The first time I saw prayer flags I was visiting one of my favourite places, Winter Wheat, in Sparta, Ontario. I was instantly intrigued by them. There was a little signpost there identifying them as Tibetan prayer flags and I was able to find the artist to whom they belonged and ask some questions about them. She explained to me that these yellow, green, red, white, and blue flags were a Buddhist tradition in Tibet and indeed, that you could see them hanging everywhere from the smallest of homes to remote mountain passes there. She had brought hers home from a recent trip to Tibet, because like me, she found them so colourful, beautiful, and meaningful.
The belief behind these prayer flags is that Buddhist prayers, mantras, and symbols are written and drawn on them. The flags are then hung up outside where the wind can touch them and carry the prayers out in the world to touch all who come into contact with that wind. Buddhist believe that anyone touched by these wind-carried prayers feel uplifted and are granted good karma. I love the way it’s put on this site:
“The silent prayers are blessings spoken on the breath of nature. Just as a drop of water can permeate the ocean, prayers dissolved in the wind extend to fill all of space.” http://www.prayerflags.com/download/article.pdf
Flickr, Nivedita Ravishankar
I learned that with these prayer flags, they are supposed to be hung in this order: yellow, green, red, white, and blue. If hung vertically, yellow is supposed to be at the bottom but if hung horizontally, the order can be from right to left or left to right. The colours each have specific meanings behind them. Blue means space, white is air (wind, cloud), red is fire, green is water, and yellow is earth.
My mom was with me when I first learned of prayer flags and she was also quite fascinated with them. A few years later she found this book “Blessings on the Wind” by Tad Wise and gave it to me as a gift.
It’s a lovely book filled with beautiful illustrations, information about prayer flags, and even a set of prayer flags! http://www.amazon.com/Blessings-Wind-Tad-Wise/dp/B000C4SW04/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1310255263&sr=8-1
My first prayer flag: Cultivate joy and bestow kindness. Under the layers of cloth, I’ve written some more personal intentions.
I have recently seen a number of different takes on prayer flags – being used by many different faiths such as with Christian churches making flags with their youth groups containing prayers and symbols meaningful to them as well as with those not associated with a particular faith using them to release their own personal intentions into the world, much as is done with things like vision boards.
I personally find it a wonderful thing to embrace customs found in other faiths and cultures and bring them into your life as it fits you. Indeed, according to my book, the Dalai Lama even said that as a general rule, “intention outweighs orthodoxy”. In my own faith, I believe that any time I utter a prayer whether in words, or thoughts, or music, or dance, or symbolically through artwork – no matter how I choose to convey that prayer, I believe that it is a beautiful thing.
Added some beads, ribbon, and rick rack. I even found some little butterfly shaped beads in my stash because butterflies are very meaningful to me.
So, I decided to make my own prayer flags. I went to the fabric store and bought the most colourful cotton broadcloth I could find – anything in a colour that I found pretty. As shown the other day, I also painted some fabric myself. I find that playing around with paint like that can be very relaxing, even meditative and while I’m painting, I can think about the intent behind the painting – what prayer or quality I wish to impart and infuse into my work through my thoughts. In this way, the creation process itself becomes a prayer and then every time I see the flag, I am reminded of its purpose which is in essence another prayer. Hopefully, that prayer is also then carried on the wind to bestow a blessing on someone else.
Check out the rest of the entries for Quilt Show Saturday here: http://www.thequiltladies.com/2011/07/quilt-ladies-quilt-show-saturday_08.html