Tag Archives: Tibetan prayer flags

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.

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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.

Tibetan Handicrafts Help Build Self-Sufficiency for the Nuns

A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to help the nuns achieve more self-sufficiency through skill building and income-generating projects.

The range of projects varies for each nunnery of the 7 nunneries that we support. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, located near Dharamsala, India and home to over 230 nuns, has the widest scope of projects including making and selling Tibetan handicrafts.

Buddhist nun in Dolma Ling Nunnery shop

Products made by the nuns are available for sale at the nunnery and through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. Photo of the shop at Dolma Ling Nunnery courtesy of Brian Harris.

The tailoring program at Dolma Ling Nunnery had a modest start with a plan to make nuns robes so that the nuns wouldn’t have to go to the market and pay for the service.

Now the tailoring program has expanded greatly and is quite successful. There are two lay staff and a few nuns with good tailoring and sewing skills working in this section. All of the products are overseen by a Nuns’ Committee.

Here is an overview of some of the self-sufficiency projects that the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, with the help of the Tibetan Nuns Project, have developed to generate income for the nunnery. All of the Tibetan handicraft products shown below are made by the nuns and specially blessed by them. They can be purchased through the nunnery’s shop and through our online store at tnp.org/products.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making prayer flags

The Tibetan Nuns Project sells a variety of types of prayer flags and four sizes – mini, small, medium and large. All the flags are handmade by the nuns in India and blessed by them.

 

Tibetan Prayer Flags

All prayer flags sold at the nunnery shop and through the TNP online store are made and blessed  by the nuns. The nuns do all the sewing of the different flags including Tara, Buddha, Guru and Wind Horse, ironing the creases and packaging personally. The flags come in small, medium and large sizes, as well as a set of mini prayer flags that have one syllable of the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra per flag.

Each set of prayer flags has five colors representing the different elements: blue for sky, white for clouds, red for space, green for water, and yellow for earth. People buy prayer flags and tie them at high mountains and trees at holy places. It is believed that when the wind blows the prayers are released thereby creating a peaceful atmosphere, warding off obstacles, and increasing luck.

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Tibetan Nun and Monk Dolls

Doll making has been very successful for the nuns. The nuns have become expert in hand sewing all the intricate details to make beautiful monk and nun dolls. Visitors to the nunnery show a lot of interest in buying them for household décor.

Tibetan door curtains

Tibetan Door Curtains

The nuns make beautiful traditional Tibetan door curtains using the sacred Tibetan Buddhist symbol of the endless knot. The endless knot design is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols in Tibetan Buddhism and represents the endless nature of Buddha’s wisdom and the Dharma. The nuns make two types of curtains: the simpler design has an endless knot in the center and the more elaborate design has applique decoration on all four corners.

Tibetan malas

Tibetan Malas or Prayer Beads

The nuns make a wide range of long malas and wrist malas. Each mala is hand strung, knotted and blessed by the nuns. The Tibetan Nuns Project sells 14 different types of long malas and wrist malas made from natural materials such as stone, wood and bone. The wrist malas are a variation of the standard 108-bead long malas and are very popular with visitors to the nunnery.

Tibetan mala bag

Tibetan Mala Bags

Mala bags made by the nuns are the perfect way to carry and protect your mala and to maintain its purity and potency. Each bag is handmade with a drawstring closure and is patterned on one side. The nuns make them in a range of colors and patterns and in two types of fabric: satin brocade and 100% woven cotton.

Assorted Bags

Another product introduced by the nuns are different types of bags including nun/monk bags, shopping bags and silk applique bags.

Buddhist nun making tofu at nunnery

Making tofu at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Making Tofu

Dolma Ling nuns make tofu once a week to supply the nunnery kitchen for meals since the nunnery follows a vegetarian diet. The nuns also sell extra tofu for special orders. We are currently looking for a bigger tofu machine so that tofu can be made and sold on a larger scale to the general public and to raise more funds for the nunnery.

Garbage Enzymes

Several years ago a Malaysian group visited the nunnery and taught the nuns how to make a garbage enzyme made from water, vegetable and fruit scraps and jaggery (brown sugar). This has been very beneficial for the nuns because it is cheap, easy to make and can be used for a wide variety of purposes. The nuns use it for cleaning the kitchen and dining room floors, cleaning the toilets, for laundry and bath water, and for skin care. The enzymes are also bottled and sold to staff and the public through the nunnery shop.

Nunnery Guesthouse

A fully furnished four-room guesthouse is also run by the nuns at Dolma Ling. The nuns take care of the booking, cleanliness and comfort of the guests during their stay. No food is provided, as each room has an attached kitchen area that can be used by the guests to cook their own meals. With all the serenity of the environment guests enjoy a peaceful stay.

Nuns’ Café

Thanks to the generosity of one committed donor, we are now completing the kitchen for nuns’ café.

If you would like to learn more about how the nuns are moving towards greater self-sufficiency, or if you would like to help fund these efforts, please contact us at info@tnp.org