Tibetan Prayer Wheels

Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels consist of a cylinder, usually of metal, which rotates on an axle. They are often decorated with mantra, such as the mantra of Avalokitisvara, Om Mani Padme Hum, or with the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, or with other religious symbols.

Inside the cylinder are wound sheets or strips of paper on which the mantra or sacred text is written or printed. Each revolution of the prayer wheel counts as one repetition of all the prayers contained in the cylinder.

There are many kinds of prayer wheels. Some are designed to be held and twirled in the hand; others to be placed on a table and spun with two fingers. Still others are turned by the waters of running streams, by the wind, or hot air rising from butter lamps and stoves. Very large prayer wheels, often containing a collection of the Buddhist scriptures (Kanjur), stand inside the temples, at their entrance, or in rows around the outside walls. These may be as much as eight or nine feet high and six feet in diameter.

The prayer wheel has been a popular Tibetan ritual instrument for five or six centuries. It is undoubtedly a Tibetan invention.

Prayer wheels should be turned clockwise, following the direction of the sun's course as well as the direction followed by Buddhists in circumambulating sacred monuments. The clockwise motion also causes the words to revolve as they should be read, from left to right.