Prayer flags are not just pretty pieces of colored cloth with funny writing on them. The ancient Buddhist prayers, mantras, and powerful symbols displayed on them produce a spiritual vibration that is activated and carried by the wind across the countryside. All beings touched by the wind are uplifted and made a little happier. Prayer flags’ silent prayers are blessings spoken on the breath of nature. Prayers dissolved in the wind extend to fill all of space.
The Tibetan words for prayer flag are dar cho. Dar means to increase life, fortune, health and wealth. Cho means all sentient beings. Prayer flags are simple devices that couple with the natural energy of the wind to quietly harmonize the environment, impartially increasing happiness and good fortune among all living beings.
Prayer Flags create Harmony
Placing prayer flags in and around your home imparts a feeling of harmony, increases the spiritual atmosphere, and brings to mind teachings of enlightenment. By placing these prayer flags outdoors, the flags’ sacred mantras are imprinted on the wind, generating peace and good wishes.
DarCho typically come on ropes that let the flags be hung in horizontal display. The prayer flags are printed on five different cloth colors: yellow, green, red, white and blue, each color corresponding to a different primary element that together form the fundamental building blocks of our physical bodies and our environment. Blue corresponds to space; white to air; red to fire; green corresponds to water and yellow to the earth. Sets always contain flags in multiples of five to correspond to the five Buddha families and the five wisdoms.
According to Eastern medicine, health and harmony are produced through a balance of the five elements. The ancients believed properly arranging colored flags around a sick patient harmonized the elements in the patient’s body, helping to produce a state of physical and mental health. Colored flags also were used to appease the gods and spirits of the local mountains, valleys, lakes and streams. These elemental beings were thought to cause natural disasters and disease when provoked. Balancing the outer elements and propitiating the elemental spirits with rituals and offerings was the pre-Tibetan Buddhist way of pacifying nature and invoking the blessings of the gods. Theirs was an oral tradition using representations as invocations. During the first millennium, Buddhism gradually assimilated into the Tibetan way of life. It flourished by encompassing the popular ideology and building upon it. Thus, in addition to the early symbols and designs, Tibetan prayer flags also include script modeled on ancient Sanskrit. Texts on prayer flags can be categorized as mantras, sutras and prayers.
A mantra is a power laden syllable or series of syllables –sounds with the capacity to influence certain energy dimensions. The vibration of mantras can control the invisible energies and occult forces that govern existence. Mantras almost always are in Sanskrit, the ancient language of Hinduism and Buddhism. Mantras range in length from a single syllable such as “om” to long mantras containing tens of syllables.
Sutras are prose texts based on the discourses directly derived from the historical Buddha who taught in India 2500 years ago. All the other text on prayer flags falls under the general term “prayers” including supplications, aspirations and good wishes written by various Buddhist masters.
Sacred Prayer Flags
Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy. Because they contain sacred texts and symbols, the flags should be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or put in the trash. The traditional way of disposing of prayer flags is to burn them, so the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens. Or they may simply be left to disintegrate and become one with the wind. Either way, there is no simpler way to create good merit in this troubled world than to put up prayer flags for the benefit of all other living beings.