I don’t know
if this is good or bad.
It is just like that.
A prayer wheel, or mani wheel, is a wheel filled with innumerable mantras and inscriptions wrapped clockwise around a central axis. Some prayer wheels are tiny, like tops; others are huge, filling an entire room, and one turns the wheel by holding its handles and walking clockwise around it. Others are attached to running streams or waterfalls so that they can harness the natural energy and spread benedictions throughout the land. The faithful believe that spinning these prayer wheels or hanging prayer flags in the wind actualizes the inscribed prayers.
The Tibetan province of Kham is akin to America’s Wild West. The people of Kham are great equestrians, and like all who ride regularly, they love their horses. Until about a century ago, Kham was carved into dozens of smaller kingdoms, each of which had its own army, raised by forcible conscription.
There was once an old man in far eastern Kham known as the Mani Man because day and night he could always be found devotedly spinning his small homemade prayer wheel. The wheel was filled with the mantra of Great Compassion, Om Mani Padme Hung. The Mani Man lived with his son and their one fine horse. The son was the joy of the man’s life; the boy’s pride and joy was the horse.
The man’s wife, after a long life of virtue and service, had long since departed for more fortunate rebirths. Father and son lived, free from excessive wants or needs, in one of several rough stone houses near a river on the edge of the flat plains.
One day their steed disappeared. The neighbors bewailed the loss of the old man’s sole material asset, but the stoic old man just kept turning his prayer wheel, reciting “Om Mani Padme Hung,” Tibet’s national mantra. To whoever inquired or expressed condolences, he simply said, “Give thanks for everything. Who can say what is good or bad? We’ll see.”
After several days the splendid creature returned, followed by a pair of wild mustangs. These the old man and his son swiftly trained. Then everyone sang songs of celebration and congratulated the old man on his unexpected good fortune. The man simply smiled over his prayer wheel and said, “I am grateful…but who knows? We shall see.”
Then, while racing one of the mustangs, the boy fell and shattered his leg. Some neighbors carried him home, cursing the wild horse and bemoaning the boy’s fate. But the old man, sitting at his beloved son’s bedside just kept turning his prayer wheel around and around while softly muttering gentle Lord Chenrezig’s mantra of Great Compassion. He neither complained nor answered their protestations to fate, but simply nodded his head affably, reiterating what he had said before. “The Buddha is beneficent; I am grateful for my son’s life. We shall see.”
The next week military officers appeared, seeking young conscripts for an ongoing border war. All the local boys were immediately taken away, except for the bedridden son of the Mani Man. Then the neighbors congratulated the old man on his great good fortune, attributing such luck to the good karma accumulated by the old man’s incessantly spinning prayer wheel and the constant mantras on his cracked lips. He smiled and said nothing.
One day when the boy and his father were watching their fine horses graze on the prairie grass, the taciturn old man suddenly began to sing:
“Life just goes around and around, up and down like a waterwheel;
Our lives are like its buckets, being emptied and refilled again and again.
Like the potter’s clay, our physical existences
are fashioned into one form after another:
the shapes are broken and reformed again and again,
The low will be high, and the high fall down;
the dark will grow light, and the rich lose all.
If you, my son, were an extraordinary child,
off to a monastery as an incarnation they would carry you.
If you were too bright, my son,
shackled to other people’s disputes at an official’s desk you would be.
One horse is one horse’s worth of trouble.
Wealth is good,
But too soon loses its savor,
and can be a burden, a source of quarrel, in the end.
No one knows what karma awaits us,
but what we sow now will be reaped
in lives to come; that is certain.
So be kind to one and all
and don’t be biased,
based upon illusions regarding gain and loss.
Have neither hope nor fear, expectation nor anxiety;
Give thanks for everything, whatever your lot may be.
Accept everything; accept everyone; and follow
the Buddha’s infallible Law.
Be simple and carefree, remaining naturally at ease and in peace.
You can shoot arrows at the sky if you like,
My son, but they’ll inevitably fall back to earth.”
As he sang, the prayer flags fluttered overhead, and the ancient mani wheel, filled with hundreds of thousands of handwritten mantras, just kept turning. Then the old man was silent.
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