Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happiness Is A Warm Prayer Flag

Prayer flags at Zhechen Monastery, in Tibet

I have always had an unreasonable liking for prayer flags. I first saw them when I was quite young. I thought, "My, how interesting," and decided I had to have some. So, I cut up a bed sheet, and fashioned my prayer flags from that.

I think I might have been around nine years old at the time.

Since then, I have spent a great deal of time and energy on prayer flags: developing the means for making them, making them by the bundles, buying them by the bundles, flying them by the thousands, and so forth. When I came to a particularly windy place, I decided it was a shame not to have even more of them, so now it happens that I am playing a constant game with the wind. I find ways to put up the flags and the wind finds ways to knock them down.

Anyway, as previously reported, we had some wild weather with very high winds. I have a series of twenty-two foot, field expedient flag poles that I use for dar cho, and they took some punishment. I fashioned these by planting four foot sections of pipe in the ground, and then slipping twenty-two foot sections of recovered well pipe into them. Most of the time it works O.K., but a lot depends on the quality of the pipe. I also have a number of small poles set on rebar, but they don't do very well even under the best of circumstances.

Now, to make matters worse, there is a new Gesar flag available, 43"x 64" very heavy construction, and these of course will put one whale of a strain on ordinary diameter pipe. An old friend sent me one of those flags as a gift, and I have been thinking about almost nothing else ever since. Didn't I tell you that my fondness for prayer flags is unreasonable?

All the angst came to an abrupt halt yesterday, when a truck arrived bearing a  genuine, store-bought, manufactured flagpole -- wind-rated to 95 MPH with a 43" x 64" flag, which is a real consideration in these parts. Now I am having a happy day.

The cement guy is coming to pour a base for the pole, so we had to get everything ready. The worst part of the whole project (get it? (w)hole project...) is keeping the foundation sleeve plumb while the concrete is being poured. We pounded in rebar and wired up a little cage to keep the sleeve steady. A 2'x2'x2' hole full of reinforced concrete may seem excessive, but I have seen the wind out there pull up poles right out of the ground, concrete and all.

I know a lot of people share this interest, so here is a little advice based on long experience. The best flags in the world are the ones available from the Tibetan Aid Project and the Nyingma Trust. These are part of a fund-raising mechanism, have extremely high quality production values -- 200 denier nylon, for starters -- are very big flags, and thus are not cheap. Expect to pay USD $125 to $200 for one of these. The next step down is the conventional rope set that they make, ranging in price from USD $25 to $60. These are made in Brazil, where flag making is something of an art form, and they last longer than any rope sets I have ever seen due to the fabric employed. You can also find some similarly high quality flags at the Rigpa Store.

Tsering Chodon and her husband, Tim Clark
owners of Radiant Heart

If, for whatever reason, you don't fancy the above, then the hands-down, all time best commercial prayer flag source in the world is Radiant Heart. This is an old style family operation, around since 1974, run off the grid by a good old boy from Northern California's Humboldt County and his Tibetan wife, and I don't mind sending them money at all.

You know, many people who fly prayer flags don't necessarily understand prayer flags, or even "believe in them," in the conventional sense. The common statement one hears is, "Yes, they're nice, but I don't know how they work." You hear all sorts of simplistic explanations, as in, "The prayers are released on the wind and fly to all sentient beings."

It is possible to achieve complete realization in one lifetime, in one body, by seeing a prayer flag. Did you know that? It is similarly possible to learn all forms of meditation by looking at a prayer flag. Maybe you don't believe me, but it is true. Of course prayers are released, but the deeper concordances of interdependence are what makes it interesting. Anyway... believe as you wish, but at least 108 times in this lifetime, try to put up some prayer flags.

For the benefit of all sentient beings.

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