PRAYER FLAGS: WHAT ARE THEY AND WHAT ARE THEY FOR
In the Tibetan language prayer flags are called lung ta which is translated as Windhorse. In the middle of such flags is a horse with three jewels on its back symbolising Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Windhorse represents great power, defeating evil and following the path to liberation. It frees from fears and removes all kinds of obstacles. It rides on the wind spreading prayers and wishes for the benefit of all beings all over the world.
The flags are of five colours: blue, white, red, green and yellow which symbolise the Five Buddha Families, the blessing of Buddha’s Body, Speech, Mind, Qualities and Activities as well as the five elements.
Prayer flags are supposed to make peace, compassion, vitality, wisdom and prosperity increase, while any dangers disappear. It is said that they bring happiness and health to those who hang them as well as to their families, beloved ones, neighbours, people coincidentally met and even enemies.
Tibetan people say that if somebody experiences prosperity and happiness in their life, it means that they have good ‘lung ta’. They also believe that if good fortune doesn’t favour one, they should hang a lot of prayer flags.
Traditionally, the flags are hung outside so that they are moved by the wind and the prayers are carried to the world. Frequently, they are hung around auspicious places such as temples, stupas, mountain tops and passes, as well as above homes and fields. Flags fluttering in the wind are compared to the sound of the hoofs of the Windhorse galloping in the sky.
The Noble Nagarjuna explained that the four legs of the Windhorse symbolise four kinds of benefits from hanging prayer flags: removing obstacles in fulfilling temporal wishes, removing obstacles in practising Dharma, fulfilling temporal wishes and fulfilling wishes connected to Dharma practice.
Before hanging the flags, they should be blessed by a lama. It is also possible to write on them the names of those whom we particularly wish to dedicate our prayers and merit accumulated while hanging the flags.
Sometimes hanging prayer flags is combined with rituals bringing prosperity such as the offering of fragrant smoke ‘Riwo Sangchö’, though generally they are separate practices.
Since there are holy symbols and mantras on the flags, they should be treated with respect. They shouldn’t touch the ground and when we don’t need them anymore, because they are old or damaged, they should be burnt.
AUSPICIOUS DAYS FOR HANGING PRAYER FLAGS
The benefit from hanging prayer flags is many times multiplied when it is done on auspicious days, for example:
- first two weeks after Tibetan new year, which commemorate great miracles performed by Buddha and are very auspicious for practice,
- 7th and 15th day of the fourth lunar month called ‘Saga Dawa’. It is a particularly auspicious month for Dharma practice,
- 4th day of the sixth month as well as 15th day of the ninth month. These days are connected with Buddha's life and teaching.
During those days benefits from hanging prayer flags are multiplied 100 million times.
Additionally, it is auspicious to hang the flags at the times of full and new Moon. A particularly good time for this activity are eclipses: during an eclipse of the Sun the benefits are multiplied 100 million times while at the time of a lunar eclipse 7 million times.
Tibetan astrologers give a combination of two elements for each day of the Tibetan calendar, which may mean either positive or negative conditions. In terms of prayer flags, it is said that the most favourable combination is "earth-earth". These days are generally good for fulfilling intentions or plans. As another example, other auspicious combinations of elements are "water – water" or "earth – water", which are good days for marrying and other joyful occasions.
Generally, it is believed that it is good to hang flags on Mondays or Fridays.
INAUSPICIOUS DAYS FOR HANGING PRAYER FLAGS
Hanging flags on astrologically inauspicious days will bring constant obstacles instead of well-being. As long as the flags last, unfavourable conditions will appear.
It is so because of the presence of one being which in the Tibetan calendar is called baden. Baden senpo is a demon from the class of elemental spirits, the so-called nagas. Hanging prayer flags when the energy of a baden is active, brings negative results. Hence, those days are inauspicious for hanging the flags. Nevertheless, they do not have an influence on flags which are already hanging. Those can stay as long as they are not damaged or replaced by new ones.
Fortunately, baden senpo are active only for few days in a month. Depending on the traditions of different monasteries, different astrological calculations may exist. The following given dates are in accordance with the calendar used in Benchen.
Inauspicious days for hanging prayer flags in the year of the Wooden Dragon (2024/2025):
9 January 2024; 12 January; 23 January;
5 February 2024; 19 February;
2 March; 16 March; 29 March;
12 April; 24 April;
6 May; 9 May; 21 May;
16 June; 28 June;
13 July; 25 July;
11 August; 23 August;
7 September; 30 September;
3 October; 15 October; 26 October;
11 November; 22 November;
3 January 2025; 14 January; 27 January; 30 January;
10 February 2025; 22 February
However, it is good to remember that according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other great lamas, the day when we hang prayer flags is much less important than the motivation we have while doing it. The most crucial thing is to have pure intentions and express good wishes.