About Prayer Wheels
by Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Foreword from The Great Wheel of Compassion
by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
I'm very happy that Lome Ladner has brought together here the incredible benefits of the practice of the prayer wheel from the various texts the benefits of making the prayer wheel and of practicing turning the prayer wheel. Even Tibetan texts on this subject are not easy to find. I myself had to wait to find a text on this practice.
I heard about the benefits of this practice from Geshe Lama Konchog, who spent his life in Milarepa's caves and in hermitages doing many years of retreat, practicing guru devotion and the Three Principles of the Path, and doing two thousand Nyung-nays (retreats on the Compassion Buddha involving fasting and prostrations). He inspired me about the prayer wheel, explaining that the practice of the prayer wheel has unbelievable benefits. So, I waited for many years to find texts and asked a few lamas about this. Finally, Geshe Lama Konchog told me that another lama named Kechok Rinpoche had one short text that summarized the benefits. As Kechok Rinpoche was living in Australia, I kept it in my mind very strongly that as soon as I got to Australia I would immediately call him and get the text. So, I did that. Normally I am very lazy about reading Dharma texts, but this one I read immediately. The benefits described were a big surprise and caused much faith to arise. So, I put the text on my crown and then prayed to spread this teaching everywhere, in all directions. I made this commitment in the presence of the Compassion Buddha. After that, I built prayer wheels in the East and West, small and big ones, as well as hand-held.
In 1991, my students Lome and Theresa came to Nepal, and I told them some benefits of this practice for purifying the mind and accumulating merit. They then got a small prayer wheel from the market at Boudha Stupa. They became inspired and started to produce many home prayer wheels with microfilm and paper mantras inside. They gave me one, and I offered it to the king of Nepal. The Nepalese king asked me whether he should keep it. I said "Yes, and if you have this prayer wheel next to you at the time of death, then your consciousness will be reborn in a pure land of Buddha." Because he's Hindu, bringing up this subject was a little unusual. I hope he still has it. Lome and Theresa also offered a prayer wheel to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So I want to thank them very much for all those prayer wheels they made and gave to many people. Now they're making available in English a collection on the benefits of this practice.
The prayer wheel is a manifestation of the Compassion Buddha's holy speech. Through this practice, one then achieves the holy mind, holy body, and all the qualities of the Compassion Buddha. Some readers may find some of the quotations about these benefits difficult. For example, in the text by the Fourth Panchen Lama, I translated a section in which Amitabha Buddha says, "Anyone who recites the six syllables while turning the Dharma wheel at the same time is equal in fortune to the Thousand Buddhas," and in which Shakyamuni Buddha says that turning the prayer wheel once is better than having done one, seven, or nine years of retreat. The prayer wheel is such a powerful merit field; by doing this practice, one accumulates extensive merit and purifies obstacles. The intent of these quotations is to give some idea of or expression to the fortune of anyone who who has the opportunity to engage in this practice. Turning the prayer wheel once is more meaningful than doing many years of retreat without the altruistic mind of enlightenment [Skt. bodhichitta] and without clear generation of the deity, lacking stable concentration, and so forth. It does not mean that by turning the prayer wheel once one equals an arya bodhisattva in equipoise meditation. I do think, though, that especially if one turns the prayer wheel with bodhichitta
motivation while doing the mantra recitation, one will collect much more
extensive merit to quickly achieve enlightenment than an arhat who abides for many years in the blissful state of peace for oneself alone.
Here also we can understand the quotation from Padmasambhava, in which he says that "even those lacking perseverance in their practice, who pass the time passively, will be able to attain mystic powers [Sanskrit: siddhis ] . Those with perseverance for reciting the mantra and turning the wheel will undoubtedly attain the tenth ground [Skt. bhumi]; it instantly eliminates all the immeasurable negative karmic obscurations. Whatever mind-bound deity [Tib. yidam] you wish to practice will be achieved simultaneously. Even if one has no thought to benefit oneself, encouraging another to write the mantra and turn the wheel eliminates one's own negativity and completes one's good qualities."
So, one can understand that this practice of turning the prayer wheel is a result of the unbearable compassion of all the buddhas for us sentient beings-whose minds are so obscured and filled with disturbing thoughts, like an ocean covering a whole city, and who are extremely lazy and ignorant-to guide us to enlightenment as quickly as possible. It helps us to complete the accumulation of extensive merit and purify obscurations so as to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.
When reading of the benefits, it may also be helpful to reflect that many human beings do not have the opportunity, the karma, even to see a holy object, such as a statue of Buddha, in their whole life. As just seeing such holy objects purifies the mind and plants seeds in the mind to achieve enlightenment or liberation, this means they don't have this opportunity to purify in such an easy way. In this world, the number of Buddhists is small compared to those practicing other religions. And even being a Buddhist doesn't mean that one is a Mahayanist. So Mahayanists are few in number, and even many Mahayanists don't get the opportunity to meet with and develop faith in this practice of turning a prayer wheel and reciting Om mani padme hum.
So those who get this precious opportunity are very few. This means you need to have a lot of merit, to be a very fortunate person, in order to have the opportunity to engage in this practice and have faith in its benefits. Even to hear the word "bodhichitta," one has to have the merit, so to be able to hear the teachings and practice, one has to have extensive merit. Why? Because this practice is the easiest way to purify all the negative karmas. Even the heaviest ones, the uninterrupted negative karmas, get purified through turning a prayer wheel. Even a fully ordained person who has broken all four root vows will get purified. Negative karmas are completely purified, one collects merit like the sky, and one especially develops compassion. It's the same as reciting the mantra-the particular benefit is that one develops compassion.
So it's very good if, while reciting the mantra Om mani padme hum, you can also turn a prayer wheel. While you are doing your daily commitment or practice, reciting malas [rosaries] of Om mani pad me hum, holding your mala in one hand, you can turn the prayer wheel with your other hand. Even a sick person lying down to sleep can turn the prayer wheel by pulling it with a string, as the Tibetans do in their homes.
Years ago in Dharamsala, I was very surprised to see Geshe Rabten Rinpoche,
a holy scholar and great yogi who was my philosophy teacher, with a prayer wheel the size of a forearm's length wrapped in white cloth which he was turning by pulling a string. I was surprised to see this because it is not common for geshes in Sera, Ganden, or Drepung Monasteries to tum prayer wheels. I think that he was doing this because he was inspired by His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, his root guru, who is also my root guru. His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche had built a prayer wheel in Marogang so that all the people there, old and young, could turn it as they passed along the road. It was built and dedicated for the purification and good rebirth of one of his attendants who'd taken care of him as a child and had passed away. So I guess that this unusual occurrence, Geshe Rabten Rinpoche turning the prayer wheel, happened because he was inspired by this root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche.
Regarding the practice, it is very good while you are turning the prayer wheel every day to recite a set number of malas of the mantra Om mani padme hum. It would be good to recite ten malas-a thousand mantras-for each realm: hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras [jealous gods], gods, as well as for the intermediate beings and even for the arhats and bodhisattvas who are still not fully enlightened. Six thousand mantras for each realm is very good; if this isn't possible, then try to do a thousand for each realm. If that's not possible, at least recite a total of a thousand mantras each day while turning the prayer wheel. At the beginning, you generate the motivation of bodhichitta. When you turn the prayer wheel, recall:
The purpose of my life is not just to offer happiness for myself and to solve all of my own problems; it is to free the numberless other sentient beings. The purpose of my life is to be useful and beneficial for other sentient beings-that is, to free
other sentient beings who are numberless. I will free each of them from all their sufferings and lead them to happiness in this life, happiness in future lives, perfect rebirths, the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara, then the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.
When you think of freeing sentient beings, you must remember all the
sufferings in the minds of the hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, asuras, and gods, all the sufferings that are explained in the teachings. Therefore, you resolve to achieve full enlightenment and actualize bodhichitta, which is the door of the Mahayana path to enlightenment. What makes it possible for you to have bodhichitta is having the root: great compassion.
So, as you begin to recite the mantra and turn the prayer wheel, you resolve that you're doing so to actualize this for every hell being, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human being, every asura, every god, and every intermediate- state being. You dedicate everything, every turn of the prayer wheel and every recitation of the mantra, in this way.
Now, to give a general idea regarding the visualizations, if you recite ten malas, begin by purifying yourself. Visualize light beams being emitted from the prayer wheel. One can think of the six individual colors related to the mantra Om mani padme hum or even just of white light. This light comes from the mantras, and it completely destroys all the negative karmas and obscurations collected from beginningless rebirths. All of these are completely absorbed into the prayer wheel in the form of darkness and destroyed. Repeat this visualization a number of times. Then do this for all other sentient beings as well. One can do this focusing on all other sentient beings simultaneously or one can focus on the individual realms, reciting a certain number of mantras for the hell beings, and then going on to the hungry ghosts, animals, and so forth. Either way, one visualizes all the obscurations, negative karmas, disturbing thoughts, diseases, and spirit harms every suffering-being absorbed into the prayer wheel. Then, after this absorption, light is again emitted from the prayer wheel, which immediately purifies all beings-wherever they are, each being's mental continuum is completely purified right there. All of their bodies become completely illuminated. At the end, each being's body becomes nirmanakaya in the nature of light, and each being's mind, completely purified, becomes dharmakaya; they all become the fully enlightened Compassion Buddha.
While reciting mantras and turning the prayer wheel, one can also meditate on lamrim-the stages of the path-especially focusing on the techniques for generating bodhichitta. One can meditate on the seven instructions of cause and effect for generating bodhichitta or on the method of equalizing and exchanging self for others to generate bodhichitta. This makes one's life very rich.
The prayer wheel can definitely be used for healing illnesses such as cancer and so forth. For this purpose, the practice should be done for at least one hour every day, or for a few hours along with meditation if possible. This brings extremely powerful healing. Even if the disease or the pain isn't eliminated immediately, this definitely purifies the underlying cause of samsaric suffering in the mind-the negative imprints. Remember that the disease is not the only suffering in samsara; it is just one small part of samsara. In the oceans of suffering in samsara, this is just one small part. So purifying the causes of suffering in the mind in this way means purifying the causes of all the sufferings of samsara. Healing this life's sicknesses is just one tiny atom among the reasons for doing this practice, which are limitless like the sky. Not only do we heal the sickness; we also receive help in stopping all sufferings, in having quick realizations of the path, and in achieving enlightenment quickly.
Now I would like to say a little about the essential benefits of this mantra, Om mani padme hum. If you recite ten malas-a thousand mantras-a day, then when you go to wash in a river or at the beach, all the water becomes blessed. Because your body is blessed by the mantra, all the water becomes blessed as it touches your body, and so the water purifies all the animals who live in the water, those who drink the water, and those who touch the water. It's the same as the benefits of the prayer wheel itself. All the animals who live in that water get purified and are liberated from the lower realms. Even those who drink that water will be liberated. Also, if you recite ten malas a day, then when you give a massage or touch others or they touch you, it purifies them. This is a great gift, much more special and important than being an ordinary healer, because it purifies the mind of karma and delusions and thus produces long-term benefits for those beings' future lives, freeing them from experiencing sufferings and making all their future lives lighter, happier, and more peaceful. By purifying their minds, it also makes it easier for them to achieve enlightenment. Furthermore, if you recite a thousand Om mani padme hums every day, then your children and grandchildren and so on up to seven generations will not be reborn in the lower realms. This is because
your body is blessed by the mantra, and as their bodies are descended from yours, their bodies also carry these blessings, which affect their minds at the time of death and thus prevent them from being reborn in the lower realms. Even when a person who has recited that many mantras every day has died and is being cremated, the smoke coming from that special body purifies other sentient beings' karma. Whatever sentient beings-animals, insects, human beings--this smoke touches all get liberated from the lower realms by purifying their negative karma.
Now for the dedication. Due to these merits-all the past, present, and future merits-especially those arising from making prayer wheels, turning them, and making commentaries on the benefits available, as well as those arising from even seeing, remembering, or dreaming of prayer wheels or these benefits and instructions, may all those beings never be reborn in the lower realms from now on, and may all the disease, spirit harm, negative karma, and obscurations be completely purified immediately. May all their wishes succeed immediately according to holy Dharma, may they achieve full enlightenment as soon as possible, and especially may they actualize bodhichitta as quickly as possible. May they each become a source of all sentient beings' happiness, like the White Lotus of Great Compassion. And, may everyone who reads these benefits and does this very precious practice actualize the qualities more precious than the whole sky filled with jewels or billions of dollars and cause all sentient beings to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible by purifying and collecting merit. So, from the heart, I offer my thanks to my dear students Lorne and Theresa, to all the readers, and to those who engage in the prayer wheel practice and inspire others.
Thank you very much.