What Colour is Your Prayer (Flag)? ~ Tibetan Tradition

Via Cora Wen
on Dec 10, 2009
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In the high Himalayan mountains, it is a simple way to gain merit by putting up prayer flags for the benefit of all beings. Prayer flags are ancient Buddhist prayers, mantras and symbols that have a powerful spiritual vibration carried by and into the wind.

Prayer flags date to ancient Tibet, China, Persia and India, and the texts and symbols are based in Buddhist philosophy. Pre-Buddhist shamanistic priests used colored flags in healing ceremonies, arranging them around a patient harmonising the elements for physical and mental health. Colored flags were used to appease gods and spirits of the mountains, valleys, lakes and streams, thought to cause natural disasters and disease.

Tibetan word for prayer flag is Dar Cho

“Dar” ~ increase life, fortune, health and wealth

“Cho” ~ all sentient beings

Traditionally, prayer flags are in sets of five of five colors. The colors represent the five elements, and the Five Pure Lights and are arranged from left to right in specific order. Chinese medicine trusts health and harmony are produced through balancing these 5 elements.

The order of color is always: yellow, green, red, white and blue. In vertical display yellow goes at the bottom and blue at the top. For horizontal display the order can go from right to left or left to right.

Nyingma (Ancient Ones) School:

Blue ~ sky/space

White ~ air/wind/cloud

Red ~ fire

Green ~ water

Yellow ~ earth

When raising prayer flags proper intention is important. If they are put up with “I will benefit from this” – which is an ego-centered motivation, benefits will be small. If the attitude is “May all beings everywhere receive benefit and find happiness,” the virtue generated by such motivation increases the power of prayers.

Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy, and they bear sacred texts and symbols that need to be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or put in the trash. When disposing of old prayer flags the traditional way is to burn them so the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens.

Prayer flags move with the wind, quietly harmonising the world, impartially increasing happiness and good fortune to all beings. These prayers are blessings borne on the breath of nature. All beings touched by the wind are uplifted and a little happier. As a drop of water resumes into the ocean, prayers dissolve in wind extend to fill space.

May the winds rise to carry happiness along…

“For as long as space endures, and for aslong as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world” –Shantideva prayer


About Cora Wen

CORA WEN grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Asia and the West, and took refuge in the Buddha as a teen. An international childhood growing up in Hong Kong and Indonesia, Switzerland, Australia and the US, has instilled the spirit of a travelling adventurer. After sowing wild oats in New York City in the 70s with rockers Deborah Harry and Patti Smith, she had careers in fashion and banking. Since 1994, Cora has taught Yoga, mentored by America’s most influential Yoga lineage. She has been dedicated since 2002 in support of indigenous culture for exiled Tibetan people and land mine victims. Find her at www.corawen.com.


2 Responses to “What Colour is Your Prayer (Flag)? ~ Tibetan Tradition”

  1. L Sherab says:

    Good post, I especially liked the link to the explanation of the five pure lights. When putting up prayer flags it is important to not do so on an inauspicious day. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says "When you put up prayer flags to bring success, if you put them up on the wrong astrological dates [paden tharwo], you continuously receive obstacles. For as long as the prayer flags last, obstacles will continuously arise." This site has a list of the days http://www.prayerflags.com/inauspicious_days.asp for instance the next one is December 20th 2009. This site has Lama Zopa's teaching quoted above as well as the method for controlling obstacles caused by engaging in activities on the wrong astrological dates, http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&a

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