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Advice on the Benefits of Prayer Wheels
by Lama Zopa, Rinpoche
Given at Land of Medicine Buddha
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 PEME HUNG. And when they walk around, they constantly turn the prayer wheel and recite OM MANI PEME HUNG.
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 merit.
At Lawudo I found many old manuscripts, handwritten texts by the Lawudo Lama. The previous Lawudo Lama 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 various 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. Learning about somebody else experiencing a similar effect from building a prayer wheel helped to stabilize my faith.