On my first trip to Nepal many years ago, I was struck by symbols of Buddhism almost everywhere. Following the lead of my Sherpa guides, I learned to pass or circumambulate prayer wheels and mani walls on my right side and to spin the prayer wheels for good luck. On my recent stay in the country, I saw this impressive grouping of a prayer wheel, a wall of mani stones and prayer flags, all in one place, positioned in the middle of the trekking trail. Spruce branches are burned in the small incense burner to the right of the mani stones.
Prayer flags are a happy, frequent sight all over Nepal where Buddhists reside. I remember them fondly from my first trip to Nepal. They are colorful and fluttering in the wind, they just made me happy.
Block-printed with auspicious symbols, prayers and mantras, prayer flags often come in sets of five. The colors represent the elements: yellow–earth, green–water, red–fire, white–air, blue–space.
Traditionally, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all, promoting peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetan Buddhists believe the prayers and mantras are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all pervading space.
Prayer wheels—also known as mani wheels—are used to accumulate wisdom and merit (good karma) and to purify negativities (bad karma). Each wheel is decorated with a mantra, written in a clockwise direction, that of the movement of the sun across the sky. There are rolls of prayers and scripture inside the wheel. Devotees spin the wheels in a clockwise direction.
Mani stones are stones on which mantras or devotional designs are inscribed, so called because they revolve around the familiar mantra “om mani padme hum”. Mani stone carving can be quite simple, or very intricate, carved into slate or other stone, and sometimes painted. In all cases, they represent a significant investment of dedication, time and effort. According to Buddhist doctrine, mani walls should be passed or circumambulated from their left side, in the clockwise direction with which the earth and the universe revolve.
Prayer flags were traditionally printed using wood blocks carved with mantras. Today, although they are printed commercially, they are as beautiful and meaningful as ever. By contrast, the collective effort and time required to carve mani stones and walls is significant. Similarly prayer wheels demand devotion and time to prepare the prayers, and decorate the wheels.
Will you be traveling to Nepal? When you go, be sure to pass the prayer wheels and mani walls on your right hand side. Enjoy the beauty of fluttering prayer flags!