Signs and Symbols

Do Buddhists use symbols when they engage in personal or private rituals?

A number of prayer aids and other ritual accoutrements are common in many Buddhist households. Prayer wheels and prayer flags, used especially in the Himalayan nations but elsewhere as well, symbolize the belief in the ideal of continual prayer. Prayer wheels contain bits of sacred text inside a small drum fitted with an axle-like handle. A short weighted chain attached to the drum makes it easier to spin it steadily. Prayer flags are strips of cloth containing sacred text and petitions, prayers sped aloft by the winds. Many Japanese households have a small altar, called the butsudan, in which families keep tablets with the names of deceased relatives as well as images of the Buddha. In general, private rituals employ a scaled-down set of the same principal symbols used for temple worship.


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