body. It gets displayed by the color red and has the symbol of Deity-Bliss.
Hum represents wisdom and purifies aggression/hatred in the human body. Represented by the color black, it has the symbol of Deity-Quality of Compassion.
Moreover, the prayer wheels are an extremely powerful tool for praying. Reciting the six syllables mantra along with spinning the dharma wheel is equivalent to the fortune of Thousand Buddhas, according to Buddhist scriptures. One can accumulate merit and purify the obstacles of life by turning on these wheels.
How to Use the Prayer Wheel?
There are no exact guidelines on when and how to use the prayer wheels. You can rotate the wheel almost anytime during the day while meditating or reciting mantras in spiritual practices. These wheels are also spun while circumambulating a stupa. However, you should ensure that you always turn the wheel clockwise.
Moreover, you can rotate the prayer wheel while doing the day to day activities. You can spin the wheel while reading books, listening to music, watching TV, and others. It does not require high physical strength to rotate the wheel. However, one should turn the prayer while a Lama Guru is teaching or delivering a speech.
What are the Benefits of Prayer Wheels?
The most common prayer wheels are the small ones attached to a stick and spun around by hand. There are also medium-sized wheels at stupas and monasteries. Some large wheels also get spun by water. According to ancient Buddhist traditions, rotating the wheel brings merit and purification to the soul.
Moreover, the more a person turns the wheel, the more merit that person earns. This leads to higher chances of reincarnation and attaining “moksha” or nirvana. Rotating the Buddhist prayer wheels is often equivalent to the power of one hundred monks praying. The prayer also embodies the actions of Bodhisattvas of the ten directions.
Furthermore, the works of Buddha and Bodhisattvas purify negative karmas and obscurations. It also helps us lead the path to self-actualization and ultimate enlightenment. Buddhist prayer wheels are also believed to grant wishes of the worshipper.
Similarly, If the wheel gets spun with remorse and guilt you will get relieved of the four bad deeds and five actions of immediate retribution. You will also get relieved of the eight of the wrong views and the ten non-virtues. If you turn the prayer wheel once in your life, you will never be born again with anomalies and disorders like deafness, blindness, muteness, or cripple.
The Final Say
Prayer wheels are an integral part of any Buddhist’s tradition. They are an excellent and simple way of mantra repetition and meditation. Buddhist people carry these wheels even on long pilgrimages.
Moreover, they are also present in the premises of stupas and monasteries where devotees rotate the wheels before entering. Overall, the prayer wheels are a great cultural and religious symbol with incredible significance.
Featured Image: Source