A Passion for Prayer Flags
Carrying Healing Wishes Around the Earth
by France Robinson
As they wave in the wind, prayer flags lift up and carry our wishes for compassion, peace, happiness, and healing around the earth.
“Wind is the natural element of the horse. As it gallops across the plain the wind arises to meet it, its long tail and mane flowing freely as it speeds through the stillness of the air, creating wind. Both the wind and the horse are natural vehicles of movement, the horse carrying material form and the wind ethereal form. Prayers are carried on the wind, and in Tibet the prayer flag is known as the Windhorse, Lung Ta, in Tibetan.”
- from The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs by Robert Beer, Shambhala Press, 1999
My life took a beautiful and life-changing turn in 1996 when I went trekking in the high Himalayas of Nepal and fell in love with prayer flags. Throughout the mountainous countryside Tibetan prayer flags were everywhere, strung across suspension bridges, on mountain passes, on rooftops of monasteries and homes, and in gardens. I was captivated by them; the flags’ designs, the intentions, and the fluttering of the gentle blessings on the wind made my heart sing. Sometimes, rounding a corner on the trail, I came upon hundreds of prayer flags and was moved to tears; gratefully my heart was melting. Toward the end of the 3-week trek, I had a vision to create prayer flags in English for Westerners.
Tibetans have been making and hanging prayer flags for over 1,000 years. Flags are raised to mark auspicious occasions, particularly at the New Year or Lo Sar, Tibetan New Year, which normally falls in mid-February. They are also hung at times of new beginnings such as weddings, a child’s birth or naming ceremony, the start of a new business, when moving into a new home, a graduation, or at the start of a long journey. There are two main styles of flags: horizontal (Lung Dar) or vertical (Dar Cho or Dar Chen). Skilled wood block carvers, usually monks or lamas, carve prayer flag blocks as a spiritual practice. Squares of cloth, in each of the Five Elements/Five Buddha Families’ colours, (Blue is sky, White is clouds, Red is fire, Green is water, and Yellow is earth) are printed onto and sewn on a cord in groups of five. Traditionally, the Windhorse, an ethereal horse and carrier of prayers on the wind, is often at the centre with the Wishfulfilling Jewel on its back. On the corners are the four supernatural creatures, Garuda, Dragon, Tiger, and Snowlion. Other prayer flags may contain images of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas (realized beings who continue to choose reincarnation in order to benefit beings). Sacred mantras surround the central figures. To read more about the tradition and history see: www.westwindcollection.com/home/ww1/history_main.html or read Blessings On The Wind: The Mystery and Meaning of Tibetan Prayer Flags by Tad Wise, foreword by Robert Thurman.
It is a sign of respect to keep prayer flags off the ground or floor and to have clear, beneficial intentions as they are being hung. Over time the cloth frays and the printed images fade as they are released to the wind and the heavens. When they are well worn they are often burned, to release the last expression of prayer. It is also common to see old, tattered flags side by side with new ones, left to the elements. As they wave in the wind, prayer flags lift up and carry our wishes for compassion, peace, happiness, and healing around the earth. Prayer flags encourage us to live more mindfully and remind us of what is important.
In 2000, I began West Wind Flags, co-creating designs with Marcia O’Rourke, a wonderful graphic artist, and offering prayer flags in English. Every year a new design comes into being and is added to the line. So far I offer: Namaste Prayer Flags with messages of universal spirituality (our original set in English), Global Peace Flags, Healing Flags, Rainbow Flags, and Abundance Flags. There are many more sets in the works, such as Divine Feminine Prayer Flags and International Peace Flags. In addition, I carry the best quality Tibetan prayer flags available: Windhorse, Deities, Medicine Buddha, and Tara sets in both horizontal and vertical styles. I do wholesale and retail business. I am passionate about prayer flags and love sharing my enthusiasm with others. I feel deeply blessed by all the wonderful connections I make with customers, who often become friends.
West Wind Flags’ mission is to increase kindness, healing, and peace; to benefit all beings by generating abundant blessings on the wind. Firmly grounded in “Fair Trade”, West Wind Flags is happy to be working with a family of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flag makers in Kathmandu, Nepal, who make the high quality flags from 100% fine cotton. I cannot imagine having anyone else make these flags. It is their tradition I borrowed from and it is important to me that Tibetans benefit economically. Tithing 10% of profits to “The Hunger Project” in recognition and support of its outstanding work to improve the lives of girls and women in developing countries, makes me feel that the prayer flags are giving back on a global scale, working to increase the number of full tummies in the world. I believe hunger must end before we can have world peace.
I love this quote by Harold Thurman Whitman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I came alive when I fell in love with prayer flags!
Thank you for taking the time.
Namaste and be well friends,
France Robinson, West Wind Flags, PO Box 1087, Ashland, OR 97520, USA. Call toll free 1-888-388-6467 and visit www.westwindflags.com. They offer prayer flags in English and Tibetan, garden statuary, original greeting cards with Buddhist and Himalayan themes, and free e-cards with images from Nepal. Also see the display ad on page 21 of the 14.2 July/August
issue of the WHOLifE Journal.