One of the fascinating features of Buddhism are the ritual items. Buddhist ritual items have been in practice for many centuries. Monks and laymen use them almost every day in their religious practices.
These ritual items represent various aspects of Buddhism and its belief system. There are different roles of each item and this factor distinguishes Tibetan Buddhism from other forms of Buddhism.
Moreover, most objects used in Buddhist rituals are ornate and well crafted. The shapes, texture, and colors of these items are unique from each other. Stones and metals including gold feature heavily in these objects.
Read further to know more about the list of top 20 Buddhist ritual items. You can also learn about their features, importance, and other relevant information.
Top 20 Holy Ritual Items of Tibetan Buddhism
A prayer wheel is a hollow cylindrical wheel made from metal, stone, or wood. It is beautifully mounted on a rod handle made of wood or precious metal. The prayer wheels are an integral part of Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Prayer wheels or Mani wheels are Tibetan Buddhist ritual items that are commonly used in meditation.
Revolving these wheels are equivalent to accumulating wisdom, good karma, and keeping away negative energy. You can find a scrolled paper with the handwritten or printed mantra in the inner portion of the hollow cylinder. Spinning prayer wheels has the same effect as reciting the prayers orally, according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Moreover, there are Om Mani Padme Hum inscriptions in Sanskrit (or Tibetan) script and other Buddhist symbols, on the outside of the wheel. Dakinis, Protectors, and the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala are also present in prayer wheels. At the core of the cylinder is a “Life Tree” made of wood or metal and mantras wrapped around it.
Furthermore, mantras are in thousands or millions in the case of larger prayer wheels, wrapped around this life tree. Each turn of a prayer wheel represents a recitation of the prayer and transports it to heaven. You can find these prayer wheels in pilgrimage paths (koras) where pilgrims spin the wheels to earn merit and help them focus on the journey.
Prayer Beads Mala
Prayer beads are prominent Tibetan Buddhist ritual items. They are also used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism, with a lesser number of beads that is a divisor of 108. 27-bead mala are common in pure land Buddhism. These shorter mala are also known as “prostration rosaries” because they get held when enumerating repeated prostrations.
In Tibetan Buddhism mala generally has 108 beads. One mala counts as 100 mantras, and the eight extra mantras are then dedicated to all sentient beings of the world. Larger mala use 111 beads, where one mala gets counted as 100 mantras and the 11 additional beads get taken to compensate for errors.
Moreover, Prayer beads are generally made from various types of materials including rudraksha seeds, wood of the tulsi plant, seeds from the Bodhi Tree, animal bone, or the lotus plant. Semi-precious stones like amethyst and carnelian are also used in making these prayer beads.
Tibetan prayer flag is an ancient tradition in Buddhism dating back thousands of years to the shamanistic Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet. Bonpo priests used solid colored cloth flags with their magical symbols to balance the elements.
The 5 basic elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space get represented by 5 colors of yellow, green, red, white, and blue respectively. Buddhists added their texts, ancient symbols, prayers, and mantras in these flags. These helped in generating compassion, wish fulfillment, health, and overcoming natural disasters, diseases, and other obstacles.
Moreover, health and harmony through the balance of the 5 elements is one of the advantages of prayer flags. Colored flags if arranged around a sick patient can harmonize the elements in his body and create a balanced state of physical and mental health. Colored flags were also extensively used to appease the local gods and spirits of the mountains, lakes, valleys, and streams.
Furthermore, these elemental beings could cause natural disasters and diseases if provoked. Hence, balancing the outer elements and appeasing elemental spirits were a way of pacifying nature and invoking the blessings in ancient traditions. Prayer flags generate natural positive energy and bring harmony to everything touched by the wind.
Cymbals or Tingsha
Tibetan tingsha are small cymbals used by Tibetan Buddhist practitioners in prayer and rituals. A leather strap or chain joins two cymbals. These cymbals are then struck together to produce a clear and high pitched tone. They range around 2.5–4 inches in diameter.
Tingsha produces a unique long ringing tone as they are quite thick. Antique tingsha made from bronze alloys produce harmonic overtones. High-quality antique Tingshas have matching cymbals and produce identical or nearly identical tones. Most modern tingsha are not well matched and have a distinctly different tone.
Moreover, antique tingsha are quite expensive and rare to find. Single cymbals get sold with a piece of wood or bone, so the cymbal is functional on its own. Tingsha are different from other cymbals of Indian, Chinese, Nepali, and Turkish origin. Tingsha are today used in prayers, meditation, music, and sound healing therapies. Traditionally, they were only used in Tibetan rituals, as offerings to “hungry ghosts.”
A Ghau is a Tibetan Buddhist Ritual Item that is commonly used as an amulet container or prayer box. Tibetan Ghau pendant is also worn as jewelry along with semi-precious stones. It is also a small container used to keep and carry powerful amuletic objects. Gau box has enough space to hold symbolic Buddhist objects.
They are mostly made of silver but copper, gold, brass, and other metals also go into making. It has incredible designs, mantras, and auspicious symbols on their outer surface. The Ghau box also has a written prayer or Kalachakra (a sacred yantra diagram) in some countries like Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
Moreover, the hand-inscribed prayers and yantras bless us. Tibetan Ghau ornaments also attract blessings and ward off negative energy. Ghau pendants should get worn around the neck and hung close to the heart. They provide protection and attract love and money.
Conchs are tropical sea snails that produce a large spiral shell. They extract calcium salts from seawater and secrete them in the form of a shell in the natural Fibonacci sequence. Conch produces solid material around the mouth of the shell. The conch shells represent the beautiful pervasive sound of the dharma.
This deep, melodious sound produced from conch shells awakens disciples from ignorance and urges them to work for their own and other’s welfare. The conch symbolizes Buddha’s teachings and his truth of the dharma, and his call to work for the benefit of others.
Moreover, it is one of eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism and is usually depicted vertically, with a silk ribbon. The conch is also used to call religious assemblies in Tibetan Buddhism. These Tibetan Buddhist ritual items are both a musical instrument and a container for holy water.
Prayer bells are an ornate handle forming into a curved bell. The top of the handle is similar to a crown. Complex patterns represent the complexity of religion. There are simple and repetitive patterns in the Bell curve.
The bells are generally rung in various rituals and practices to evoke protection from deities. The bell sounds to symbolize the voice of the Buddha or heavenly law of ‘Dharma’. They also represent a call to serenity and calling time for prayers.
Moreover, Tibetan monks use prayer bells to bring order to a group of people for worship. These prayer bells have a significant place in Buddhist rituals and traditions in various cultures.
Brocade Banner (8 Tibetan Symbol)
The Brocade Banner (8 Tibetan Symbol) are beautiful banners with traditional Buddhist iconography. These incredible artworks enhance your home or personal space. These are wall banners that display the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism. These lucky symbols of Tibetan Buddhism have a great special spiritual significance.
Featured on a golden yellow background, these symbols get embellished with colorful tassels. Parasol, Conch Shell, Golden Fish, Urn, Infinite Knot, Lotus, Flag, and the Wheel are 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism. These 8 auspicious symbols also adorn sacred Buddhist objects including carved wooden furniture, wall panels, metalwork, and carpets.
Moreover, they are also often drawn on color powders to welcome special guests. These brocade banners found in Buddhist homes generate positivity and ward off negative energy. They also appease the surroundings and offer protection to the worshipers.
Vajras are Buddhist ritual items that denote both “diamond” or “thunderbolt.” Diamond has the property of indestructibility and thunderbolt means irresistible force. The Sanskrit word vajra signifies the power of enlightenment and the absolute reality of “emptiness.”
It is a type of club with a ribbed spherical head. Vajra is one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, according to mythology. Vajra has special significance in Tibetan Buddhism, and also adopted as a label for Vajrayana Buddhism. The vajra club and the bell (ghanta) are visual icons of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Moreover, the word vajra also leads to various legends and practices in Buddhism. Buddha attained enlightenment in the Vajrasana posture or the lotus position. Vajra Samadhi is the highest concentrated mental state.
Tibetan Door Curtain
Tibetan Door Curtains are beautiful patchworks of Tibetan Auspicious Symbol “Endless Knot”. You can find these Tibetan Door Curtains in houses and temples in Tibet and Nepal. The design is a symbol of good fortune and well being. It will provide a positive element to home, office, and surroundings.
Tibetan Door Curtains have sacred symbols and are a beautiful way of having these auspicious symbols in their everyday life. You can hang them on the wall or over the space of a door frame. It is ideal for keeping the door covered while allowing the breeze to enter the house. The eternal sacredness of the symbols on these Tibetan door curtains will spiritually enchant you.
Tibetan incense is an integral Buddhist ritual item. They are generally used for meditation, relaxation, and cleansing of surroundings. The aroma calms and soothes minds or devotees. Hence, these are extensively used in Buddhist temples and monasteries while worshiping Buddha.
Natural ingredients like pure herbs, flowers, spices get used in making these Tibetan incense. 28 different ingredients including the main ingredient, wood is the specialty of Tibetan incense. There is no bamboo stick to hold together like in other incense.
Moreover, small pieces of wood get grounded into a fine powder. Other ingredients are then added into the mixture and then put into a container. After they get dried, Tibetan incense gets made in different shapes and sizes.
Aromatic pillows contain Himalayan herbs that restore balance based upon ancient healing recipes. Aromatherapy using aromatic herbs have been widely used in Tibet, Nepal, and South Asia for centuries. Nepal has a great resource of herbal plants and products that get handpicked by locals to bring from hillsides to Kathmandu.
Moreover, the herbs get dried slowly in the Himalayan sun. Then gently grounded and blended based on ancient Tibetan therapies and Ayurvedic medicine. The herbs are then enclosed in liners and pure dupion silk or Tibetan brocade pillow covers. These herbs then pass on their aromatic qualities to the user and their emotional well being.
Tibetan Drum (Damaru)
The Damaru is a sacred two-sided drum that remains an essential part of Tibetan Buddhist ritual practice. Acacia (Sengdeng) or Sandalwood along with goat skins are generally used in making Damarus.
Chopin is a long tail or banner associated with Damaru. Human skull Damarus were quite prevalent in Tibet and the Himalayan regions but are now rare. Ornate drums with silver or gold and mounted with gemstones are also found in the marketplace. The sound of the Damaru represents emptiness or shunyata.
According to mythology, one side of the drum represents Lingam, and the other represents the Yoni. The lingam and yoni meeting at the mid-point of the Damaru denotes the creation of the world. Traditionally handcrafted Damarus are generally used in Buddhist practices and rituals.
Tibetan Prayer Scarf or Khata
A Khata or greeting scarf is traditional Tibetan Buddhist Ritual items indicating your respect, and wishes of happiness. When given in farewell, it represents a safe journey and when given to guests it symbolizes welcome.
The Khata symbolizes purity and compassion. White is the main color of Khata and represents the pure heart of the offerer. Besides that, yellow-gold, red, and blue Khata are also available.
Moreover, they are generally placed around the necks of people, and statues and also hung on the top of Thangka paintings. It is also a custom to bring Khata when visiting a shrine, temple, or guru. This is a way of showing gratitude for their kindness and teachings.
Protection amulets protect against negative influences and bring good luck and prosperity. These protection amulets are also called Sungkhor and drive away obstacles, obscurations, and other negative forces. One has to wear it correctly, and never put it on the floor for maximum protection.
Each amulet contains a saffron water-dipped mantra that gets dried, folded, and wrapped with silk thread. The particular mandala and mantras are generally written in Tibetan. A Buddhist Lama blesses the protection amulet. These protection amulets can get worn as a pendant, hung in the walls of your home, or put up in a shrine. You can find these protection amulets in various Buddhist shrines and monasteries in the region.
Singing Bowl (Mallet & Cushion)
Singing bowls or Tibetan singing bowls are metal bowls used in meditation and sound healing therapies. It has roots during Buddhist civilization and the idea of sound vibration in this cosmic universe. Singing bowls are generally used for meditation purposes as it produces prolonged soothing vibration.
When rubbed with a wooden or metal mallet, the harmonics and overtones get produced around the edges of the bowl. This brings resonance in the brain wave which is ideal for meditation. You can hold a singing bowl on your left hand and hold a mallet in your right hand.
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Then, by tapping the bowl you can produce the vibration. You can then move the mallet in the clockwise direction by applying equal pressure to make singing bowls sing in a perfect symphony. A singing bowl cushion is essential to keep bowls stable and to produce incredible sound.
Incense burners are quite common Buddhist ritual items in Buddhist cultures. The burning of incense serves as an offering to the Buddha to clear the air of evil spirits. These incense sticks are generally placed upright in a large, open container called incense burners.
Buddhist incense burners are of different forms and made from different materials. Most incense burners are deep bowl type with a handle on each side. Bronze, copper are some materials used in making incense burners. Ceramic made ancient censers get used in burial rituals in parts of China.
Moreover, closed censers with smoke holes are also common in East Asia. Form of birds, animals, and mythical creatures, with smoke coming from the creatures’ mouths is also found in some incense burners. Incense burners with rectangular blocks and several holes at the top are also frequently found.
Buddha statues are the representations of Lord Buddha and other various deities in Buddhist mythology. Different Buddhist traditions and cultures have different types of statues. For eg: countries like Japan, Burma, Nepal, Korea, India have their style of Buddha statues.
Various Buddha statues have their forms and meanings. Buddhist Pilgrimage sites, shrines, and monasteries are full of incredible Buddha statues. The tradition of making Buddha statues dates back to centuries and continues till today. Buddhist statues are artistic and influenced by Buddhist texts. It depicts Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other notable Buddhist figures.
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Moreover, there are other historical and mythical characters with physical objects such as vajras, bells in these Buddhist statues. Buddhist art originated on the Indian subcontinent in the 6th to 5th century BCE, following the historical life of Siddhartha Gautama. These art forms evolved and spread throughout Asia and the world.
Meditation cushions can improve your posture and comfort level. The full or half-lotus posture is crucial while sitting in meditation. The traditional Zafu and Zabuton Meditation Cushions work well in the lotus posture.
The Zafu Meditation Cushion is a round pleated cushion that raises the hips and upper body and you can comfortably rest your legs. You should sit on the edge of the zafu cushion so that your thighs slightly slope down. Your hips roll forward creating the natural curve in the spinal column. Assuming a comfortable upright posture is easy to maintain through meditation cushions.
Moreover, the zafu meditation cushions are ideal for people with average height and flexibility. Taller individuals and people with limited flexibility benefit from a higher lift. Hence, these meditation cushions are quite essential during a Buddhist ritual. These are also popular among yoga practitioners and meditation centers.
Tibetan bracelets are Buddhist ritual items that protect from negative energy. The knots get tied together during the repetition of the mantras hence charging them with positive energy and protective charm. The Tibetan knot bracelet charges the wearer with positive energy and protects them from all the negativity.
They get tied using the endless knot, which is one of the eight auspicious Buddhism symbols. It represents Samsara, which is the eternal cycle of birth, life, and death. It also symbolizes the power of the mind or perpetual suffering. The teachings of Buddha get embedded in every knot.
Moreover, these Tibetan bracelets bring good luck to the wearer. They can attract more luck and prosperity if worn on the left wrist, according to Tibetan Buddhist traditions. They also stabilize and harmonize the chakras of the human body.
The Final Say
Buddhist ritual items have been extensively used by monks and ordinary people for centuries. They are commonly used every day in religious practices and other religious occasions. Furthermore, these ritual items are an important part of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. I hope this guide on the top 20 Buddhist ritual items will help you in learning about these ancient objects and traditions.
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