Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Flags
Fly Messages of Hope and Peace...

By Jeff Wright ...The Register-Guard - Eugene, Oregon USA

Today's riddle: What's red and green and yellow and blue and white and flapping in the wind outside an increasing number of Eugene homes and businesses?

Answer: A thousand prayers for peace. Or, more specifically, strings of brightly colored Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags.

Their presence doesn't suggest a sudden rise in Buddha worship so much as a jump in the number of people who, for personal or political reasons, say they're drawn to the cheerful hues of the flags and their underlying message of hope, peace and love.

Photo: Paul Carter / The Register-Guard

Next-door neighbors Roni Simone and John Coggins sit on the front porch of her house in the Whiteaker neighborhood under Buddhist prayer flags.

"They're a reminder and a celebration and a message to the neighborhood not to take life and love for granted," said John Coggins, who was immediately agreeable when his next-door neighbor, Roni Simone, asked if she could string a line of prayer flags between their homes on Fifth Avenue in the Whiteaker neighborhood.

Simone, whose front porch bears a sticker declaring "The Goddess is In," said she's not Buddhist but nonetheless takes delight in seeing so many of the flags around town. "It makes me feel as if, `Oh my God, we aren't lost yet.' "

According to ancient Tibetan-Himalayan tradition, as wind drives the flags, prayers are unleashed to the heavens, carried by Wind Horse. As the square flags' edges start to fray and the vivid colors begin to fade, all the prayers are said to be released.

The five different colors are said to represent the five elements, or the five different postures of Buddha: space (blue), water (white), fire (red), air (green) and earth (yellow).

In Eugene, the flags flutter in several neighborhoods, mostly on the south side of the Willamette River. At least a half-dozen outlets in town sell the flags, including Potala Gate, a Tibetan gift shop on Willamette Street run by followers of local teacher Lama Jigme Lodi.

The shop opened a year and a half ago and continues to sell 10 to 20 prayer flags a day, said clerk Dona Forrand. Sales tend to spike around holidays - such as the Tibetan New Year and even the Fourth of July - "and haven't hit their peak yet," she said.

At least 90 percent of those who come in to buy the flags have no direct connection to Tibetan Buddhism, Forrand said. "But they do recognize Buddhism as accepting of all thoughts," she said. "There's a lack of spiritual wholeness and I think these flags fill a void."

At Horizon Screen Print near Monroe, prayer flags now make up nearly half the company's business, said proprietor John Lafky. The world is full of "closet Buddhists" and prayer flags "are a gentle way to express that," he said.

Hang up a string of prayer flags, "and I guarantee you'll discover all the other Buddhists in your neighborhood real quickly," he said.

Dale and Pamela DuVall are serious students of Buddhism with prayer flags at their home on East 34th Avenue. They say they have no objections whatsoever to non-Buddhists displaying the flags.

"The more prayer flags, the more good karma," Dale said.

"I don't think Buddha would have minded," Pamela added.

Twenty-year-old Geneva Sutter put up some prayer flags in front of the four-unit apartment complex - with her landlord's blessing - where she lives on West Third Avenue. She said she has noticed a reduction in theft, vandalism and other crime since the flags went up.

"It's probably a coincidence, but it's a nice coincidence," she said.

On Emerald Street, 75-year-old Hannah Wilson said she never would have thought to buy the prayer flags that now hang between two trees in her front yard. A friend gave them to her in February, when she had surgery for cancer, "and they turned out to be the perfect gift."

"Each flag represents some kind of hope, and puts me in touch with people who care about me," she said. "To me, they symbolize a kind of prayer to the universe, for the well-being of the universe. They just kind of lift me."