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Prayer Wheels
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The prayer wheel is an ever present sight throughout the Buddhist Himalaya. In addition to the hand held "mani wheels", it is customary to see rows of wall mounted mani wheels outside of monasteries, and chortens (reliquary shrines), and other significant Buddhist land marks. These rows of prayer wheels are usually situated along the "kora" or circumabulation route which people use as they walk clockwise around the monastery or shrine. It is also very common, especially in more remote areas to see prayer wheels which are powered by the forces of nature, being placed over streams so that the passing water turns the prayer wheel, or placed into a wind driven device.

The prayer wheel is an undoubtedly ancient device and like many such items it is very difficult to pinpoint an exact period when they first came into use. The earliest written documentation currently seems to be that of the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hien who, in 400 AD, while traveling through the area of present day Ladakh, mentions seeing them in use.

The prayer wheel is most often made of metal but occasionally they are to be found made of wood or other mediums. In any case they are a hollow receptacle, which rotates on a central axis. The interior of the prayer wheels are filled with countless quantities of the mantra "OM MANI PADME HUM". This is the six syllable mantra invoking Avalokiteswara - the embodiment of compassion. Each complete turn of the wheel is thought to equal repeating the mantra the number of times it is written on the rolled prayer scroll inside.

The repetition of this mantra generates merit which benefits all beings, and helps to purify the environment in general and mind stream of anyone practicing its repetition in particular. Besides being filled with printed mantras the outside of the wheel is also embellished with the mantra, and varying degrees of ornamentation of the metal or wood. In addition, it is often the case that semiprecious stones such as turquoise or coral may be attached.

The hand held prayer wheels are an ubiquitous piece of equipment amongst the practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism in the Himalayan region. Everyone, young and old may be seen making use of a free hand during work and especially idle moments, to set the mani wheel in motion, spinning clockwise, generating multitudes of prayers with each revolution for the benefit and enlightenment of all sentient beings.

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