The ancient texts tell us that the Prayer Wheel was brought to our world by Nagarjuna, a famous Indian Buddhist scholar, philosopher, and yogi. Nagarjuna is associated with the rise of Mahayana Buddhism during the first century B.C.E. and is well known as the founder of the Middle Way school of Buddhist philosophy.
Nagarjuna was filled with great compassion and concern for others. Nagarjuna’s teachings not only began one of the greatest philosophical traditions of all time, but also contributed immeasurably to a cultural transformation that spread the Mahayana Buddhist vision of universal responsibility and compassion for all life throughout most of Central and East Asia.
The prayer wheel lineage was brought to Tibet by the renowned eight century Indian Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava, and later practiced by the great Indian tantric Buddhist masters Tilopa and Naropa. Naropa’s disciple Marpa later renewed the lineage in Tibet and passed it on to Tibet’s most well known yogi, Milarepa. Since that time the Prayer Wheel has been passed on through a continuous lineage of enlightened teachers, among these His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the renowned Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, whose important works are quoted by most subsequent writers on the subject.
Karma Pakshi spent much of the first half of his life in meditation retreat. He also visited and restored the monasteries established by the first Karmapa. He is famous for having introduced the melodious chanting of the Om Mani Padme Hung, the mantra of compassion, to the Tibetan people.
In the Himalayas, Prayer Wheels have been made for many centuries in a wide range of sizes and styles - from pendants, hand-held and table-top wheels, all the way up to giant eight or twelve foot Prayer Wheels placed around Buddhist Monasteries.