~ by HE Tai Situpa Rinpoche
Source: Arya Tara - Tibetan Buddhism UK
Today I was requested to talk about the meaning of prayer flags, known as the "wind horse" or Lung Ta. So I will explain it briefly here. Although it isn't necessary to know the meaning of prayer flags when you offer them, you will gain more benefit through developing faith and trust in them. For that you need to know what Lung Ta are, what they do, and what they represent.
In general there are two different kinds of prayer flag called, in Tibetan, Lung Ta & Jur Dar. Both are printed on cloth and are sewn on to a string, or are placed on a pole and put in a high place like a flag.
There is a third way that was practiced by people who couldn't afford the cloth to print the prayer flag. They would print them onto paper and then throw them into the air from very high places. But in Tibet the high places were untouched land so the paper prayer flags would stay in the snow and naturally disintegrate there. There was no danger of the paper prayer-flags being stepped on, driven over, etc. because if they were then there would be negative karma for both the donor and the passer-by.
Both Lung Ta & Jur Dar are prayers. The prayer-flags are blown by the wind. The air carries the blessing of the prayer printed on the cloth, so the wind becomes blessed. Wherever the wind goes, the beings who breathe it, live in it, receive the blessings of the prayers. That's the general purpose of the prayer-flag and in that way you can say that the prayer is carried by the horse of the wind.
Lung Ta and Jur Dar, though different, are based on one principle. In people's life there are four things that make one successful; 1) long life, 2) merit, 3) power, and 4) luck. Prayer-flags increase and maintain the four. We loose them because of the negative things that we do or through being involved in a negative environment.
The Difference between Lung Ta & Jur Dar
Lung Ta are mainly offered to increase peoples spirit, success and luck. Improving the spirit, improving the success, improving the luck. When somebody attempts something and it does not work or fails many times, then we say that person's lung ta is down. With another person everything works without obstacles, very successful and easy, then we say that person's lung ta is up.
Lung Ta normally have a horse in the middle, and in the 4 corners are the four majestic mystical animals; the snow-lion, garuda, dragon & tiger. Which represent the four human and four heavenly qualities of a majestic human being.
Jur Dar are made to increase merit. Often they are offered on behalf of beings who have died or who are sick. So the form that Jur Dar flags take are texts such as the Liberation Sutra, mantras like ~ Om Mani Peme Hung ~ for increasing merit, or long-life prayers for increasing lifespan. We offer them annually to increase our personal stock of merit.
Jur Dar have prayers or mantras printed on them. No images of animals or birds, only Tibetan text. It is absolutely prayer and it is not for success, nor for any of these worldly aspects of qualities. Jur Dar is purely sending the prayer through the wind to repeat it constantly. So however much wind blows on the prayer that is like how much the prayer is repeated by the wind. So that is carried, and blessed and fills the environment.
So although they may superficially look the same - they are different and their motivations are slightly different.