What are Prayer Wheels and How are they used?
Most prayer wheels are decorated hollow cylinders made of various repoussé metals (very often bronze) that contain a scroll printed with a mantra prayer. The wheel itself is often beautifully embossed with a prayer or Buddhist auspicious symbols as well. They come in many sizes and are used in devotional services. Small wheels are often attached to a stick and manipulated by hand and are usually spun in a clockwise direction. Large ones may be mounted on the grounds of monasteries or other sacred sites and may be spun by the wind or water (and sometimes by a light or candle; some are electric!).
Simply put, prayer wheels are used to accumulate good karma and dispel bad karma. For Tibetan Buddhists the act of spinning the wheel is as effective as verbal incantations.
The six syllable mantra, “om mani padme hum” is one of the most common prayers used in the prayer wheel. According to Wikipedia, “The first word Om is a sacred syllable found in Indian religions. The word Mani means "jewel" or "bead", Padme meaning the "lotus flower", the Buddhist sacred flower, while Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.” The six mantras roughly correspond to the six practices of Buddhism:
Perfection of Generosity
Perfection of Morality
Perfection of Patience
Perfection of Energy
Perfection of Meditation
Perfection of Wisdom
Different traditions may vary in the ritual for using prayer wheels but generally speaking the wheel is turned slowly and methodically while repeating the om mani padme hum prayer. Wisdom, compassion and many other benefits are believed to accrue to the practitioner.