Prayer Flags by a Prayer Wheel
Prayer Flags by a Prayer Wheel

Before I went to Bhutan I had never noticed a water powered prayer wheel before. Perhaps my awareness was low, I didn’t know what I was looking at or the places I have been visiting hadn’t had the right mix of Buddhism and free-flowing streams. Whatever it was in Bhutan water powered prayer wheels seemed to be at almost every little ravine and valley.

Image of A Triple Water Powered Prayer Wheel in Bhutan
A Triple Water Powered Prayer Wheel

At its most basic — and nothing in Buddhism is ever basic — a prayer wheel is a cylinder on a spindle that is inscribed with and filled with prayers, or mantras (Om Mani Padme Hum*). Some Buddhist, mainly from Tibetan sects, believe that the spinning of the wheels helps followers build good karma and cleanses them of negativities (bad karma). Prayer wheels come in all sizes: From tiny ones that can fit onto a keychain to one huge one, which weighs over 200 tons, in Heyin Town, China.

The Prayer Wheel We Stopped to Fix
The Prayer Wheel We Stopped to Fix

A water powered prayer wheel is exactly what it sounds like; a prayer wheel that uses the power of water to make it spin (always clockwise). It is believed that in addition to the good karma brought on by the spinning of the wheel that water touched by it becomes blessed and helps purify all life forms in the streams, oceans, and lakes it feeds into.

Nitu Looking for the Problem with the Prayer Wheel
Nitu Looking for the Problem

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As we passed the first water-powered prayer wheel that I noticed upon arrival in Bhutan I asked my driver Nitu to stop so we could have a look. It was a large wheel in a small white building tucked away in a shady glade near the road. One problem; it wasn’t turning. A little investigation around back revealed that the pipe that feeds the little turbine had become clogged with silt from upstream.

Image of Nitu with Prayer Wheel
Nitu Got the Prayer Wheel Spinning Again

Not wanting all that good karma to go to waste — and how often do you get a chance to fix a prayer wheel — we set out to clear the obstruction. All told it probably only took about 20 minutes to get the wheel spinning again but it felt good. It was only a small gesture but good Buddhists believed that life is about merit accumulated over a lifetime and this little wheel, meant to spread good into the world, was going again. I like that!

Om Mani Padme Hum Meaning:

Om Mani Padme Hum is a mantra taught to Tibetan Buddhists designed to be repeated over and over in order to help them center or become free of distracting thoughts. Each word has a specific meaning in Sanskrit designed to help oppose internal forces that cause suffering.

According to His Holiness the The 14th Dalai Lama

It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast …. The first, OM … symbolizes the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind; it also symbolizes the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha…. The path is indicated by the next four syllables. MANI, meaning jewel, symbolizes the … altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassionate and loving…. The two syllables, PADME, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom…. Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable HUM, which indicates indivisibility…. Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha….

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