The Prayer Flag
"Nothing in Tibet is unrelated to anything else. Whatever action, thought, or simple gesture a Tibetan may initiate, the result must be for a larger cosmic good. The smallest act of selfishness or evil can start a karmic ripple that will swell into a tidal wave of suffering and tragedy beyond itself. For this reason, the Tibetans have long been ecologically and altruistically attuned to the well being of all sentient beings on this planet. To kill an animal for sport is as unthinkable as killing one's grandmother. For a Tibetan Buddhist, disrupting the balance of nature is like disrupting the balance within one's own body or mind. Tibetan belief and practice have endured for centuries. In during those centuries, prayer has replaced power, compassion has replaced corruption and Vajrayana (Tantrism) has replaced violence. The human spirit is the most treasured commodity not wealth, position, or power. "
Art Perry in The Tibetans *
The profound belief in the power of good intent can be seen throughout Tibet in the form of the prayer flags. These hang everywhere, from the bridges and buildings of cities to the poles beside nomads' tents and stark mountain passes where the sunlight burns onto snow and rock with an intensity that sends their colors along with their prayers into the wind. New flags are added to the old and the release of prayers goes on uninterrupted as it has for over a thousand years.
Generally, on each is written mantras or prayers dedicated to a divine being, such as Lord Buddha, the Goddess Tara, or Padmasambhava, each of whom is regarded, not simply as some exalted deity exerting divine power over the existence of human life, but as an elder being each of whom has developed infinite wisdom and compassion through his/her unswerving dedication and who now exists as an assisting embodiment of the ideals for which each Tibetan strives. In an expression of unity with all of creation, the flags are given colors to symbolize the five elements of the cosmos and the five qualities of the enlightened mind.
That having been said, let's look at the inscriptions of an individual flag. This map* shows the names of some of the great guiding lights of Tibetan Buddhism along with the prayers dedicated to them. Each of them have many stories associated with them in the lore of Tibet, many of whom have survived to this present day. Alas, many were destroyed when the Chinese communist army systematically destroyed over six thousand monasteries with their shrines and sacred manuscripts.
Traditionally, each is made of hand woven cotton and printed using wooden blocks whose lettering is painstakingly hand carved. Then each is strung together on a rope. So I suppose to truly create them one would have to spin cotton and weave it, carve wooden blocks, create natural dyes and learn some Tibetan. Sounds interesting doesn't it?
Here I am darkening some of the lines on a printed copy. Some of the lack of crispness is probably due to the resolution of the picture but some is also authentic reproduction of the result of the printing block process. This will serve in the making of an initial flag and help us to begin to get familiar with this different and beautiful script.
And here is our first prayer flag!( You'll notice the edges are frayed; this is usual for prayer flags made in Tibet.) It is just a model of the flags to come
but it's a start!
May it, and our determined effort, bring great good to the Tibetan people,the world and all that lives.
And here it flies in the wind ( you've seen this picture along with me already but it brings me such determination, hope, and resolve I thought
we could look at it once again)!
The Windhorse project continues with quiet commitment firm in Love and Right Action. In the meantime, I've begun thinking about a large prayer flag banner ( for display in outreach efforts and so forth). This will be somewhat more difficult than the smaller flag in that the larger flag will have to be a scaled up drawing rather than a simple reproduction and will thus take awhile. Here I've borrowed one of your templates and am marking it up a bit for scaling up ( the big loop in the foreground is the camera strap. To take the picture I had to tuck the camera under my chin which is a bit awkward!)
I will begin work once again on the banner this weekend. ( I am still trying to organize myself after the trip to California). Neverthess, with quietly affirmed commitment the Windhorse project continues resolutely forward with bright determination.
There have not been any postings to the bulletin board.* So, I have created a schedule of outreach events. Please see Upcoming Events for more information!
I've had an idea and have picked up some transparency plastic and some cloth. Since this isn't going to be an authentic prayer flag but a banner of sorts I thought it might be good to use an overhead projector to enlarge the image onto some fabric and draw the script on with a marker. Now all that remains is to build a frame to stretch and support the cloth and the flag drawing can begin!
At last it's time to begin ( well almost anyway. I've somehow managed to lose the gizmo that holds up the lense of the projector and have had to rig it up with a rather annoying contraption.) Here is the projected image with me in the picture for scale ( making believe I'm starting a relief panel carving)! It looks really dramatic!
* I found this book in,of all places, a mall in Monterey that was built in a refurbished fish cannery. They offered free parking with the purchase of an item, and as luck would have it, there was a bookstore there.
* the flag and the labeled map are courtesy of Mr. McComas Taylor at http://cres.anu.edu.au/~mccomas/prayerflag.html
* however, there have been several thousand visitors to the site since the project began!