The Buddhist Prayer Flags

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Buddhist worship places (monasteries) as also homes are characterized by the presence of Prayer flags found tied to rooftops. They bear the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ written on them, and are considered to bring good luck, peace, health and harmony. These appear extensively in photographs and movies. The sight of these colourful flags fluttering against a clear blue sky, always makes for a very soothing and positivism inducing photograph. I have had a fascination for these since a long period of time.

I always wanted to hang these at home for all the positive vibes and good luck that they bring; and of course for the beautiful colour filled sight they create. There are several Buddhist regions in and around India and many of my friends who have visited these places have gifted me these prayer flags as souvenirs from their trips. However, something always stopped me from putting these up at home. I always felt that I needed to experience the sight of these flags in person to really bring back a part of it home. And so, despite having many sets of these flags, I decided that I ll hang them up at home only when I get an opportunity to truly experience the sight of these and have a memory to go back to, upon looking at these at home.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh earlier this year. Spiti Valley is a cold desert area in the Himalayas, composed of small Buddhist villages. The place is home to some of the highest villages in the world and has very old monasteries that have tremendous historical significance in the Buddhist culture. And thus I finally got to witness many pretty sights of the prayer flags at the Buddhist villages in Spiti! Through discussions with the local people, I learnt a lot more about these flags and the Buddhist prayers on this visit, making it one of the memorable aspects of this trip.

To briefly update on the prayer flags and the mantra written on them, these flags are in groups of 5 flags; with either the format Om Ma Ni Padme Hum or Om Mani Pae Me Hum. Each alphabet is written on one flag and bears one of the fixed colours blue, white, red, green, yellow (symbolizing the five elements of Nature). Some flags may have more elaborate descriptions written as well. These sets of 5 flags appear in repeats along the string which is used for hanging/tying these to doors or roof tops. Sometimes these are also present in a vertical way, arranged one below the other along a rod/stick. These vertical kind of prayer flags are often found at monasteries, stupas and places of worship.

The mantra written on these flags symbolizes a way of transformation of one’s impure self to the pure self of Buddha. I love this underlying philosophy of the Buddhist way which acknowledges that no person is born without any flaws. Every person has his or her own impurities and flaws. All good qualities are also contained within us itself; which can be emphasized upon and built up to attain the pure self of Buddha. Chanting these prayers is a way of invoking our inner compassionate self, overcoming our impurities and connecting to Buddha.

The literal meanings of the mantra is as follows:

Om        :Body, speech, mind of self and of Buddha

Mani     : Literal meaning ‘jewel’. Represent a method of connection, of enlightenment

Padme  : Literal meaning ‘Lotus’. Represents wisdom required to rise above self

Hum    : Representation of invisibility. Signifies union of methods and wisdom for self enlightenment.

With this amazing philosophical message attached, the Buddhist prayer flags attain a special significance in these villages.  In my visit to the Spitian villages, I noticed that these prayer flags were a prominent feature. You see them adorning the rooftops of almost all houses, shops, and commercial buildings in this area. The composition of the village and settlement in general, has a very soothing and positive look due to these flags. It’s as if the prayer flags are caretakers of that region. With their positive vibes, good luck, and a command over the forces of nature, they make for a security force of the village. For me personally, this was the first experience of looking at so many prayer flags, full and rich with colour, all around me. And I experienced a serenity and peace like never before.  As these flags flutter with the wind, they seem to spread a beautiful sort of positivism towards you. They represent good luck, optimism and above all a path of enlightenment that you may have been searching for or were stuck at.

There are times during travel when all you want to do is pause, look around and soak in the place, close your eyes and make a memory. I call it the creation of a mind photograph. Generally, I end up getting this feeling primarily while being amidst nature. But with the prayer flags, it probably is the first man-made thing that made me stare at it for hours and build up a memory so quiet, so peaceful, almost meditative.

Needless to say, I was completely in love with these flags on this trip. I ended up clicking lots of pictures of these as they sat on every home, every stupa, every monastery, every construction site, every bridge. What will follow here is a photo series of these flags as I captured them at different locations in the villages. I hope through these pictures, I can manage to convey to you at least a fraction of the peace and excitement that I witnessed by looking at these.  I wish you all an opportunity to witness the fluttering of these flags in a native land!!

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En route to Spiti Valley, Kinnaur Kailash range, Kalpa

 

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Spitian home, Tabo

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A stupa at the Dhankar Lake, Dhankar

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Spitian home, Kaza, Spiti

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The Old Monastery, Dhankar

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A random click while driving through Spitian villages

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A bridge near Pin Valley

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A bridge near a contruction site

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Prayer flags at the Stupa at Langza

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Fluttering high above our heads! Komik, Spiti

 

 

 

The Fitness Quotient on your wrist

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Fitness trackers are the new additions to accessories owned by people. What started as an exclusive expensive commodity that was initially purchased only in the western world has now come to the ease of procurement in India as well. You will notice little devices (like the ones in the picture from the Fitbit website here) adorning the wrists of several individuals in a reasonably age independent manner. An increase in awareness coupled with the ease of quantification of calories has led to a new spirit of measuring the number of calories spent, gained, efficiency of workout`s, number of steps, heart rates and what not. A walk in the park, a routine in the gym, or even climbing up and down the steps in work areas sees people peeking into their wrist belts to check on a digital output that either gets translated into a smile (yeah nailed the calories!!) or a grumpy frown (Man, I needed a higher heart rate from this cardio!!)

Personally, I am not very fascinated with this tracking of calories but I am nevertheless happy with the way people are getting more fitness conscious, and how seeing numbers on their wrist motivates them in some way or the other. Indeed we do so much to ensure that our bodies are getting their share of fitness activities; and that we are in the correct shape and size. When fitness activities result in an increase in our endurance and stamina, we feel good about ourselves.

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The variety of fitness tracker devices available at http://www.fitbit.co.za/

Lots of efforts on measuring fitness of the body. But what about fitness of the mind?

What if we came up with an analogous tracker that measures how much positive and negative emotions and thoughts you accumulate throughout the day? How would this world be if we gave exactly equal importance to mental fitness tracking along with physical fitness tracking?

So, say every time you get angry with someone, yell and fuss, there goes a cling on your wrist. -1. Every time you smile, wave at someone with happiness, do something to help someone, you hear another click, a +1 count. So a digital output tells you how much happiness, anger, jealousy, and compassion you have had throughout your day. You program a minimum level of positive aspects into your mental workout regime and check if you achieved it at the end of the day! How does that sound?

Having been in science all this while, I am always tempted to imagine products that will utilize scientific research into creative everyday tools. And one such science fiction tool that I think about is something that measures your body temperature/hormonal changes when your emotions change; and displays them on a digital meter. And I call this a fitness tracker for your mind 🙂

Well, we can always leave the science fiction part aside for now and nevertheless keep our own track of mental pluses and minuses for everyday. Often we do it unknowingly. My point is do it intentionally. Keep as much track of your mental exercises and fitness as of your physical fitness. And make changes to improve your mental fitness, agility, flexibility, positivism just as you would manage workouts for your body. Charles Darwin has long ago taught us about the survival advantages of the fittest. And our net fitness a being is a sum total of both physical and mental health states.

I see this invisible mental fitness tracker on the wrist of every individual I meet. Is this what they say karma is doing all the while? Keeping a track of what positive and negative things happen in every person’s mind? I know not, and can only wonder.