Tibetan prayer flags
World peace with every gust of wind
Tibetan prayer flags hang in all Buddhist regions of the Himalayas. The colourful flags wave in the wind and carry their benevolent mantras far beyond the snow-covered mountain peaks into the world. So far that the Buddhist prayer flags already play a role for many people all over the world. But what is the significance of the Buddhist flags that also adorn gardens and homes in Europe?
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The significance of Tibetan prayer flags
Tibetan prayer flags are meant to contribute to the peace, happiness and wisdom of every being in life. However, the prayers and mantras are not addressed to a deity, but are carried by the wind to all beings in this world.
Buddhist flags probably originated in India. In the Tibetan cultural sphere, the Buddhist flags came into contact with Buddhist spirituality when the 17th king of the empire came into contact with Buddhist spirituality. He encouraged his people to hang mantras in the form of prayer flags on buildings and in nature.
It was this king who designed the present form of the prayer flag, a mixture of symbols from the Bon tradition and Buddhism.
On the lower levels, the flags supported personal happiness, while the prayer flags on the heights promoted the spirituality of the person and brought the benevolent mantras to all beings.
The colours of the prayer flags
Original Tibetan prayer flags show five different colours. The number five is an important figure in Buddhism and carries various meanings. The colours of a prayer flag represent the four cardinal points and the centre as well as the five elements:
- Blue = Sky
- White = Clouds
- Red = Fire
- Green = Water
- Yellow = Earth
When hanging the prayer flags, note the colours and the order. A prayer flag should always be hung according to colour from left to right, or from inside to outside. Blue stands for the beginning and yellow for the end.
The prayer flags are not colourful in all parts of Tibet: in some remote places the flags are only plain white, as the inhabitants cannot afford the expensive dye.
Another aspect of the colouring of prayer flags is that each colour is associated with a syllable of the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum“, which has a very deep meaning:
- Om = the sacred syllable
- Mani = jewel
- Padme = lotus
- Hum = spirit of enlightenment
This mantra is a mixture of morals such as compassion, ethics, patience, renunciation and wisdom. The teachings say that whoever recites this mantra during meditation can be cured of emotions such as pride, jealousy, greed, aggression and ignorance. Each colour of the prayer flags is associated with one of these negative emotions that hinder the path to enlightenment. These are as follows:
- Blue = Anger
- White = Ignorance
- Red = Covetousness
- Green = Avarice, envy, greed
- Yellow = Pride, Egoism
By reciting the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, devotees can get rid of emotions like these and find a pure mind and heart. Only then is the path to enlightenment opened.
Symbols of the prayer flags
Yellow Himalayan flag with wind pine in the middle.
Wind horse with jewels on its back
Prayer flags that are hung in the wind are also called Lung Ta. This means wind horse. And it is precisely this symbol that is most often applied to Buddhist flags and is usually placed in the middle, between the four symbolic animals.
The Wind Horse
The wind horse is considered the bearer of prayers to heaven. It is surrounded by countless mantras for a long and happy life. In the most famous depictions, the horse carries three jewels on its back. These stand for Buddha, Dharma (the Buddha teachings) and Sangha and symbolise the creed in Buddhism.
The wind horse is also a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. Almost every Tibetan has at least one wind horse flag hanging on their house or in their garden. The wind horse is said to carry wishes and blessings into the world and to bring luck to the person who has hung the prayer flag.
The four symbolic animals
On many prayer flags, the wind horse is surrounded by the four symbolic animals representing the four cardinal directions:
- the Dragon (power)
The dragon represents the West. It thunders in the sky with the sound of compassion that awakens us from delusion and magnifies what we can know through hearing. Dragons have the power of complete communication. Just as we do not see the sound, we do not see the dragons.
- the Garuda (wisdom)
The Garuda is brave and fearless and resides in the north. With great strength and power he floats out without holding back. He symbolises freedom from hopes and fears, the broad mind without a point of reference. He is a powerful antidote to the negative influences of nagas (spirits) that can cause illness and all kinds of harm.
- the Snow lion (fearless friends)
The snow lion symbolises the earth element. It is located in the East and represents unconditional cheerfulness. The snow lion has a youthful, vibrant energy of goodness and a natural sense of joy. Sometimes a Buddha’s throne is depicted with eight snow lions on it. In this case, they represent the 8 main Bodhisattva disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha.
- the Tiger (confidence)
The tiger dwells in the south and symbolises unconditional trust, disciplined awareness, kindness and humility. He is relaxed yet full of energy and rests in a gentle state of being that gives a natural feeling of contentment and fulfilment and relates to the state of enlightenment.
The text on the prayer flags represents a variety of the approximately 400 different mantras of Buddhism. Each mantra is dedicated to a particular deity such as White Tara or Avalokiteshvara. The most famous mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum.
The dragon stands for power
The tiger stands for confidence
The Garuda stands for wisdom
The snow lion stands for fearless friends
The alignment of the prayer flags
The way the flags are hung and positioned is also varied.
The best known is probably the horizontal arrangement, followed by the vertical arrangement of the prayer flags on a bamboo trunk.
A special variant of horizontal stringing is serzam, a long golden flag. It is stretched over bridges and rivers to bring good luck to all creatures that pass underneath.
At places where someone died in a fatal accident, a lama taught or an important personality was cremated, darpung are hung up – pyramids of white prayer flags.
Tibetan Prayer Flags at Home
In every corner of Tibet, in the loneliest and most secluded places, numerous Tibetan prayer flags wave in the wind, spreading happiness and peace throughout the world. But you don’t need a snow-covered mountain landscape to feel their effect and enjoy their beautiful aesthetics. Because the flags are also in good hands in your home or garden.
Where can I buy Tibetan prayer flags?
We have 4 reasons why you should buy a prayer flag, even if you are not a Buddhist.
- Are you enthusiastic about Tibet? A prayer flag is the epitome of Tibetan culture and reflects the wisdom of Buddhism.
- The prayer flags look beautiful when they flutter back and forth in the wind in your garden.
- You pray not only for your own happiness, but for health, long life, wealth and good fortune for all those to whom the wind carries the mantras.
- Tibetan prayer flags decorate your home and contribute to a balanced atmosphere.
Hanging Tibetan prayer flags
Tibetan flags have a high status in the Buddhist faith and should always be treated with respect. Every event in the life cycle of the prayer flags is attributed a meaning. Even the hanging process!
When you hang your prayer flags, the timing is as important as the location. Tibetans have special days with favourable star constellations that are suitable for hanging the flags.
How to hang a prayer flag?
Our prayer flags have a string attached to each end. If you use a nail for attachment, you can easily tie the string around the nail.
- Prayer flags on the wall
If you want to attach the prayer flags to the wall, we recommend that you keep the cord tight. So that the end does not hang down unsightly, you can simply tie it around the nail.
- Tibet flags under the ceiling
Prayer flags look more beautiful under the ceiling than on the wall. The effect is most impressive if you stretch several flags from one corner of the room in all directions. The more flags you use, the more beautiful the effect.
- Prayer flags in front of the window
If you only want to hang a prayer flag garland, the window is also a great place. With the sun shining in, the five colours illuminate in vibrant hues.
- Prayer flags on the balcony
As you can see from the picture in front of the window, the flags look great in the midst of greenery. You can hang the prayer flags on your terrace or balcony, for example. Important: If you hang the flags outside, please make sure that they are made of cotton. As the flags are slowly decomposed by the wind, flags made of polyester would release plastic into the environment.
When should I hang the Tibetan flags?
Buddhists hang prayer flags on specific days, which are marked in the Tibetan calendar. Hanging a prayer flag on a different day is believed to interfere with the effect of the mantras and prayers on it.
It is best to hang your new flags on a waxing moon morning with positive altruistic intent. In Tibet, the old prayer flags are replaced every year on Lhosa, the Tibetan New Year. But new flags are also often hung on important occasions such as funerals, illnesses and weddings.
As soon as the inscription on the prayer flag was worn away by the wind, it was to be replaced. The prayers were then carried out into the world and the empty flags were to be burnt.
Where should I hang prayer flags?
It is best to choose the place of the prayer flags in a way that the wind can get caught in them. This is the only way that the flags can unfold their effect and bring happiness to many people.
The higher the flags hang, the better they flutter in the wind and the prayers can be carried far into the world.
It is important that a prayer flag never touches the ground. This is considered highly disrespectful and defiling.
Disposal of the Tibetan prayer flags
Few other symbols place so much importance on the way they are disposed of. You will notice that Tibetan prayer flags outside slowly decay over time. This process is meant to represent the natural course of life. For each of us ages and will leave our present existence with death.
Burn your prayer flags
If you wish to dispose of your Tibetan prayer flag before it rots, you can do so with a special ritual. The prayer flag should not simply be disposed of in the rubbish, but burned with respect.
But be careful: when burning, be sure that your prayer flags are made of cotton. Burning polyester releases pollutants into your environment – as you can imagine, this is not the spirit of Buddhism.
See the burning as a final prayer to the universe. When you buy a new Tibetan prayer flag, it symbolises the rebirth of every being.
Tibetan prayer flags give you the opportunity to bring the culture of Tibet into your home and to embrace the wisdom of Buddhism. Send a little peace out into the world with every gust of wind!