Sun Valley's Tibetan Prayer Wheel

Buddhist Tradition in Idaho

There are unlikely layers to the quietude of this Valley and it’s worth our time to make discoveries beyond the bustle. For instance, hidden just off Highway 75 is the tranquil Garden of Infinite Compassion at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden (SBG), where a massive four-hundred-pound prayer wheel rests. Sheltered in a gazebo, lined with prayer flags, the wheel is an ancient Tibetan tradition that Buddhists believe can be used to grant merit and dispense spiritual blessings.

Hand-crafted by Tibetan monks in Dharamsala, India, this extraordinary work of art (one of only two such wheels found in North America) was donated to SBG in 2005 to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s visit to Sun Valley. Although aesthetically marvelous, true enjoyment of the wheel must be accompanied by an understanding of its spiritual purpose.

According to the SBG’s executive director, Kathryn Goldman, “The idea is that there are mantras and prayers captured in the wheel and that when you turn it, you release the prayers contained inside.” In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, turning a prayer wheel has the same laudable effect as recitation. Given that Sun Valley’s wheel holds two million written mantras, every rotation results in the oral equivalent of a lifetime. “Since we’re at high altitude, having the wheel here is supposed to help send the prayers across the world,” Goldman explained.SV's Prayer Wheel tranquilly at home in the Sawtooth Botanical Garden

Interestingly enough, the common mantra placed in Tibetan prayer wheels, “Om mane padme hum,” is used to invoke the attention of Avalokitesvara, the patron Bodhisattva of Tibet. Since most Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be the physical manifestation of Avalokitesvara, his blessing of SBG’s prayer wheel is truly captivating in its self-fulfilling nature.

So the next time you speed past the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, consider that which lies out of sight. Designed to be shared by people of all faiths, the prayer wheel sits in silent repose, waiting for us to sift through the layers of our lives, stop the noise and spin a prayer of compassion for this community and others.


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Taste of Sun Valley – Summer ’19