Tibetan Buddhist Nun in Himalayas of Nepal turning a large prayer

The Prayer Wheel

Spiritual Technology
from Tibet

overviewmantratraditionaldigitalresources

electric dharma wheels -- thardo khorlo


Health HavenTibetan Pages

Overview
Tibetan prayer wheels (called Mani wheels by the Tibetans) are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. Rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many, many copies of the mantra (prayer) Om Mani Padme Hum, printed in an ancient Indian script or in Tibetan script, are wound around an axle in a protective container, and spun around and around. Typically, larger decorative versions of the syllables of the mantra are also carved on the outside cover of the wheel.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying this mantra, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. 
 
Viewing a written copy of the mantra is said to have the same effect -- and the mantra is carved into stones left in piles near paths where travelers will see them. Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel is also supposed to have the same effect; the more copies of the mantra, the more the benefit.
MANI STONE
a mani stone

Traditionally wheels were not used at all in Tibet except for spiritual purposes -- carts and similar wheeled devices were known from other cultures, but their use was intentionally avoided. The earliest known mention of prayer wheels is in an account written by a Chinese pilgrim, in 400 AD, while traveling through the area now known as Ladakh. The idea is said to have originated as a play on the phrase "turn the wheel of the dharma," a classical metaphor for Buddha's teaching activity.

Mani wheels are found all over Tibet and in areas influenced by Tibetan culture. There are many types of Mani wheels, but small hand-held wheels, like the one shown here, are the most common by far. Tibetan people carry them around for hours, and even on long pilgrimages, spinning them any time they have a hand free.
 
Larger wheels, which may be several yards (meters) high and one or two yards (meters) in diameter, can contain myriad copies of the mantra, and may also contain sacred texts, up to hundreds of volumes.

A Large Prayer Wheel in Nepal

They can be found mounted in rows next to pathways, to be spun by people entering a shrine, or along the route which people use as they walk slowly around and around a sacred site -- a form of spiritual practice called circumambulation. 
 

stream spins prayer wheel
Wheels are also placed where they can be spun by wind or by flowing water. Smaller mounted wheels can be spun by the heat rising from a flame or by steam from a stove, or placed on a tabletop to be spun by hand.

Tibetan Buddhist Mani wheels are always spun clockwise, as viewed from above, for any or all of several reasons: It rotates the syllables of the mantra so that they would pass a viewer in the order that they would be read, it follows the direction of the sun, and it matches the clockwise circumambulation of stupas. Practitioners of Bon, the pre Buddhist spiritual tradition of Tibet, spin their prayer wheels counter-clockwise, the same direction they use in circumambulation. 

Much of Tibetan culture has now had to take refuge outside its homeland. In Tibet under Chinese rule, mechanical wheels are everywhere, on trucks and busses and cars and tanks, but spiritual training and practice, and even learning the Tibetan language, are severely restricted. 

With the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism into the West, new types of Mani wheels have come into being. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that having the mantra on your computer works the same as a traditional prayer wheel. Since a computer's hard disk spins hundreds of thousands of times per hour, and can contain many copies of the mantra, anyone who wants to can turn their computer into a prayer wheel. 

The animated image here on the right 
is another form of digital prayer wheel.
People who feel more strongly connected to prayers other than the  Om Mani Padme Hum mantra of Chenrezig can create prayer wheels, of either the mechanical or the electronic type, with the prayers that mean the most to them -- and people who feel a connection to the modern ecumenical or "Great Awakening" movements can include prayers from many traditions, written in any number of languages.

These pages offer information on how to purchase traditional mechanical prayer wheels, on how to install several types of digital prayer wheels on your computer, and on the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum and what it means to Tibetan Buddhists. We also  point out resources in books and on the Web, on Chenrezig and his mantra, and on the concept of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism, as well as one excellent new book devoted to the subject of prayer wheels.


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The Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum
The mantra Om Mani Padme Hum invokes the spiritual power and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion.  In the words of one source "[Chenrezig] is the awakened nature of each being's own mind, the love and compassion primordially present in the dharmakaya [pure transcending awareness] ... Chenrezig is within us because love and compassion are not qualities added to the mind," but are inherent in our true nature.

The Meaning of the Mantra
explanations of the prayer (mantra) 

Chenrezig: The Embodiment of Compassion

Mani Graphics: Images of Awakening
images of the mantra


Here's the sound of the mantra, chanted by a Tibetan refugee: 
Play Mantra
Windows .wav
Play Mantra
Real Audio
download player

The Common Mani Scripts

These two versions of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum are found in mani wheels:

Tibetan script
 Ranjana script

A short teaching by Lama Zopa, Rinpoche:

The Benefits of Prayer Wheels

"Just touching and turning a prayer wheel brings incredible purification and accumulates unbelievable merit." 

"One idea I have is to use them for healing. Anyone with a disease such as AIDS or cancer, whether or not they have any understanding of Dharma, can use the prayer wheel for meditation and healing."


The Language of Tibet


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Traditional Mechanical Prayer Wheels
This section offers information on how to purchase traditional Mani wheels, and how to make your own.

Hand held wheels, the most common type, are made to be spun with one hand. They are generally made of a cylindrical body of metal (sometimes of wood), penetrated along its axis by a metal axle mounted in wooden or metal handle. The cylinder, along with the mantra roll it contains, can be kept turning with a slight rotation of the wrist, thanks to a weighted cord or chain.

This particular image shows the wheel leaning on a wooden rest, and shows the mantra roll removed from the protective case. In the case of a small hand-held wheel like this one the scroll can be a 20 or more yards (meters) in length. 

Links to on-line stores that offer hand spun prayer wheels are given below. Some of them also offer table-top prayer wheels like the one shown:
 

Sources of Prayer Wheels

Snow Lion

Silk Roads

Kotan lists many sources

Tantric Heart Wheels
mantras on microfilm

A Note on Buying Prayer Wheels: The cases for prayer wheels are often made separately from the mantra rolls, which are inserted in the case before the wheel is sold. Occasionally the cases are sold without the mantra rolls. If you buy a prayer wheel in a store, you can take off the top (or ask the shopkeeper to do it) and look to see the mantras inside. If there is no mantra roll, you can ask if they can get you one. If you buy a wheel from the Internet or by mail, and find that there are no prayers inside, you can ask the vendor to supply them for you. 

If you already own a wheel that has no prayers, one of the Tibetan stores or Internet vendors can probably get a mantra roll for you if you tell them the size of your wheel case (height and diameter of cylinder).



More Images of Prayer Wheels on the Web

prayer wheels at Land of Medicine Buddha

a large wheel turned by water

turning prayer wheels in a monastery

turning prayer wheels in Swayambhunath


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Electric Dharma Wheels: Thardo Khorlo

larger image

Hand power, wind power, water power -- why not electricity? A respected lama in Tibet has authorized construction of dharma wheels powered by electric motors.

These aren't Mani wheels, though they do contain a thousand copies of the mantra of Chenrezig. They also contain many copies of other mantras (Tara, Padmasambhava, Vajrasattva, Medicine Buddha, and others) and dharma teachings (Diamond Sutra, Heart Sutra, and others).

The Thardo Khorlo is said to provide much more benefit than a Mani  wheel, because it contains a much more complete representation of the Buddha Dharma. This electric version turns slowly, playing whichever one of four dharma songs you chose (Mani, Amitabha, and two others). You can raise or lower the volume of the music, or chose silence, if you like. 

Thardo Khorlo

The link above will take you to a Web site where you can learn more about electric Thardo Khorlo, and buy one if you like. Except for problems with noise from the drive mechanism in the early models, people who experience them agree that they are truely wonderful. Some feel they are very beneficial for health problems.


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Digital Prayer Wheels
Digital Prayer Wheels

- Turn your hard drive into a prayer wheel

- Prayer wheels for Web pages

- Download a prayer-wheel screen saver


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Resources
booksweb sites

Web Resources
Related Pages from Dharma Haven

Om Mani Padme Hum: The Meaning of the Mantra

Chenrezig: Embodiment of Compassion

On the Benefits of Using Prayer Wheels

A Large Prayer Wheel

Digital Prayer Wheels

Index of Dharma Haven'sTibetan Pages


Books
Wheel of Great Compassion: The Practice of 
the Prayer Wheel in Tibetan Buddhism

Compiled, Edited & Introduced by Lorne Ladner
Foreword by Lama Zopa Rinpoche


"The Wheel of Great Compassion is the first book to provide Western readers with a complete understanding of the prayer wheel -- an ancient and mystical practice that has long been popular with Buddhists throughout Tibet and Mongolia for its ability to bless the environment, promote healing, increase compassion, and assist practitioners on their journeys to enlightenment. 

This book offers a clear description of prayer wheel practice, its meaning and benefits, and its role as an essential ritual and symbol of Mahayana Buddhism. It contains a general introduction to the prayer wheel, photographs and illustrations, six commentaries by Tibetan lamas, and instructions for both prayer wheel construction and proper use." 



For books on the centrality of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism, on Chenrezig and on the Bodhisattva Path, please look at the "Books" section of our page Chenrezig: The Embodiment of Compassion.

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Image Credits
The copyright holders of the animated Mani wheel image on this page have authorized it's use for any respectful purpose. Mantra image thanks to Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche's Homepage; Animated GIF version thanks to Steve Bennett.

We're grateful to the copyright holders of these images for permission to use them on this page:

Tibetan Buddhist Nun in Himalayas of Nepal turning a large prayer
wheel. (opening image and Introduction)
Muktinath / Chumig Gyatsa ... In pictures

Water-driven prayer wheel (Introduction)
YetiZone - Web Himalayan Trekking Guidebook

Hand-wheel and table-wheel images -- (Traditional Wheels)
Silk Roads


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Revised on December 3, 2004

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