I have three strings around my wrist.
There are two red ones and a yellow one. One of the red ones is looking a little worn. I’ve had it for a while. It’s something people notice sometimes.
Everyone knows I prefer the Zen tradition and strings aren’t part of that, but I have spent a great deal of time practicing in the Vajrayana tradition and it has meant a lot to me too. Each one has a different meaning.
The first red one was given to me by Lama Chuck Stanford when he gave me Refuge Vows and I officially became Buddhist. The second red one was given to me by Lama Chuck when I took Bodhisattva Vows, deepening my Buddhist commitment.
The yellow one was give to me by Lama Lena Feral, and it was blessed by her teacher Wangdor Rinpoche—a famous Vajrayana Buddhist teacher from Tibet who held several lineages.
But, what do these strings mean?
They are sometimes called blessing cords and sometimes called protection cords. They are used in several lineages of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.
These cords are blessed and given by Lamas on important occasions, for example when one takes vows. Taking vows is a part of most branches of Buddhism, but taking vows doesn’t always involve receiving a string. One can also be given a string when one does an important retreat or receives teachings from a well known teacher, especially secret teachings. I was given my yellow string because I received teachings from Lama Lena.
In ancient times, people would just wear their cords until they fell apart. In the modern world they last much longer because we have synthetic material.
Legend has it that these cords can bring good luck or offer some kind of protection.
In the traditional practice the Lama ties a knot in the cord, blows a mantra into it, and makes a blessing. They say this allows you to take your teacher with you, even after they are long gone. Many religious traditions have this kind of process, where a teacher imbues an object with spiritual energy and blessings.
Now, I’ll be honest and tell you, I don’t believe these strings provide any sort of protection or good luck. I’m skeptical of such things. But I do think they serve a purpose.
They can be a reminder.
I have a string that reminds me that I took Refuge Vows. It reminds me that I am a Buddhist and I should live mindfully.
I have a string that reminds me that I took Bodhisattva Vows—that my purpose is to spread compassion and wisdom, to save as many beings and bring as many to Enlightenment as I can.
And I have a string that reminds me that I have received additional teachings. This one reminds me that there is always more to learn and there are always more steps to take.
I have three strings and I have seen people with more.
I think reminders have some value.
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(a version of this article originally appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)