A prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton.
Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the eight auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. At the core of the cylinder is a “life tree” often made of wood or metal with certain mantras written on or wrapped around it. Many thousands (or in the case of larger prayer wheels, millions) of mantras are then wrapped around this life tree.
In Buddhism, Buddhas & Bodhisattvas have created a variety of skillful means (upaya) to help bring practitioners ever closer to realizing enlightenment. The idea of spinning mantras relates to numerous Tantric practices whereby the Tantric practitioner visualizes mantras revolving around the nadis and especially around the meridian chakras such as the heart & crown. Therefore, prayer wheels are a visual aid for developing one’s capacity for these types of Tantric visualizations. The practitioner most often spins the wheel clockwise, as the direction in which the mantras are written is that of the movement of the sun across the sky. Not only does this increase the merit earned by the wheel’s use, but it is a mind-stabilization technique that trains the mind while the body is in motion. However, it is said that even turning it while distracted has benefits & merits. Each revolution is as meritorious as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll & this means that the more Om Mani Padme Hum mantras that are inside a prayer wheel, the more powerful it is.
It is best to turn the wheel with a gentle rhythm & not too fast or frantically. While turning smoothly, one keeps in mind the motivation & spirit of compassion and bodhichitta. The benefits attributed to the practice of turning the wheel are vast. Not only does it help wisdom, compassion & bodhichitta arise in the practitioner, it also enhances siddhis (spiritual powers such as clairvoyance, precognition, reading others thoughts, etc.). The practitioner can repeat the mantra as many times as possible during the turning of the wheel, stabilizing a calm, meditative mind.
At the end of a practice session, there is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of dedicating any accumulated merits that one may have gathered during practice to the benefit of all sentient beings. Then Om Ah Hum 3 times. This is customary with Tibetans upon completing any Buddhist practice, including the practice of the prayer wheel.
I carefully construct the prayer wheel pendants I make from recycled silver or copper metal clay with positive intentions & insert a scroll with Om Mani Padme Hum printed numerous times & wrapped around the center screw which serves as the life tree.
If you would like a custom prayer wheel pendant made with your own mantra, please visit my customs page.