Of course we visited several monasteries during our stay. One afternoon, the weather was pleasant, we met this group of little monks. They were sitting in the garden, doing their homework, practising how to blow the horn. They were pretty wild, these boys! Laughing and running, strangling each other, just what all little boys do. We offered them toffees.
We also visited a nunnery. The girls were a bit older, from 10 years-16, 17. Some of them spoke quite good English, so we could have a little chat. They get up in the morning at 4:30, two hours of prayer, breakfast, two ours of study, prayers again, and so on. Don’t you miss your family? we wanted to know. No, because they come from time to time to visit us. And don’t you miss having a boyfriend? “No”, one sweetheart said innocently, “because when you die, you die alone.”
Some rituals: prayer flags and prayer wheels
Prayer flags are traditionally used to promote peace, wisdom, compassion, and strength. It is believed that the wind will blow the prayers and mantras around, spreading goodwill and compassion. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all. As the images fade from exposure to the elements, the prayers on the flag become a permanent part of the universe. Just as life moves on and is replaced by new life, the Bhutanese people renew their hopes for the world by continually mounting new flags alongside the old. This act symbolizes a welcoming of life’s changes and an acknowledgement that all beings are part of a greater ongoing cycle.
You’ll find these colourful panels of fabric slung across rivers, posted outside of dzongs (fortresses) and temples, in front of houses, at the top of mountain passes and in meadows. They come in five colours: blue for sky or space, white for air or clouds, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth. The prayers are carved into wooden blocks and then printed on the cloth in repeating patterns.
Prayer wheels are cylindrical wheels on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, or leather. Traditionally, the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel. 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. According to the lineage texts on prayer wheels, prayer wheels are used to accumulate wisdom and merit (good karma) and to purify negativities (bad karma).
The practitioner has to spin the wheel clockwise, as the direction is that of the movement of the sun across the sky. While turning the wheel, it is best to focus the mind and repeat the ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ mantra. It is a mind-stabilisation technique that trains the mind while the body is in motion. However, it is said that even turning it while distracted has benefits and merits. Turn the wheel with a gentle rhythm and not too fast or frantically. Keep in mind the motivation and spirit of compassion. Not only does it help wisdom and compassion arise in the practitioner, it also enhances spiritual powers such as clairvoyance, precognition, reading others thoughts.