Fidget Spinner or Prayer Wheel?
You’ve probably seen photos of Tibetan monks and Tibetan Buddhists carrying those curious looking, cylindrical, hand-held objects that look like a cross between a brass wheel and a party favor. These are prayer wheels, and are an ancient, venerated part of the Tibetan Buddhist practice.
Prayer wheels, whether of the hand-held variety, or the larger, wall or floor mounted kind, originated in Asia – China to be exact – and found their way to Indian Buddhist practice, and finally, to Tibet, where they were lovingly adopted.
Prayer wheels, called Mani wheels (Mani khorlo) in Tibet, are used for specific, and a wide range of purposes. But briefly, inside each prayer wheel, you’ll find a roll – like a receipt roll – of paper inscribed with prayers. These prayers are almost always the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (hence why they’re called Mani wheels). A smaller, hand-held prayer wheel will contain thousands of mantras: the large wall or floor-mounted Mani wheels may contain millions.
Buddhists believe that by spinning the wheel, the prayers contained within it are disseminated to all sentient beings and the universe for the purposes of blessing, purification, and accumulating merit.
Mani wheels are considered beneficial as an effective way to amplify one’s own prayer life, and aside from blessing others, accumulating merit for oneself. In Tibet, believers go through their days’ work and responsibilities carrying Mani wheels in constant revolution. Pilgrims are always spinning Mani wheels.
As the effects of Mani wheels reach out to all sentient beings, animals benefit from their use too. Buddhists are wonderfully aware of the integrity of all the beings in the universe.
Mani wheels are also honored as tools to bless those whose lives here have ended (and who now may inhabit the higher and lower realms), encourage rebirth from lower realms, prevent harm from spirits and negative beings, purify homes, make our bodies holy places to dwell, as reminders of our impermanence, and as a practice that keeps the mind locked in prayer and away from those things that prevent us from knowing our true natures.
Practitioners call it ‘turning the wheel of the Dharma’. We have a large, brass, standing prayer wheel in our kitchen, next to our meal Gatha. Its placement allows us to spin it many times a day. We spin it while we’re making meals, cleaning, or just walking by. I spin it first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.
Imagine sending prayers to the universe all day long. We can do that in the privacy of our amazing minds, but Buddhists believe that the wheel of the Dharma is beneficial even to insects that cross its shadow. In other words, it’s considered a powerful tool for cultivating the merits of wisdom, compassion, and a noble mind (bodhicitta) that aspires to enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
I believe that just the presence of a prayer wheel can transform a place, making it peaceful and bringing purification to negative karmas and thoughts.
I don’t have a hand-held Mani wheel. Like the prayer wheel in our kitchen – which I acquired during a pilgrimage to Po Lin Monastery in China – I hope to find a hand-held Mani wheel while on a pilgrimage, a journey, or at a sacred location.
A friend let me try her fidget spinner recently. It was interesting. It seems like a silly toy, but I understand its popularity: the modern mind is a cluttered and distracting place that needs rest. But better than a fidget spinner, I commend to you the Mani wheel, which will accomplish the same goal as a fidget spinner, but with many, many more benefits – benefits that will reach far and wide, to all beings everywhere, to all of us who need the Dharma.