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prayer wheel

Name for a spindle made from metal, wood or leather, inscribed with or containing prayers or mantras, used especially by Tibetan Buddhists. It is a device for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. Revolving such a cylindrical box would be the same as verbally reciting the mantra which is almost always the six syllable mantra Aum mani padma hum. The more the wheel is turned the more the mantra is spread, hence the more the benefit. This principle is reminiscent of that with Buddha images of which it is believed that the bigger they are or the more there are gathered together, the more energy they will radiate. The concept of the prayer wheel is a physical manifestation of a classical metaphor for Buddha's teaching, i.e. the turning of the dharmachakra, the wheel of dharma. Prior to using the prayer wheel a mantra should be recited and the spindle must be spun clockwise, as this is the direction in which the mantras are written. There are several types, both small and large, and each with its own designation. Many temples in Tibet and Nepal have large fixed prayer wheels set alongside each other in a row (fig.), thus allowing the wheels to be turned by a simple touch of the hand sliding over them whilst walking by (fig.). A hand-held prayer wheel is also called a mani wheel. It consists of a cylindrical body mounted on a handle and weighted down with a small weight on a chain, allowing it to be spun by a slight rotation of the wrist (fig.). The body is usually decorated with a lotus, conch, knot, vase, parasols, wheels, fishes and a banner, the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism known as Ashtamangala. Besides this there are also prayer wheels that are moved by the natural elements, e.g. by wind, alleviating the negative karma of those it touches; by water, purifying all bodies of water it feeds into after it was touched by the wheel; by heat (for example of a candle), lessening the negative karma of those it shines on. See also prayer flag.