How to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully

Every so often we receive messages about how to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully.

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be spread by the wind and bring good will and compassion to benefit all beings.

prayer flags, how to dispose of Tibetan prayer flags,

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India remove and burn old prayer flags and set up new ones to mark Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Prayer flags are made of block-printed fabric using traditional printing techniques going back hundreds of years. The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India have been making prayer flags for many years. We sell these  specially blessed objects through our online store and the revenue helps provide food, health care, shelter, and education for the over 230 nuns who live at the nunnery, as well as to help support around 500 nuns at six other nunneries in India.

Some people have asked whether it is appropriate for non-Buddhists to display Tibetan prayer flags. Yes, it is fine for non-Buddhists to display Tibetan prayer flags.

When raising prayer flags it is important to have a good motivation. One should not have selfish or limiting thoughts. When hanging prayer flags one should wish that all beings everywhere will benefit and find happiness.

prayer flags, burning prayer flags, Tibetan Nuns Project, how to dispose of old prayer flags

Being careful not to let the old prayer flags touch the ground, a Tibetan Buddhist nun burns the flags while wishing to end the suffering of all sentient beings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy. The flags contain sacred texts and symbols and should be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or put in the trash.

When disposing of old prayer flags one should burn them so that the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens. Do not let prayer flags touch the ground as they are burned.

As you are burning the prayer flags, you should try to remember the intentions with which the prayer flags were made and blessed and have compassion for all sentient beings.

hanging new prayer flags, Tibetan prayer flags, Tibetan Nuns Project

A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery hangs new prayer flags at Losar, Tibetan New Year. Traditionally, prayer flags are hung outside so the wind can carry the prayers to the world for the benefit of all sentient beings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

You may also choose to let your old Tibetan prayer flags fade and disintegrate naturally, hanging new prayer flags up with old ones. The contrast between old and new prayer flags is a reminder of impermanence and the continuing cycle of birth and death.

The traditional cotton prayer flags, like those made by the nuns at Dolma Ling and sold in our online store, fade more quickly than synthetic ones and may be safely burned. The fact that they do not last is part of their nature and is a reminder of the central Buddhist teaching of impermanence.

Traditionally, Tibetan prayer flags come in sets of five, with one flag in each of five colors, left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. The five colors represent the elements: blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

Another question that we’ve received about Tibetan prayer flag protocol is whether it is OK to dissemble them and use them separately, or do they have to be displayed together in a row so that all the elements are represented. We would suggest that it is better not to take apart the set of prayer flags. They are meant to represent the five elements in balance and it is not really appropriate to the purpose or culture to separate them.

You can buy Tibetan prayer flags through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. They come in a variety of types and sizes of prayer flags as follows:

Windhorse Tibetan prayer flagsWindhorse Prayer Flags

The Wind Horse or Lung-ta is the most prevalent symbol used on prayer flags. In the center of the prayer flag is a powerful horse (lung-ta) bearing three flaming jewels on its back. These jewels represent the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and the Sangha (Buddhist community) which are the three cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition. The horse (Ta) is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune. Surrounding the Lung ta are mantras and Buddhist sacred symbols. In the corners of the prayer flags are images four powerful animals, also known as the Four Dignities: the dragon, the garuda, the tiger, and the snow lion. Windhorse prayer flags made by the nuns are available in three sizes. Buy Windhorse Prayer flags here.

Tara Tibetan Prayer flagsTara Prayer Flags

Tara represents virtuous and enlightened action. It is said that her compassion for living beings is stronger than a mother’s love for her children. She also brings about longevity, protects earthly travel, and guards her followers on their spiritual journey to enlightenment. The Tara prayer flags have a lovely image of Tara in the center.  You can order Tara prayer flags in three sizes here.

Guru Rinpoche prayer flagsGuru Rinpoche Prayer Flags

Padmasambhava, the renowned saint of the eighth century, was a central figure in shaping Buddhism’s history in Tibet. Revered as the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche (Precious Guru) conquered the local deities and demons of Tibet and bound them by oath to become guardians of Buddhism. Purchase Guru Rinpoche prayer flags in three sizes here.

Gyaltsen Tsenpo Tibetan Prayer flagsGyaltsen Tsenpo Prayer Flags

This is a common prayer flag, especially at New Year, symbolizing new ventures and beginnings. Gyaltsen Tsenpo prayer flags are printed with sutras bestowed by Lord Buddha to Indra, king of the gods to overcome his enemies and achieve victory. Order Gyaltsen Tsenpo prayer flags in three sizes here.

51 thoughts on “How to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully

  1. Myrna E Diaz

    How to dispose of synthetic cloth (not cotton) prayer flags? I’ve been told synthetic material should’nt be burned because of harm to the environment. Can you give some advise? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Cameron

      This is something in my tradition to think about, as recommended by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. When we have anything that has holy images or texts- mainly the images. So this could be photos, prayer flags, thangkas, etc. It had been advised to make a wooden enclosure or something to protect the damaged holy objects and this could be placed in the forest as a sort of shrine house. I know this this is not advisable for everyone, but if you have some woods or perhaps even just and undisturbed part of your land this could be a viable option.

      Reply
  2. Maura Daly

    Interested in ideas for respectful, environmentally safe disposal of ok prayer flags and katas. With so many now made from synthetics, safe, respectful disposal has become a real challenge.

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Yes, these are excellent questions and we are writing to the nuns to get the very best answers to them. We’ll post the answers as soon as possible.

      Reply
      1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

        Hello Maura, We have consulted the nuns about disposing of prayer flags. The issue of burning synthetic prayer flags doesn’t not really come up for them because their prayer flags, like the ones we sell in our online store, are made of cotton. Also, in India, there has been less awareness around the health and environmental concerns about burning synthetic material. One option is to take the synthetic prayer flags to a place in nature and tie them on a tree somewhere. If that is not possible, then you can bury them underground in a clean place. The key is to try to dispose of your prayer flags with the greatest respect possible.

        Reply
  3. Myrna E Diaz

    Quite some time ago I was assigned to dispose of some hundreds of wood malas that had been blessed by HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. The beads were rotten by insects and their strings were breaking into pieces. It took about 4 hrs to take out all (synthetic) strings from the beads. Then they were to be safely put back in the forest, after doing some Medicine Buddha mantras, blowing on them, pouring some saffron water over and making some dedications. I was told these insects feed on dead wood so as not to harm the living trees. This was finally done today after pondering the best way to do that, eliminating the options of discarding them in the sea or the river. But still I was left with the blessed strings. My friend’s husband, a Tibetan ex-monk, then said it was best to bury them as burning was not advisable. Luckily he agreed to do that in their back yard. So I thought, when the time comes, this might be the way to dispose of the (synthetic) prayer flags now hanging on my patio tree! Please, give me your thoughts on this final solution. Thank you and Tashi Delek.

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Hello Myrna, Thank you for sharing the story about the malas. Very interesting and also challenging. Since you have some synthetic prayer flags hanging on your patio now, when you want to replace them, perhaps you can take the old ones out into a forest or natural place and hang them on a tree. If that is not possible, then you can bury them underground in a clean place as you did with the blessed cords from the mala. The key is, as you clearly know, to try to dispose of prayer flags with the greatest respect possible. If you’d like to receive our monthly e-updates with news, you can sign up here: https://tnp.org/mailinglist/ Warmest wishes.

      Reply
  4. deepa

    i have hung a prayer flag inside the car recently i bought new prayer flag little big in size .. so my question is the flag which i have removed can be hung outside my house

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Yes, you can hang the prayers outside your house. When you move the prayer flags, do so respectfully and do not let them touch the ground.

      Reply
  5. Janice Jennings

    I really appreciated these teachings about prayer flags. Fortunately, mine are all cotton, because I’ve ordered them from the Tibetan Nuns Project store. They hang in the garden where they gently fade and fray and beautifully demonstrate impermanence. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Nola

    The order of colours is facing which way …or does it not matter.
    My flags face the street so is it blue first from my right facing out when putting them up ?

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      The five colors are arranged in a specific order from left to right: blue, white, red, green, and yellow.

      Reply
      1. Sharon

        I understand the order and colour of the flags but does it matter if the blue flag is first when hanging them or the yellow flag first ending with the blue?

        Reply
        1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

          Traditionally, Tibetan prayer flags are hung left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. You can hang them with the printed prayers facing the direction you want.

          Reply
  7. PJ

    We are moving and our old prayer flags need to be taken down. Can I do this on any day, or are there specific days one should take down prayer flags?

    Reply
  8. Janet

    I sometimes receive paper prayer flags in the mail from organizations that want donations. Do I really need to burn these? I don’t even know how to do this responsibly. I don’t want to keep the prayer flags just because they were sent to me unsolicited but I don’t want to throw them in the trash or recycling. They’re made of paper and I think I’d need separate them and pull out the string in order to recycle them.

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Janet, thanks for your question. Perhaps you can give the prayer flags to someone who would like them. If you’re unable to do this, just dispose of them as respectfully as possible.

      Reply
  9. Janet

    Thank you so much for your reply. Maybe I will put them in a bag for Goodwill or another place that accepts donations. Or if that doesn’t feel right, I might put them into the recycling bin so that at least they can be turned into something useful rather than being thrown in the trash.

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Leslie, It’s not a bad thing to hang prayer flags indoors. In fact, we have them hanging in our office in Seattle and we have had for years. However, they are really meant to be hung outside where the winds can carry their prayers to all sentient beings.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Yes, we don’t think that is a problem. We hope your move is smooth and happy.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      The most critical thing about hanging prayer flags is one’s intention. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that our motivation, to end the suffering of sentient beings, is the most important thing. Tibetans do hang prayer flags on auspicious days, thereby multiplying the merit and impact of hanging the prayer flags. These times include Tibetan New Year and the two weeks that follow it and Saga Dawa (the fourth month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar), particularly Saga Dawa Duchen, the most holy day (the 15th day of the 4th lunar month) which marks the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and paranirvana. Other auspicious days are those connected with the Buddha’s life and teaching. We’re putting together our 2019 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar which will have the important Tibetan Buddhist days marked.

      Reply
  10. Billy Chew

    What if in the process of hanging the prayer flags, they accidentally touched the ground, should I respectably burn them and get new ones?

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thanks for your question, Billy. No you do not have to burn them and get replacements. If they touch the ground accidentally, just collect them and touch them to your forehead a few times, saying a short prayer (like “Om mani padme hum”) with sincerity and the wish to end suffering for all sentient beings. The intention is the most important thing.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you for your comment, Caitlin, and your wish to donate prayer flags. Perhaps there is a Buddhist temple or meditation center near you that you can give them to.

      Reply
  11. Mariah Matteson

    I have a large patio awning with wide support poles along it’s perimeter where I would like to hang my prayer flags. Is it ok if the few flags which will hang against the wide support poles don’t get to blow in the wind as much as the other flags?

    Reply
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  13. dipmoina dowarah

    What is order of single colour vertical prayer flags, if I wish to display on both sides of my entry gate?

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      The order should be left to right: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. We hope that helps as you hang your prayer flags.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Paul, Yes, you can hang prayer flags on your pack when you climb, but you might ensure that the flags do not touch the ground. In Dharamsala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and near to the headquarters of the Tibetan Nuns Project, it is common to see prayer flags hung in the rear windows of cars and even across the handlebars of motorcycles. It is always important to treat prayer flags with respect and the intention to end the suffering of all sentient beings.

      Reply
  14. Lynne Kushner

    I am very excited to hang my prayer flags as I would like to begin sending my wishes to end suffering for sentient beings. Please tell me specifically when I can hang them. Thank you

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Lynne, you can hang prayer flags any time. As the blog states, Tibetans traditionally hang new prayer flags at Losar, Tibetan New Year, which this year falls on February 5 2019. However, you don’t need to wait to hang your prayer flags.

      Reply
  15. Divya

    I recently bought the prayer flags from a store that sells hand made stuff and support local artists. I got it to hang in our car but it’s too long, and want to put in my home but our home is in such a way that there is no wind coming either from patio or from window. Where can I hang it? Above the home temple or on the door at the entrance?

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Divya, Hanging prayer flags is respectful within itself. One of the goals is to spread their blessings outward so over the entrance might be good, but over the altar is good too. It really is about your intention and you have to work within your situation. Blessings to you.

      Reply
  16. Daniel

    Hi, I was happy to see that the nuns are making traditional cotton flags and not the synthetic fiber ones. However, is the rope they’re strung along also natural fiber? Unfortunately all the cotton flags I’ve found so far have been strung on nylon ropes which it’s near impossible to avoid burning along with the flags.

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you, Daniel. The prayer flags made by the nuns at Dolma Ling are strung on white cotton.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Hazel, It’s best to hang the prayer flag somewhere high. It’s also best if it can flap in the breeze.

      Reply
  17. Charlotte Lanctot

    I saw it is important in which direction do you hang the prayer flags. I can’t find out which direction is good. Right now I have mine hanging in a southern direction in my bedroom window. Is it significant which direction you put it in

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Charlotte, Tibetan prayer flags are strung left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. There is no specific direction to hang them. Your southern-facing window is fine.

      Reply

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