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Prayer Flags: What They Are and How to Use Them

Prayer Flags have a long history, dating back thousands of years.  They are associated with Tibetan Buddhism but some historic sources say they are much older.  According to tradition, prayer flags are believed to carry prayers and positive intentions on the wind, and are used to attract peace and harmony in both the home and community. It is said, the prayers of the one who places the flags are carried out to the universe with every touch of the wind.

Prayer flags are imprinted with sacred mantras and images.  They come in sets of five, each with a different color.  The colors represent the elements and are placed from left to right in specific order: blue, white, red, green and yellow.  Blue symbolizes the universe and sky, white the air and wind, red is fire, green is water and yellow is the Earth.  It is believed that a balance of these five elements creates harmony, increasing good health and prosperity.

Prayer flags should be hung on a breezy, sunny day.  Auspicious days to hang prayer flags include the first day of a full moon or the tenth day of a lunar month. According to tradition, there are also several  inauspicious days throughout the year where flags should not be raised. These vary year to year, so it is wise to check a Buddhist calendar.

To heighten the positive intentions and add greater meaning; you can say a prayer or perform an offering or ritual prior to placing your flags.  Prayer flags may also be personalized.  For example, write the names of family members on your flags to ask that they be blessed with good health. Sometimes the names of pregnant women are placed on the flags to request protection for mother and child.

Prayer flags are meant to fade in the sun and disintegrate gradually over time. As they break down, each tiny piece becomes a permanent part of the fabric of the universe. Traditionally, Buddhists hang new flags alongside the old ones to honor and recognize the importance of change and impermanence.  Embracing change brings peace and opens the mind and heart to new possibilities.

Prayer flags are sacred objects and should be treated with great respect.  Never allow your flags to touch the ground and don’t wear them as articles of clothing.  If you wish to change them out; never throw old flags away.  They should be allowed to break down completely or they may be burned or buried to be returned to the elements. The proper use of prayer flags is all about positive intention and humility.  Treat them as you would any other spiritual tool.