The Meaning of Prayer Wheels
For context, read Lama Zopa Rinpoche's About Prayer Wheels:
Prayer wheels are something that I have grown attraction for during the past couple of years. By seeing many yogi-lamas, such as Sherab Zangmo and Garchen Rinpoche, whose teachings I have often followed, spin a prayer wheel, made me consider that there must something important to it. I have intuitively felt that the practice of prayer wheel, turning it with the heartmind of enlightenment (skt. bodhicitta) towards all sentient beings while chanting mantras, would be highly beneficial and effective. I am sure that in the minds of many, prayer wheels are seen as something belonging to Tibetan culture and Tibetan form of vajrayana buddhism. However,
”Texts suggest that the prayer wheel lineage remained with the nagas for millions of years until the time of Nagarjuna, a famous Indian Buddhist scholar, philosopher, and yogi. Nagarjuna is associated with the rise of Mahayana Buddhism during the first century B.C.E. and is known as the founder of the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy...”*
*The Wheel of Great Compassion, Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Discussing nagas and time spans of ”millions of years” might be too much for many but I'd like to point out that Nagarjuna is the first master associated with prayer wheels, and he was Indian, not Tibetan. Actually, very few teachings, methods and practices originated in Tibet. In the case of prayer wheels, it appears to have originated from India in our human realm and later extensively exercised within the closed borders of Tibet until Cultural Revolution. Anyway, the idea of prayer wheel is more ancient than the nation of Tibet and it is in such practices that go beyond the recent history and particular cultures, where the timeless principles behind practices are found.
|Sherab Zangmo, legendary Tibetan yogini, spinning prayer wheel.|
Prayer wheels are tantric devices, embodiments of tantric technology, since they are filled with mantras, that are then consecrated or empowered by a tantric professional, that is, a lineage holder of a tantric lineage. Just like land areas, buildings, vehicles and all kinds of objects can be consecrated by vajrayana lamas, prayer wheels also are charged. Like in all vajrayana practice, it is consecration that makes the prayer wheel an exceptionally potent device through which one's personal mantra practice is multiplied in its power and effect. In other words, a consecrated prayer wheel is an amplifier of one's practice efforts that consequentially reaps greater benefits. This, of course, is something that any practitioner who understands the depth and difficulty of samsara, is interested about.
I began to look for my own prayer wheel 2-3 years ago but never wanted to acquire ones that were heavy, noisy or of poor quality. It is not easy to find a high quality prayer wheel but then I was fortunate to stumble upon Tibet Tech, which is an American company lead by long time Tibetan vajrayana practitioners of the Sakya lineage. They had innovated the traditional prayer wheel by using a lathe for the steel parts and replacing mantras printed on paper or microfilm with DVD-discs filled with mantras. DVD's allowed them to include many times more mantras inside the wheel than what printing allows. Usually prayer wheels contain 100 000 to a million mantras. Tibet Tech's hand held prayer wheel contains 8 DVD's with 8 different mantras, that add up to over 84 billion.
I acquired the basic hand held model from Tibet Tech and then asked one of my students to make me 8 DVD's with the mantras we use in Open Heart, so that I could use prayers that I practice, instead of using those of the Sakya lineage, consecrated by a Sakya lama.
My prayer wheel contains altogether 52.4 billion mantras:
- Basic Prayers (both versions of Refuge, Bodhicitta and Dedication of Merit),
- Namo Guru Rinpoche,
- Namo Yeshe Tsogyal Ye,
- A BA HU Mani Mantras,
- A BA HU Tara Mantras,
- Song of the Vajra Prayers (in both English and Dakini language), and
- A BA HU Vajra Guru Mantras.
Once I finished the decoration of my prayer wheel with Mark Rothko's (one of my favourite painters) art, it was consecrated by Guru Rinpoche. This made it finished and ready for action.
|Kim's Prayer Wheel.|
Since about a month that I have had it and practiced it almost daily, I have been amazed by the power it has, and at this stage of my yogic career, I am not easily amazed. I have also asked few of my senior students to try it and all of them felt the same thing. It is truly a remarkable device of liberation.
Open Heart, our way of dharma practice, has been founded to provide Western lay people with a vajrayana path that is devoid of foreign cultural traits and language. Because we are discussing a vajrayana method, which is abound with concepts strange to the modern secular mind, it is not an easy task. Now, on top of gurus, deities, mantras and whatnot things that seem odd and excessively mystical to any, I am delighted to add prayer wheels on this list of strange things, solely because they are of immense spiritual value.
May all beings be free,
Kim Katami, 23.5.2019
Open Heart Sangha,