January 28, 2008

Prayer Wheels

Source: Wikipedia

A prayer wheel is a 'wheel' (Dzongkha: 'khor) on a spindle made from metal, wood, leather, or even coarse cotton. On the wheel are depicted or encapsulated prayers, mantras and symbols such as the Ashtamangala. According to the Bhutanese Buddhist tradition, spinning such a wheel will have much the same effect as orally reciting the prayers.

Nomenclature and etymology

Prayer wheel or Mani wheel (Tibetan: mani chos-'khor). 'Mani' (Tibetan; a contraction of Sanskrit: cintamani), 'chos' (Tibetan; Sanskrit: Dharma) and 'khor' (Tibetan: khorlo; Sanskrit: chakra).


The earliest recorded mentioning of prayer wheels is noted to be written by a Chinese pilgrim around 400 A.D. in Ladka.[citation needed] The concept of the prayer wheel is a physical manifestation of the phrase "turning the wheel of Dharma," which describes the way in which the Buddha taught.


The rules surrounding the prayer wheels are very specific (although occasionally vary according to tradition). The practitioner must spin the wheel clockwise. This was determined because this is the direction the mantras are written. Before and after the practitioner turns the wheel, he or she must repeat the mantra, or no merit will be incurred by the wheels use. However, some traditions state that repeating a mantra simply (or greatly) enhances the effects of the prayer wheel, and just turning it has benefits and merits alone. Each revolution is considered as meritous as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll. The wheel must not be spun frantically, but held straight (if a hand-held wheel) and turned smoothly with the motivation and spirit of compassion and bodhichitta (the noble mind that aspires to full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings). Which, it's been stated, are some of the benefits attributed to the practice of turning the wheel. It helps compassion and bodhichitta arise in the practitioner. The practitioner should also repeat the mantra as many times as possible during the turning of the wheel, and keep a calm meditative mind. Also, there's a tradition of asking the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to dedicate your accumulated merits to all sentient beings after a session of meditation (with or without the wheel).

Thubten Zopa Rinpoche has commented that installing a prayer wheel has the capacity to completely transform a place "...peaceful, pleasant, and conducive to the mind." Simply touching a prayer wheel is said to bring great purification to negative karmas and obscurations.

Om Mani Padme Hum

The most commonly used mantra in prayer wheels is Om Mani Padme Hum. This mantra is prayer that invites the compassion of Chenrezig the embodiment of compassion.


Mani Wheel

The Mani wheel, or the hand prayer wheel, is a cylindrical body mounted on a wooden or metal handle. The cylinder itself is weighted down with a cord or chain allowing it to be spun by a slight rotation of the wrist along with the mantra it contains.

Water Wheels

This type of prayer wheel is simply a prayer wheel that is turned by flowing water. The water that is touched by the wheel is said to become blessed, and carries it purifying power into all life forms in the oceans and lakes that it feeds into.

Fire Wheel

This wheel is turned by the heat of a candle or electric light. The light emitted from the prayer wheel then purifies the negative karmas of the living beings it touches.

Wind Wheel

This type of wheel is turned by wind. The wind that touches the prayer wheel alleviates the negative karmas of those it touches.

Stationary Prayer Wheels

Many monasteries around Tibet have large fixed metal wheels set side by side in a row. Passersby can turn the entire row of wheels simply by sliding their hands over each one.

Electric Dharma Wheels

There are currently prayer wheels powered by electric motors. "Thardo Khorlo," as these electric wheels are sometimes known, contain one thousand copies of the mantra of Chenrezig, as well as many other copies of other mantras. The Thardo Khorlo can accompanied by lights and music if one so chooses. The Thardo Khorlo is also said to provide much more benefit than a Mani wheel, because it contains a much more complete representation of the Buddha Dharma.

Digital Prayer Wheels

The Dalai Lama has commented that animated GIF's on websites work just as well as other prayer wheels.[citation needed] As the GIF image turns, waves of compassion in all directions in the surrounding area.

Some have suggested that the the spinning of a hard drive (several thousand rotations per minute) can act in similar function to a prayer wheel by saving an image of Om mani padme hum or other mantra on their local machine.

January 22, 2008

Buddhism: Prostrations

January 21, 2008

History of Buddhism in Bhutan

Source: Country Studies

Mahayana Buddhism was the state religion, and Buddhists comprised about 70 percent of the population in the early 1990s. Although originating from Tibetan Buddhism, Bhutanese Buddhism differs significantly in its rituals, liturgy, and monastic organization. The state religion has long been supported financially by the government through annual subsidies to monasteries, shrines, monks, and nuns. In the modern era, support of the state religion during the reign of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck included the manufacture of 10,000 gilded bronze images of the Buddha, publication of elegant calligraphied editions of the 108- volume Kanjur (Collection of the Words of the Buddha) and the 225-volume Tenjur (Collection of Commentaries), and the construction of numerous chorten (stupas) throughout the country. Guaranteed representation in the National Assembly and the Royal Advisory Council, Buddhists constituted the majority of society and were assured an influential voice in public policy.

In 1989 some 1,000 monks (lam, or gelong, novices) belonged to the Central Monastic Body in Thimphu and Punakha, and some 4,000 monks belonged to district monastic bodies. The hierarchy was headed by the Je Khenpo, who was assisted by four lonpon or masters, each in charge of religious tradition, liturgy, lexicography, or logic. The lonpon, one of whom, the Dorji Lonpon, normally succeeded the current Je Khenpo, had under them religious administrators and junior monastic officials in charge of art, music, and other areas. Gelugpa monks were celibate, but Nyingmapa monks were not so restricted and could marry, raise families, and work in secular occupations while performing liturgical functions in temples and homes. In all, there were some 12,000 monks in Bhutan in the late 1980s. There were also active congregations of nuns, but no figures were readily available.

The majority of Bhutan's Buddhists are adherents of the Drukpa subsect of the Kargyupa (literally, oral transmission) school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, which is itself a combination of the Theravada (monastic), Mahayana (messianic), and Tantrayana (apocalyptic) forms of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism holds that salvation can be achieved through the intercession of compassionate bodhisattvas (enlightened ones) who have delayed their own entry into a state of nibbana, or nirvana, enlightenment and selfless bliss, to save others. Emphasis is put on the doctrine of the cosmic Buddha, of whom the historical Buddha--Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 563-ca. 483 B.C.)--was only one of many manifestations. Bodhisattvas are in practice treated more as deities than as enlightened human beings and occupy the center of a richly polytheistic universe of subordinate deities; opposing, converted, and reformed demons; wandering ghosts; and saintly humans that reflects the shamanistic folk religion of the regions into which Buddhism expanded. Tantrism contributed esoteric techniques of meditation and a repertoire of sacred icons, phrases, gestures, and rituals that easily lent themselves to practical (rather than transcendental) and magical interpretation.

The Kargyupa school was introduced into Tibet from India and into Bhutan from Tibet in the eleventh century. The central teaching of the Kargyupa school is meditation on mahamudra (Sanskrit for great seal), a concept tying the realization of emptiness to freedom from reincarnation. Also central to the Kargyupa school are the dharma (laws of nature, all that exists, real or imaginary), which consist of six Tantric meditative practices teaching bodily self-control so as to achieve nirvana. One of the key aspects of the Kargyupa school is the direct transmission of the tenets of the faith from teacher to disciple. The Drukpa subsect, which grew out of one of the four Kargyupa sects, was the preeminent religious belief in Bhutan by the end of the twelfth century.

Monasteries and convents were common throughout Bhutan in the late twentieth century. Both monks and nuns kept their heads shaved and wore distinguishing maroon robes. Their days were spent in study and meditation but also in the performance of rituals honoring various bodhisattvas, praying for the dead, and seeking divine intercession on behalf of the ill. Some of their prayers involved chants and singing accompanied by conch shell trumpets, thighbone trumpets (made from human thighbones), metal horns up to three meters long, large standing drums and cymbals, hand bells, temple bells, gongs, and wooden sticks. Such monastic music and singing, not normally heard by the general public, has been reported to have "great virility" and to be more melodious than its Tibetan monotone counterparts.

To bring Buddhism to the people, numerous symbols and structures are employed. Religious monuments, prayer walls, prayer flags, and sacred mantras carved in stone hillsides were prevalent in the early 1990s. Among the religious monuments are chorten, the Bhutanese version of the Indian stupa. They range from simple rectangular "house" chorten to complex edifices with ornate steps, doors, domes, and spires. Some are decorated with the Buddha's eyes that see in all directions simultaneously. These earth, brick, or stone structures commemorate deceased kings, Buddhist saints, venerable monks, and other notables, and sometimes they serve as reliquaries. Prayer walls are made of laid or piled stone and inscribed with Tantric prayers. Prayers printed with woodblocks on cloth are made into tall, narrow, colorful prayer flags, which are then mounted on long poles and placed both at holy sites and at dangerous locations to ward off demons and to benefit the spirits of the dead. To help propagate the faith, itinerant monks travel from village to village carrying portable shrines with many small doors, which open to reveal statues and images of the Buddha, bodhisattavas, and notable lamas.