Prayer Flags Dharma Practice

prayer flagsWhat's the meaning of them?
Each block of the flag is imprinted with very powerful Buddhist mantras of various deities. The fluttering of the prayer flags in the breeze represents sending out those prayers, which are often described as being carried on the back of the windhorse sometimes depicted in the middle of the print. In the Buddhist perspective everything is connected, so the particles of air carry the power of the prayer and impact everyone and everywhere the wind blows. The prayers focus on cleansing all negativities and being victorious over negative forces. Prayers for safe travel are popular -- hence, the flying of the flags at the top of mountain passes and so on.

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When should I hang them?
To be meaningful in a Buddhist way, hang flags on holy days such as those commemorating Buddha's Enlightenment, the Turning of the Wheel of Dharma or Universal Purification Day (see calendar for dates). However, it is fine to hang them almost any time. Tibetan astrological calendars indicate two days each month where the energies are not favourable for this activity in that case, the positive potential is completely reversed for the entire time the flag flies.

What's the history of the flags in Tibet?
They date back before the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century. Respect was paid to the sun, moon and stars and natural elements by depicting symbols of them on banners. Interestingly, the banners were bound to weapons in the belief the power of the elements would give the carriers power and success in battle. In the 8th century, Guru Padmasambhava successfully fought against the many superstitious practices being done in Tibet at that time and encouraged Buddhist practice. He taught that the use of flags and the burning of incense could be changed from mundane purposes to benefit all sentient beings. The flags became imprinted with Buddhist scripture. Kushok also explains that prayer flags are referred to in the sutras, but the practice never took hold in India.

What do the colours mean?
Colour: Element:
Blue Sky (space)
White Cloud/Water (fluidity)
Red Fire (heat)
Green Tree/Air (motility)
Yellow Earth (solidity)
The flags are sewn together in order from Sky (blue) to Earth (yellow).  Flags of the same colours are also used by First Nations people in North America.

What do I do with old prayer flags?
Prayer flags are usually left to disintegrate naturally but if a person wishes to take down faded ones, it is acceptable that they are burnt, preferably at a fire puja. As the Dharma words on the flags represent the Buddhas, visualize the Wisdom Beings go back to the pure lands, and the Commitment Beings absorb into you.

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