Tibetan prayer wheel, gilt silver, 18th–19th century; in the Seattle (Washington) Art Museum.
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The rules surrounding the prayer wheels are very specific (although occasionally vary according to tradition). The practitioner must spin the wheel clockwise. This was determined because this is the direction the mantras are written. Before and after the practitioner turns the wheel, he or she must repeat the mantra, or no merit will be incurred by the wheel's use. However, some traditions state that repeating a mantra simply (or greatly) enhances the effects of the prayer wheel, and just turning it has benefits and merits alone. Each revolution is considered as meritous as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll. The wheel must not be spun frantically, but held straight (if a hand-held wheel) and turned smoothly with the motivation and spirit of compassion and bodhichitta (the noble mind that aspires to full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings). Which, it's been stated, are some of the benefits attributed to the practice of turning the wheel. It helps compassion and bodhichitta arise in the practitioner. The practitioner should also repeat the mantra as many times as possible during the turning of the wheel, and keep a calm meditative mind. Also, there's a tradition of asking the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to dedicate your accumulated merits to all sentient beings after a session of meditation (with or without the wheel).
Thubten Zopa Rinpoche has commented that installing a prayer wheel has the capacity to completely transform a place "...peaceful, pleasant, and conducive to the mind." Simply touching a prayer wheel is said to bring great purification to negative karmas and obscurations.
Some have suggested that the spinning of a hard drive (several thousand rotations per minute) can act in similar function to a prayer wheel by saving an image of Om mani padme hum or other mantra on their local machine.
'I felt recharged & cleansed at the end of my weekend healing retreat: before I left the center, I tugged one last time on the silk ribbon of the brightly colored prayer wheel and sent out a wish that I'd be able to find serenity in the weeks to come when faced with the stress (traffic jams, children's squabbles, computer crashes) of my life at home.
Jul 01, 2008; [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] I'M SPEEDING down a rain-slicked highway, frantically trying to make up for time lost in Friday afternoon...