The Origin Of Prayer Wheels
Prayer wheels are one the most important- and recognizable- tools in Buddhism.
If you’ve ever seen a movie that references Buddhist monks, there’s almost always some kind of shot of them.
And why not?
They’re a fundamental aspect of Buddhism.
In fact, they’re so important to Buddhist practice, it’s almost guaranteed that the religion as a whole wouldn’t be around without them.
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Prayer wheels have been around since 400 A.D.- over 1500 years.
But in order to really understand why the prayer wheel was invented, you have to take yourself back in time.
Imagine the era: most people worked from dawn til dusk on the farm, and had very little time to actually read and educate themselves on spirituality; it took a side-seat to the importance of actually surviving.
Beyond that, many common people had no idea how to read…it was like an impassible mountain.
And yet, these sutras (texts) were considered to be powerful ways to achieve enlightenment through their repetition (mantras).
So the question was, how do they give people the opportunity to do these important mantras, without having to read?
Enter the prayer wheel:
“those who set up the place for worship, use the knowledge to propagate the dharma to common people, should there be any man or woman who are illiterate and unable to read the sutra, they should then set up the prayer wheel to facilitate those illiterate to chant the sutra, and the effect is the same as reading the sutra”
Over time, the prayer wheel slowly became a staple of Buddhism, and an important aspect of their growth.
No longer were people held back by their illiteracy…they could finally practice the sutras without the use of a book.
Usually, prayer wheels are found on the outside of a Buddhist temple.
Many practitioners spin them as they walk by, reciting Om Mani Padme Hum as they pass.
Prayer wheels are almost always spun clockwise, because the direction of the mantras are written is like the movement of the sun across the sky- an acknowledgement of the relationship to the cosmic order.
In tantric Buddhism, they visualize the mantra revolving around the spinal chakras and nadis, clearing energy and bringing harmony.
Many Buddhists have their own prayer wheel at home, or carry one with them.
Regardless of whether or not a person can read, prayer wheels help to break the mind from restlessness.
Chanting the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum has the effect of calming the thoughts and bringing the mind into the moment…something that everyone could use, even here in the west.
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