Prayer Wheels: Their Origin, Use, And Practice

Prayer Wheels

If you’ve ever seen or heard anything about Buddhism in books or TV, chances are you’ve probably seen the prayer wheel being spun by Buddhists as they pass by.

That’s not just by accident; the spinning prayer wheel is probably one of the most widely recognized symbols of Buddhism today.

It’s tempting to think that these prayer wheels are used by all Buddhists…but that’s not actually true: prayer wheels are only native to Tibetan Buddhism.

So why is it that spinning these wheels are so important to Tibetans, and where did they come from?

Origin

The first prayer wheels were made around 400 CE- that’s over 1500 years ago! (Goes to show you how old Buddhism is)

Since then, their popularity has become an irreplaceable aspect of daily ritual.

The concept of a prayer wheel came from Buddha’s teaching method- “turning the wheel of dharma”. Dharma, in Buddhism, means law and order; in other words, the laws of the universe.

To a Buddhist, the laws of the universe mean everything. there isn’t a god or central personage to pray to…so instead aspects like karma, dharma, and the Eightfold Path are venerated.

Usually, Om Mani Padme Hum is written around the wheel.

SEE ALSO: The Meaning Of Om Mani Padme Hum

Why? Well, first off, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is probably the most important mantra in Buddhism…but besides that, there’s also a practical reason: many people could not (and still cannot) read.

Thus, reciting the words and their meaning would not be possible for lay practitioners unless they spent time studying.

It’s said that when a person spins the wheel, it’s the same effect as reading the mantra or text inscribed.

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Use and Practice

Prayer wheels are commonly found outside of Tibetan temples.

Usually, practicing Buddhists spin the wheels on their way inside or as they pass by. In Tibet, Buddhist temples are very common, so there are lots of opportunities.

It’s believed that as the wheel is spun, the practitioner is gaining wisdom and destroying negative karma, and therefore progressing along the spiritual path.

The purpose of spinning the wheel is twofold:

First, the act of spinning relates to the common visualization of mantras revolving around the chakras as they’re repeated. The wheels acts as an aid.

Second, the wheel is normally spun clockwise with the direction of the mantra, because the mantra or prayer is written in the direction of the movement of the sun across the sky.

Conclusion

Prayer wheels are an important part of many Buddhist’s practice, because they allow for a simple and elegant way of taking mantra repetition to a new level.

After all, it can be easy to get bored or distracted by just mental repetition.

Attaching the practice to an outside movement, such as spinning the wheel, gives the practitioner a way to break mental restlessness.

Check out our prayer wheel necklace! Not only does it have the important message of Om Mani Padme Hum, but it also has a prayer scroll inside.

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Matt Caron
Matt is the content manager of the Sivana blog, an enthusiastic Yoga teacher, and life voyager. He strives to inspire conscious living and conscious dialogue- not only for others but for himself. He's the founder of TheYogaBlog.com. You can find him on Facebook.
Matt Caron

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