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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?

Categories: Uncategorized
Posted by Gretchen Legler and Ruth Hill on February 24, 2012
4 Comments Post a comment
  1. 02/25/2012
    barbara mispilkin

    I just want you to know how much I enjoy your shared experiences in Bhutan I look. forward to reading and enjoying the beautiful pictures! Take care!

  2. 02/25/2012
    Art Rivarez

    Dr. Legler,
    Another thoughtful entry. Spinning a prayer wheel may seem like an idle person’s excuse to do nothing to alleviate suffering. But there is a profound effect of this act. We begin all suffering in our minds-a burning thought of revenge, a seething thought of jealousy, a simmering thought of anger etc. If we let our minds run away with those thoughts then we can easily see how these thoughts will snowball into avalanches of suffering. To tame this unruly mind we need practices that would center it at a stable state and chanting of Om Mane Padme Hung is one such practice which can do that. We know it empirically that if our minds are filled with compassion we feel good and others feel good too and there are less chances of my doing hurtful acts. And it also has an altruistic component-it generates a good feeling in mind-thus tackling the afflictive thought at its origin. Knowing that my prayers are flowing out to join millions of other to create a good atmosphere has a good effect on our mind. Thanks again.Art Rivarez

  3. 02/26/2012

    I loved these entries on the dogs–as you know, I brought back two puppies from New Delhi and in my obsessive way have wondered if I interfered with their karma by doing this. They seem to be happy. One found a home with a family in town. Yogi, the one I kept, seems to be doing well and will most likely get neutered next month. Still, I can’t help wondering if I was really acting from the right place or running on crusade mode which I’ve been known to do. These are great posts though and I’ve shared them with several people.

  4. 03/14/2012

    Wow madam!
    I enjoy reading your article. It inspired me, particularly your wonderful observation. The different forms of prayer wheel in different place are reflected well and description was seen vividly. the message was in fact clear and touching.
    i also came to know about western thinking about healing the suffering of sentient being although we too have the same, the difference could be from the angle of Buddhist and you have mentioned in your writing.
    thumbs up !
    i did enjoy and i never thought of this ideas…
    great thought
    keep on writing, i am learning too…
    all the best


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