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Curiosities of Superstition

prayers, or rather invocations, to Buddha—the Buddhists never pray,
in the Christian sense—are all closely written upon strips of cloth or
paper; the same sentence being repeated some thousands of times.
These strips are placed inside a cylinder, revolving on a long spindle,
the end of which is the handle. From the wind-cylinder depends a
small lump of metal, which, whirling round,
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communicates the necessary impetus to the little machine, so that it
rotates with the slightest possible effort, and continues to grind any
required number of acts of worship, while the owner, with the
plaything in his hand, carries on his daily work. His religion requires
that he should be all his time immersed in holy contemplation of the
perfections of Buddha, but to a busy man no such self-absorption is
possible. He is content, therefore, to say the sentences aloud at the
beginning and end of his devotions, and in the interval twirls slowly,
while a tiny bell marks each rotation, and reminds him if he should
unconsciously quicken his pace.
Tennyson finely speaks of Prayer as that by which
“The whole round world is every wayBound by gold chains around
the feet of God;”
but no such efficacy can be ascribed to the cylinders of brass,
copper, or gold, which are fashionable among the Buddhists. Yet we
must not condemn too unreservedly: Prayer, even among Christians,
is apt to degenerate into a dull, mechanical uniformity, and to become
scarcely less perfunctory than that which the Tibetans grind out of
their prayer-machine.
In a Lama temple, Miss Gordon Cumming once saw a colossal
prayer-wheel, which might almost have sufficed for the necessities of
a nation. It was turned by a great iron crank, which acted as a handle.
The cylinder measured about twelve feet in height, and six to eight
feet in diameter. Circular bands of gold and vermilion adorned it, each
band bearing the well-known Buddhist ascription, or invocation, “To
the jewel on the Lotus.” Of this inscription, multiplied on strips of
paper and cloth, the cylinder was full, and each time that it revolved
on its axis, the devotee was accredited with having uttered the pious
invocation just as often as it was repeated within the cylinder. The