From: (Robert B Jacobson)
 Subject: Lama Zopa Rinpoche on Prayer Wheels
 This comes to you from Osel Shen Phen Ling, Tibetan Buddhist Center in 
 Missoula, Montana, USA and the Foundation for the Preservation of the 
 Mahayana Tradition.  To find more, visit our home page for meditations, 
 virtual thangkas, teachings and more at 
           Advice on the Benefits of Prayer Wheels
                   by Lama Zopa Rinpoche
         Given at Land of Medicine Buddha, June 1994
      In Solu Kumbu all the old men and women turn prayer wheels
 every day.  When they are at home in the morning and in the evening
 before they go to bed, they hold a mala in their left hand, a
 prayer wheel in their right, and recite OM MANI PADME HUNG.  And
 when they walk around, they constantly turn the prayer wheel and
      I often used to think, "How does turning of the prayer wheel
 become Dharma practice?"  I had this question in my mind, simply
 because I was ignorant as to the benefits of the practice.  I
 didn't know what an important practice it is and how beneficial it
 is in terms of purification.  Just touching and turning a prayer
 wheel brings incredible purification and accumulates unbelievable
      At Lawudo I found many old manuscripts, handwritten texts by
 the Lawudo Lama.  The previous Lawudo Lama, who was called Lama
 (Kunsang) Yeshe; and some people think he has something to do with
 my life.  The Lawudo Lama did not have a monastery, but lived in
 retreat in a cave.  He put a lot of effort into copying texts of
 the practices of varies Vajrayana deities.  At that time such texts
 were very rare, so he wrote many out by hand.  
      Because they had been stored in the cave which was very humid,
 the texts were damp, and I used to dry them in the sun.  If you
 don't dry them, the texts grow fungus and are then destroyed by
 worms.  The worms reincarnate among the texts and make some
 interesting holes in them.  
      One day when I was laying the texts out in the sun, I saw one
 old text with the title "Mani Kabum."  It contains all the history of
 the evolution of the world, including how Dharma came into this
 world and how the sentient beings of Tibet, the Snow Land, became
 the particular objects to be subdued by the Compassion Buddha
 Avalokiteshvara.   Amitabha and the Compassion Buddha are the same
 in essence and are very strongly linked.  And for more than twenty
 years, the Compassion Buddha and Amitabha have guided not only
 Tibet and China, but also Western countries, especially by
 spreading Dharma.  
      In Mani Kabum I saw a short explanation of the lineage of the
 prayer wheel practice and a few lines on how to visualize and
 meditate when you do the practice.  In Tibet, and generally
 wherever there are the Mahayana teachings of Vajrayana, the
 practice of the prayer wheel has spread.  Nagarjuna gave the
 practice to Lion-faced Dakini, who gave it to Padmasambhava, who
 then brought it to Tibet.  
      After reading this, I developed faith that the practice was
 not nonsense, but had valid references and was valuable and
 meaningful.  From this text, I got some idea of how powerful the
 prayer wheel practice is in purifying the mind and in accumulating
 extensive merits.  
      In 1987, when I was at Chenrezig Institute in Australia, I
 noticed that the place had become incredibly peaceful.  It felt so
 serene that you wanted to be there, to live there.  Chenrezig
 Institute had not been like that before, and I wondered why it had
 changed.  At that time, Geshe Lama Konchog was there.  Geshe-la has
 done a lot of Dharma practice.  After he escaped from Tibet, he
 spent many years in retreat in Milarepa's caves in the Himalayas. 
 He did 2000 Nyung-nays, the intensive two-day retreat on the
 Compassion Buddha, that involves taking the eight Mahayana Precepts
 and doing many prostrations and mantras.  Geshe Lama Konchog has
 trained his mind well in the path, so I thought that the serenity
 of Chenrezig Institute might be due to his Bodhicitta.
      However, one day near the end of my stay there, the thought
 came into my mind, "Oh, the change might be due to the prayer wheel
 --it wasn't there before."  The prayer wheel is much smaller than
 the one here at Land of Medicine Buddha, but it also contains many
 mantras on microfilm and is very nicely made.  Some time later,
 when I was in Brazil at the invitation of a meditation center
 there, a student gave me a book written by one of Tarthang Tulku's
 senior disciples about his experiences when he was in charge of
 building stupas and prayer wheels in Tarthang Tulku's centers.  In
 one section he mentioned that after a prayer wheel was built, the
 area was completely transformed, becoming so peaceful, pleasant,
 and conducive to the mind.
      This confirmed my belief, based on my own reasoning, that
 Chenrezig Institute had become so peaceful because of its new
 prayer wheel.  Somebody else experiencing a similar effect from
 building the prayer wheel helped to stabilize my faith.
      There are earth, water, fire and wind prayer wheels.  One of the 
 benefits of the prayer wheel is that it embodies all the actions of the
 Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the 10 directions.  To benefit sentient
 beings, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas manifest in the prayer wheel
 to purify all our negative karmas and obscurations, and to cause us
 to actualize the realizations of the path to enlightenment.  All
 the beings (not only the people but also the insects), in the area
 where the prayer wheel is built are saved from rebirth in the lower
 realms; they receive a deva or human body, or are born in a pure
 land of Buddha.  
      If you have a mani prayer wheel in your house, your house is
 the same as the Potala, the pure land of the Compassion Buddha.  If
 you have a prayer wheel next to you when you die, you don't need
 powa.  Having the prayer wheel itself becomes a method to transfer
 your consciousness to a pure land.  Simply thinking of a prayer
 wheel helps a dying person to shoot the consciousness up the
 central channel and out through the crown to reincarnate in the
 pure land of Amithaba or the Compassion Buddha.   Simply touching
 a prayer wheel brings great purification of negative karmas and
 obscurations.  Turning a prayer wheel containing 100 million OM
 MANI PADME HUNG mantras accumulates the same merit as having
 recited 100 million OM MANI PADME HUNGs.
      The prayer wheel here at Land of Medicine Buddha contains 11.8
 billion mantras, so turning it one time is the same as having
 recited that many mantras.  In that few seconds, you perform so
 much powerful purification and accumulate; so much merit.  Turning
 the prayer wheel once is the same as having done many years of
 retreat.  This is explained as one of the benefits of prayer
      With the water prayer wheel, the water that touches the
 wheel becomes blessed.  When that water goes into an ocean or lake,
 it carries the power to purify all the billions of animals and
 insects there.  
      I have had a wish, which has recently become stronger, to
 build a prayer wheel in the ocean.  Because I have been requested
 to help with so many other Dharma projects, the idea of making a
 water prayer wheel had been postponed.  However, when I was in the
 center in Taiwan recently, in a conversation about prayer wheels,
 I mentioned the idea.  One of the benefactors, who has been running
 the family business for some years, was very happy to make a water
 prayer wheel because his father had started the business by buying
 fish.  Since the family's prosperity came from fishing, he felt his
 family owed a lot to the fish, and he already had in mind of doing
 something to repay or to benefit the fish.
      When I mentioned the idea of the water prayer wheel, he almost
 cried, and then he asked, "Why are you telling me to build this
 prayer wheel?"  After I explained the reasons, he was very happy to
 build a water prayer wheel.  I mentioned the idea of building it in
 the ocean near Taiwan, but he thought to build it in Hawaii where
 the water of the Pacific Ocean would touch the prayer wheel and
 bring great benefit.  
      A fire prayer wheel is turned by the heat of either a candle
 or an electric light.  The light that comes from the prayer wheel
 then purifies the negative karmas of the living beings it touches. 
  It is similar with a prayer wheel turned by wind.  The wind that
 touches the prayer wheel is blessed by the power of the prayer
 wheel and then has the power to purify the negative karmas and
 obscurations of any being it touches.  
      Because prayer wheels are so powerful in purifying negative
 karmas, I think it is a very good idea to use them.   After I
 explained the benefits of prayer wheel a few years ago at Kopan,
 Lorna and Terry voluntarily took it upon themselves to make prayer
 wheels available to other students who wanted to do the practice. 
 They generously made many small prayer wheels and offered them to
 many students, including me.  
      I then offered mine to the King of Nepal.  When I mentioned to
 him that having a prayer wheel helps when one dies, he suddenly
 became distant.  I think it's not a subject commonly talked about
 to him.  He asked, "Do I have to keep this?"  So I said, "Yes."
      It is also mentioned that prayer wheels stop harms from
 spirits and other beings and also stop disease, so one idea I have
 is use them for healing.  Anyone with a disease such as AIDS or
 cancer, whether or not they have any understanding of Dharma, can
 use the prayer wheel for meditation and healing.  For example, sick
 people could come here to Land of Medicine Buddha for several hours
 every day to turn the prayer wheel and do the visualizations. 
      There are two visualizations.  With the first, you visualize light
 beams coming from the mantras in the prayer wheel, illuminating you
 and purifying you of all your disease and the causes of disease,
 your negative thoughts and the imprints of these left on your
 mental continuum.  You then visualize the light illuminating all
 sentient beings and purifying all their sufferings, as well as
 their negative karmas and obscurations.  
      With the second visualization, beams are emitted from the
 mantras and, like a vacuum sucking up dust, they hook all the
 disease and spirit harms and, most importantly, the cause of
 disease, the negative karmas and obscurations.  All these are
 absorbed or sucked into the prayer wheel.  While reciting five or
 10 malas of the mantra, you visualize purifying yourself in this
      At the end recite some malas while visualizing that the beams
 emitted from the prayer wheel purify all the sufferings and
 obscurations of the sentient beings of the six realms.  These
 absorb into the prayer wheel and all sentient beings, including
 you, are then liberated, actualizing the whole path and becoming
 the Compassion Buddha.  (You can also do circumambulations with the
 same visualizations.)
      If someone with AIDS, cancer or some other disease meditated
 like this and every day, for as many hours as possible, there would
 definitely be some effect.  I know quite a few people who have
 completely recovered from terminal cancer through meditation.  Even
 though the person might not know about Dharma, about reincarnation
 or karma; because they want to have peace of mind now and a
 peaceful death; because they care about having a healthy body and
 a healthy mind, they should use this extremely powerful and
 meaningful method of healing.  
      I would like to emphasize that every large and small prayer
 wheel can be used by sick people for healing.  This practice is
 very practical and very meaningful.  Two years ago, I asked Jim
 McCann to build a prayer wheel here at Land of Medicine Buddha, not
 only for people to do the practice, but also to bless the land.  It
 helps all the insects and animals as well as the human beings.  Jim
 and his wife, Sandra, put a lot of time and effort into actualizing
 this extremely beautiful prayer wheel, though I'm sure many other
 people helped them.  From the depth of my heart I would like to
 thank them very much for their achievement.  A prayer wheel makes
 the place very holy and precious, like a pure land.  
 Transcribed and first edited by Jindati Doelter; second edit by
 Briege Wallbridge; third edit by Ailsa Cameron.   Copyright Wisdom
 Bob Jacobson                  | "I'm attracted to the idea of impermanence."      |    Unidentified man upon viewing of a Tibetan
 The University of MT-Missoula |    sand mandala in Los Angeles, 1989