Travelling on the borders of Chinese Tartary, in the country of the Lamas or Buddhists, Miss Gordon Cumming remarks that it was strange, every now and again, to meet some respectable-looking workman, twirling little brass cylinders, only about six inches in length, which were incessantly spinning round and round as they walked along the road. What could they be ? Not pedometers, not any of the trigonometrical instruments with which the officers of the Ordnance Survey go about armed ? No ; she was informed that they were prayer-wheels, and that turning them was just about equivalent to the telling of beads, which in Continental lands workmen may often be seen counting as homeward along the road they plod their weary way. The telling of beads seems to the Protestant a superfluous piece of formalism : what then are we to think of prayer by machinery ? The 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, communicates the necessary impetus to the little machine, sothat 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.

 

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Curiosities of Superstition Sketches of some Unrevealed Religions WH Davenport

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