Prayer wheel

A prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel (Tibetan: འཁོར་ལོ།, Wylie: khor lo) on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Newari language of Nepal, on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. At the core of the cylinder is a "Life Tree" often made of wood or metal with certain mantras written on or wrapped around it. Many thousands (or in the case of larger prayer wheels, millions) of mantras are then wrapped around this life tree. The Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is most commonly used, but other mantras may be used as well. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

Tibetan monastery Prayer Wheel
Prayer wheels in Mussoorie, India.
Prayer Wheels
A little boy rolling the prayer wheels at Swayambhunath, Nepal.
Candle-powered prayerwheel
Butter-lamp-powered prayer wheel. Manali, India
Water prayer wheel
Water-powered prayer wheel. Spiti valley, India

Nomenclature and etymology

Prayer wheel or Mani wheel (Tibetan: མ་ནི་ཆོས་འཁོར་, Wylie: mani-chos-'khor). The Tibetan term is a contraction: "Mani" itself is a contraction of Sanskrit cintamani; "chos" is Tibetan for Dharma; and "khor" or "khorlo" means chakrano.


The first prayer wheels, which are driven by wind, have been used in Tibet and China since the fourth century.[1] The concept of the prayer wheel is a physical manifestation of the phrase "turning the wheel of Dharma," which describes the way in which the Buddha taught. Prayer Wheels originated from ‘The School of Shakyamuni sutra, volume 3 – pagoda and temple’ which states that, “those who set up the place for worship, use the knowledge to propagate the dharma to common people, should there be any man or woman who are illiterate and unable to read the sutra, they should then set up the prayer wheel to facilitate those illiterate to chant the sutra, and the effect is the same as reading the sutra”[2]

According to the Tibetan tradition, the prayer wheel lineage traces back to the famous Indian master, Arya Nagarjuna. Tibetan texts also say that the practice was taught by the Indian Buddhist masters Tilopa and Naropa as well as the Tibetan masters Marpa and Milarepa.[3]


Prayer drum in the St. Petersburg Buddhist temple
Prayer wheel in the St. Petersburg Buddhist temple
IMG 0996 Lhasa Barkhor
An elderly Tibetan woman with a prayer wheel

According to the lineage texts on prayer wheels, prayer wheels are used to accumulate wisdom and merit (good karma) and to purify negativities (bad karma). In Buddhism, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas have created a variety of skillful means (upaya) to help bring practitioners ever closer to realizing enlightenment. The idea of spinning mantras relates to numerous Tantric practices whereby the Tantric practitioner visualizes mantras revolving around the nadis and especially around the meridian chakras such as the heart and crown. Therefore, prayer wheels are a visual aid for developing one's capacity for these types of Tantric visualizations. The spiritual method for those practicing with a prayer wheel is very specific (with slight variations according to different Buddhist sects). The practitioner most often spins the wheel clockwise, as the direction in which the mantras are written is that of the movement of the sun across the sky. On rare occasions, advanced Tantric practitioners such as Senge Dongma, the Lion-Faced Dakini, spin prayer wheels counterclockwise to manifest a more wrathful protective energy. As the practitioner turns the wheel, it is best to focus the mind and repeat the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra. Not only does this increase the merit earned by the wheel's use, but it is a mind-stabilization technique that trains the mind while the body is in motion. Intoning the mani mantra with mindfulness and the "Bodhicitta" motivation dramatically enhances the effects of the prayer wheel. However, it is said that even turning it while distracted has benefits and merits, and it is stated in the lineage text that even insects that cross a prayer wheel's shadow will get some benefit. Each revolution is as meritorious as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll, and this means that the more Om Mani Padme Hum mantras that are inside a prayer wheel, the more powerful it is. It is best to turn the wheel with a gentle rhythm and not too fast or frantically. While turning smoothly, one keeps in mind the motivation and spirit of compassion and bodhichitta (the noble mind that aspires to full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings). The benefits attributed to the practice of turning the wheel are vast. Not only does it help wisdom, compassion and bodhichitta arise in the practitioner, it also enhances siddhis (spiritual powers such as clairvoyance, precognition, reading others thoughts, etc.). The practitioner can repeat the mantra as many times as possible during the turning of the wheel, stabilizing a calm, meditative mind. At the end of a practice session, there is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of dedicating any accumulated merits that one may have gathered during practice to the benefit of all sentient beings. Then Om Ah Hum 3 times. This is customary with Tibetans upon completing any Buddhist practice, including the practice of the prayer wheel.

Prayer wheels at Nechung Chok
Prayer wheels at Nechung Chok, Lhasa.
Pilgrims, Tsurphu 1993
Pilgrim with prayer wheel, Tsurphu Monastery, 1993.
Electric prayer wheels at Samye Ling in Scotland, 2009. (8 seconds)

Thubten Zopa Rinpoche has commented that installing a prayer wheel has the capacity to completely transform a place, which becomes "...peaceful, pleasant, and conducive to the mind." Simply touching a prayer wheel is said to bring great purification to negative karmas and obscurations.


Mani wheel

The mani wheel, or hand prayer wheel, has a cylindrical, generally sheet-metal body (often beautifully embossed) mounted on a metal shaft or pin set into a wooden or metal handle that turns on a circular bearing commonly made of Turbinella (conch) shell. The cylinder itself is affixed with a cord or chain terminating in a metal weight allowing it to be spun by a slight rotation of the wrist. The weighted chain, known as a “governor” in Western technology, stabilizes the wheel and keeps it spinning with less input from the practitioner than would otherwise be the case. The common term, “prayer wheel” is a double misnomer. A long strip of rolled-up paper bearing printed or inscribed mantras (Tib. mani) rather than prayers, per se, is inside the cylinder. “Mill,” defined as “a spinning object that generates something,” is a better translation of the Tibetan ‘khor-lo than is “wheel” since it is thought that the spinning cylinder emanates positive energy, allowing the practitioner to accumulate wisdom and merit. The Tibetan name of this device is mani-chos-'khor (མ་ནི་ཆོས་འཁོར་).

Water wheels

This type of prayer wheel is simply a prayer wheel that is turned by flowing water. The water that is touched by the wheel is said to become blessed and carries its purifying power into all life forms in the oceans and lakes that it feeds into.

Fire wheel

This wheel is turned by the heat of a candle or electric light. The light emitted from the prayer wheel then purifies the negative karmas of the living beings it touches.

Wind wheel

This type of wheel is turned by wind. The wind that touches the prayer wheel helps alleviate the negative karma of those it touches.

Stationary prayer wheels

Many monasteries around Tibet have large, fixed, metal wheels set side by side in a row. Passersby can turn the entire row of wheels simply by sliding their hands over each one.

Electric dharma wheels

Some prayer wheels are powered by electric motors. "Thardo Khorlo," as these electric wheels are sometimes known, contain one thousand copies of the mantra of Chenrezig and many copies of other mantras. The Thardo Khorlo can be accompanied by lights and music if one so chooses

Electricity can certainly be considered similar to the above sources of energy for PW (water, fire, wind). The merit generated by the PW is due to the power of the Dharma Texts and Mantras; not necessarily the "power" which rotates them. These PW turn all day, all night, all thru the year. The Lamas and practitioners who build, maintain and pay for the electricity rightly help to generate and dedicate the merit.

See also


  • Schlagintweit L.L.D., Emil (1863). Buddhism in Tibet. Augustus M. Kelley, 1969.
  • Wright, A.R. (1904). Tibetan Prayer wheels. Folklore Enterprises.
  • Tibetan Prayer Wheels
  • "All about the ... Prayer Wheel".
  • "The Prayer Wheel".
  • "prayer wheels and how they work". Nyingma Centers.
  • Ladner, Lorne (2000). Wheel of Great Compassion. Wisdom Publications.
  • Lucas, Adam (2006). Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology. Brill Publishers. p. 105. ISBN 90-04-14649-0.


Prayer wheels in Samye
Prayer wheels at Samye Monastery.
Swayambhunath Prayer Wheels
Girls Turning the prayer wheels at Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu.
Tibetan Child with Prayer Wheel

Tibetan child with a prayer wheel

Yellow Lamas with Prayer Wheels

1905 illustration of monks with prayer wheels

Stupa & prayer wheels. Main street, McLeod Ganj

Stupa & prayer wheels. Main street, McLeod Ganj.

Bundesarchiv Bild 135-S-07-24-11, Tibetexpedition, Mönch mit Gebetsmühle

Monk with prayer wheel. 1938

Prayer Wheels at the Potala in Lhasa

Prayer wheels at the base of the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet.


A Prayer wheel at Dukezong Temple in Shangri-La County, Yunnan.


Prayer Wheels in the Rumtek Monastery

Hand crafted wooden prayer wheel

A wooden prayer wheel by holy land prayer wheels

Edmund Hillary Arms

Three prayer wheels in the coat of arms of Sir Edmund Hillary

Rumtek Monastery - Prayer Wheel

Rumtek Monastery - Prayer Wheel

Swayambhunath prayer wheels

Rolling metal prayer wheels circling the Swayambhunath stupa, Kathmandu


  1. ^ Lucas, Adam (2006). Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology. Brill Publishers. p. 105. ISBN 90-04-14649-0.
  2. ^ "Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel". Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Retrieved 2013-03-31.
  3. ^ The Wheel of Great Compassion: The Practice of the Prayer Wheel in Tibetan Buddhism (Wisdom Publications, 2000.)

External links


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The text consists of verse and prose commentary. It currently survives as an incomplete collection of Sanskrit fragments. However, the text is valuable insofar as it confirms the identity of Vasubandhu as author of the Abhidharmakośakārikā.


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There are Buddhist centers in Caracas, Maracay, Mérida, Puerto Ordáz, San Felipe, and Valencia.


The E6B flight computer, nicknamed the "whiz wheel" or "prayer wheel", is a form of circular slide rule used in aviation and one of the very few analog calculating devices in widespread use in the 21st century.

They are mostly used in flight training, because these flight computers have been replaced with electronic planning tools or software and websites that make these calculations for the pilots. These flight computers are used during flight planning (on the ground before takeoff) to aid in calculating fuel burn, wind correction, time en route, and other items. In the air, the flight computer can be used to calculate ground speed, estimated fuel burn and updated estimated time of arrival. The back is designed for wind vector solutions, i.e., determining how much the wind is affecting one's speed and course.

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The Emblem of Sikkim, also called Kham-sum-wangdu (Sikkimese: ༄༅།ཁམས་གསུམ་དབང་འདུས།), is used by the Government of Sikkim as its symbol. It was designed in 1877 by Robert Taylor in European style and previously the coat of arms during the latter period of the Sikkimese monarchy.

Flag of the Kingdom of Sikkim

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Lhalung Monastery

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List of Buddhas

This is a list of historical, contemporary, and legendary figures which at least one school of Buddhism considers to be a Buddha and which have an article on Wikipedia:




Amitābha, principal Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism




Dīpankara Buddha

Five Tathagatas

Gautama Buddha


Kassapa Buddha

Koṇāgamana Buddha



Nichiren Daishonin, Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law (Nikko Lineage)

Padumuttara Buddha




Sumedha Buddha


Tonpa Shenrab

Vairocana, embodiment of the Dharmakaya



Yeshe Tsogyal

List of suttas

Suttas from the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon.

List of Digha Nikaya suttas

List of Majjhima Nikaya suttas

List of Samyutta Nikaya suttas

List of Anguttara Nikaya suttas

List of Khuddaka Nikaya suttas

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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was published by Harper's Magazine Press shortly after Dillard's first book, a volume of poetry titled Tickets for a Prayer Wheel. Since its initial publication, Pilgrim has been lauded by critics. It won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction, and in 1998 it was included in Modern Library's list of 100 Best Nonfiction Books.

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The Potala Palace is considered the most important example of Tibetan architecture. Formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama, it contains over a thousand rooms within thirteen stories. Portraits of the past Dalai Lamas and statues of the Buddha are on display. The palace is divided between the outer White Palace (which serves as the administrative quarters), and the inner Red Quarters (which houses the assembly hall of the Lamas, chapels, 10,000 shrines, and a vast library of Buddhist scriptures).Temples and monasteries were all built by Tibetan Buddhist followers. All decorations—plated statues, elaborate frescoes, and expensive silk hangings—were all bought and paid for by donations. The following list contains only a portion of all Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries, as many of the Monasteries were destroyed when Tibet was annexed by China.

Tibetan prayer wheel

Prayer Wheels (Tibetan: mani ´khor lo) are widely used in Tibet and areas where Tibetan culture is predominant.

Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (book)

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Topics in Buddhism
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