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Stray Dogs and Prayer Wheels Part III

Prayer wheels are everywhere in Bhutan–perched above stream beds, constantly turned by the power of the water; built into crumbling chortens beside the roads; lining the outer walls of sacred temples; tucked into walls around the corner from the hardware store; and solar powered prayer wheels like the one pictured above spin on the dashboards of cars all across the country. You will even see people walking around with hand-held prayer wheels on a stick that you spin with a turn of the wrist. When you spin them you send into the universe the sacred words inscribed upon them, Om Mane Padme Hung. . . “May all sentient beings be free from suffering.” Spinning prayer wheels might feel, to some Westerners, like an exercise in faith alone, not an active intervention to eliminate suffering. In my Western mind, for instance, if I wanted all sentient beings to be free from suffering, I’d intervene with antibiotics and vitamins and flea baths to try to save the lives of all six of the neighborhood puppies, or all 50, or all 100, or all 10,000, or I’d spay and neuter all the dogs in Bhutan. Thinking that way, I quickly become overwhelmed and give up in hopelessness. An idea flickers in the dim reaches of my brain. . . I wonder, could hundreds of thousands of prayer wheels spinning out compassion and kindness, sending that scared chant, Om Mane Padme Hung, over the mountains, into the valleys, up the alleyways of Thimphu, down the farm roads of Bhutan, into the forests and across the rice paddies, be a place of balance between doing nothing to alleviate suffering and trying to eliminate it altogether? Could it be a middle path? Could the wheels themselves represent the circle of life, which after all, includes death?