Tibetan prayer wheels (called “Mani wheels” by the Tibetans) are devices for spreading blessings and well being. Rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many copies of the mantra (prayer) Om Ma ni Pad me Hum wound around an axle in a protective container and spun around repeatedly. Typically, larger decorative versions of the syllables of the mantra are also carved on the outside of the wheel. Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying this mantra, out loud or silently to yourself invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion.
Looking at a written copy of the mantra is said to have the same effect and the mantra is carved into stones left in piles near paths where travelers will see them. Spinning the written form of the mantra around a Mani wheel is also supposed to have the same effect, the more copies of the mantra, the more the benefit is.
Mani wheels are found throughout Tibet and in areas influenced by Tibetan culture. There are many types of Mani wheels, small hand-held wheels which are the most common by far. Tibetan people carry them for hours, and even on long pilgrimages, spinning them any time their hand is free.
Larger wheels are placed where they can spin by wind, by water or hand, they contain a myriad copies of mantra, and may also contain sacred texts, totaling at up to hundreds of volumes and always spin clockwise.