Tibet, 19th century; metal, wood, bone, paper; 11 x 2 3⁄4 in.; The Newark Museum, Gift of Mary Pyne Cutting, 1982, 82.82, photo: Robert Goodbody, Courtesy of Princeton University Art Museum.
The prayer wheel is an ingenious device that intensifies the impact of reciting Avalokiteshvara’s mantra om mani padme hum. These instruments range from single large wheels housed in special buildings, to medium-sized cylinders installed in rows along the sides of a temple and turned while circumambulating its perimeter (as seen in this photograph), to small hand-held devices, such as the example on the left. One of Buddhism’s powerful metaphors is the idea of turning the wheel of dharma, which are Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings. The prayer wheel allows the practitioner to engage physically in this turning, with the ultimate aim of gaining a buddha’s realization.