Buddhist Prayer Tools

by June Mebei

Buddhist prayers are used to guide meditation. They are not necessarily prayers to a deity or spirit, as is the case in theistic religions. There are a variety of prayer tools used in different Buddhist traditions. These include beads and incense, which are common in many Buddhist traditions, and Tibetan prayer wheels and flags.

Buddhist Prayer Beads

Buddhist prayer beads

Prayer beads, also called malas, are used in Buddhist prayer. The beads are strung together on a necklace. In Buddhist traditions, most malas have 108 beads for counting mantras. Mantras are short strings of words or syllables that have a spiritual effect when recited. The beads are held in the hands during prayer. Reciting mantras with prayer beads serves as a form of guided meditation that gives the praying person something to focus on.

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

This small Tibetan prayer wheel has the words of a prayer embossed on its surface.

Prayer wheels are metal cylinders with Buddhist prayers written on their surface. Buddhists who use prayer wheels believe that spinning the wheel has the same effect as reciting the prayer on its surface. Prayer wheels come in many sizes. Small and medium sized wheels are easily spun by hand, while larger wheels may require water power to spin. Some Tibetan temples include rows of prayer wheels that visitors can spin before entering.

Incense in Buddhism

Fragrant and calming, incense is ideal for use in prayer and meditation.

Incense is made of natural materials that produce sweet smelling smoke when burned. The use of incense is common in most Buddhist traditions. It is offered to the Buddha during prayer, and the pleasant smell can contribute to relaxation during meditation. The incense is also seen as a way to heal and purify the body. The incense can be held in hand during prayer or laid in an incense burner inside of the temple.

Prayer Flags

Tibetan Buddhists believe that prayer flags are only effective when they are blown by the wind.

Tibetan prayer flags come in five symbolic colors: red stands for fire, blue for water, white for iron, yellow for earth and green for wood. Symbols and Buddhist proverbs called sutras are printed on the flags. The flags are then strung together and hung outside, where they are blown by the wind. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the wind carries the prayers printed on the flag, producing the same effects that come from reciting sutras aloud.

About the Author

June Mebei is a Virginia-based writer who earned her B.A. in English at Georgia State University. She began writing professionally in 2008, and has published narrative essays, editorial articles, short stories and poetry.

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