The Buddhist prayer wheel is one of the most prominent symbols in Buddhism. It is made of wood mostly, metal, cotton or even leather. It has eight spokes and they represent the Ashtamangalas, the eight auspicious signs. According to learned monks, if a person rotates a prayer wheel, it is the same as saying the prayers orally.
The earliest record of Buddhist prayers were chanted by Chinese pilgrims and were traced in Ladakh of India in 400 C.E. The prayer wheel means turning the wheel of dharma physically and also symbolizes the way Buddha taught. Many Buddhists use the hand prayer wheels. The wheel rotates on a metal cylinder supported by an axle. The cylinder has some paper scrolls on which Buddhist texts are printed. The people who use this wheel believe that by putting the prayer wheel into motion, the prayer is performed automatically.
There are different types of prayer wheels. Some of which are highlighted below.
A water wheel is rotated with the help of flowing water. When the wheel touches the water, it becomes blessed and also has the power to purify all water bodies like oceans and lakes into which the running water flows.
Fire wheel is turned with the help of the heat generated by electric light or candle light. The light has the power to purify the negative karmas and all the living being it touches.
The wind wheel is rotated by the blowing wind. When the wind that touched the wheel touches others, it clears the effects of negative karma in them.
At times, prayer wheels are fixed and they do not move at all. They are placed in a row and a passerby can turn the wheels manually.
The electric dharma wheel is driven by a motor. They are known to contain 1,000 copies of the chants and prayers.
There are animated prayer wheels available on the internet and according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama these images are good as the prayer wheels. They can create waves of empathy. One can also enter their wish before turning the prayer wheel.
With the growing technology of internet, prayer wheels are also designed as iPhone apps, and are available in the iTunes store. They are also developed in Android interface. These wheels are very easy to use and can be turned with the touch of a finger on touch screen phones. A prayer wheel called a poetic universe can dispense wisdom when the wheel is rotated 3 times in the clockwise direction. If a person turns the wheel in an anti-clockwise direction, he/she will attain wisdom.
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Wikipedia: Tibetian Prayer Wheel