Prayer Wheels in Buddhist Ritual
A Buddhist prayer wheel is of a hollow metal cylinder, often beautifully embossed, mounted on a rod handle and containing a tightly wound scroll printed with a mantra.
According the Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning such a wheel is just as effective as reciting them orally. In Tibetan prayer wheels, the mantra (prayer) Om Mani Padme Hum is printed in an ancient Indian script or in Tibetan script, usually on the outside as well as on the scroll inside.
Prayer wheels come in many sizes: they may be small, attached to a stick (left), and spun around by hand, medium-sized and set up at monasteries or temples (right), or very large and continuously spun by a wind or water mill.
In Tibetan prayer wheels, the mantra printed on the inside scroll reads Om mani padme hum in Tibetan script. "Om mani padme hum" is the most important mantra of Buddhism. It is the six syllable mantra of the Bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteshvara. The Dalai Lama is said to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, so the mantra is especially revered by his devotees. Click here to hear the mantra chanted by a Tibetan refugee.
The basic English translation of Om mani padme hum is "Om Jewel in the Lotus Hum." However, the meaning and significance of the six Tibetan syllables have been interpreted in a variety of ways. One common interpretation is that each syllable corresponds to one of the six realms of existence and purifies the vice associated with that realm:
- Om purifies bliss and pride (realm of the gods)
- Ma purifies jealousy and need for entertainment (realm of the jealous gods)
- Ni purifies passion and desire (human realm)
- Pad purifies ignorance and prejudice (animal realm)
- Me purifies poverty and possessiveness (realm of the hungry ghosts)
- Hum purifies aggression and hatred (hell realm)
It has also been said that recitation of each of the syllables prevents rebirth in the corresponding realm.
The first known description of the mantra appears in the Karandavyuha Sutra, which is part of certain Mahayana canons such as the Tibetan canon. In this sutra, the Buddha states: "This is the most beneficial mantra. Even I made this aspiration to all the million Buddhas and subsequently received this teaching from Buddha Amitabha."
In his book Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones, Gen Rinproche says of the mantra:
The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Päd, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.
So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?
- "Om Mani Padme Hum." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article incorporates some public domain text from this source. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_mani_padme_hum>
- "prayer wheel." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.
20 Dec. 2004 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9061222>.
- "Prayer Wheels (Tibetan)." BuddhaNet Buddhist Studies. <http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/b_prayer.htm>