When you are creating an environment that is meant to be representative of the authentic world around us, it can be a challenge to get all of the details right. There is also the idea that even if you get everything correct, that fine attention to detail may go unnoticed. It is precisely for these reasons that Disney’s Animal Kingdom at once feels recognizable to guests and as if these places are truly lived in. Every corner is filled with rich details that communicate the day to day lives of its residence. No place, perhaps, is this truer than in the latest addition to Serka Zong, the Rivers of Light auditorium.
There is no shortage of details we could look at around the monument, but the first place I want to start are with these three red cylinders that rest nearest the rightmost door of the amphitheater as you look at it. These cylinders are commonly referred to as prayer wheels, although the name is not quite accurate. They are utilized by Tibetan Buddhists with mantras, not prayers, being written and then tightly wrapped inside each of the cylinders. The process of spinning one of these prayer wheels is said to have the same beneficial means as if the mantras were recited themselves.
The cylinders are most often constructed out of wood, metal, or stone, although leather and coarse cotton can also be used. These outside is typically adorned with the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, as well as protectors known as dakinis and the eight symbols of the ashtamangala. The interior of the cylinders, or wheels, contain a spindle of wood or metal upon which mantras can be wrapped around and encased in the outer cylinder. Single wheels can be used by an individual, while many temples have rows of prayer wheels that can be spun while walking alongside them. While the results of benefits of spinning the wheels are believed to be the same as if spoken aloud, it is highly effective to focus on the Om Mani Padme Hum matra, repeating to yourself, while spinning.
The first known prayer wheels can be dated back to 400 C.E. in Ladakh, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, though the people there are more historically and culturally tied to Tibet. While 400 C.E. is the earliest recording of a prayer wheel being used, there are many Buddhist masters to which the practice can be linked. The wheels were used for men and women who were illiterate, but still practicing their faith. As for the name itself, it comes from western travelers who could not articulate the difference between mantras and prayers, and having the wheel as the only comparable machine to the practice of turning the mantras. In fact, the Tibetan phrase of mani-chos-khor, is translated more closely in German where the artifacts are known as prayer mills.
While the prayer wheels in Serka Zong do not spin, they are an indelible sign of the faith of the people who live within Anandapur. In fact, the temple in which the amphitheater is housed would not be complete without the inclusion of such a sacred item. More often than not, the prayer wheels go unnoticed by guests, but the add value to the world that has been created and give us a true sense of the corner of the globe that we are visiting.