Tibet's cultural, religious, and literary traditions trace to the Buddha, who lived more than 2,500 years ago. In the seventh century A.D., the Buddha's teachings inspired Srong-btsan sGampo, king of Tibet, to send his minister of state to India and devise a written language capable of translating them. Between the eighth and the twelfth centuries, the whole of this ancient heritage was brought to Tibet, where it inspired a culture dedicated to the alleviation of suffering and bringing the beauty and joy of enlightened qualities to all aspects of daily life. In the thirteenth century, when the last libraries housing thousands of Buddhist texts were destroyed in India, this knowledge lived on in Tibet, kept alive through unbroken lineages of masters who valued it as the basis of human life.
About two thousand years ago, the great master Nagarjuna concluded that setting the Buddha's words in motion by mechanical means had the same effect as recitation by the human voice. Writing down a text in a continuous line, in analogy to the way it would normally spoken, he rolled it up and placed it inside a cylindrical container. Fitted with handles or other devices, the cylinder could be turned by hand, water, wind, steam, or convection.
This invention, known in Tibet as the Mani Chos-'khor, or precious Dharma wheel, provided everyone a way to offer heartfelt wishes that all beings be free from the sources of suffering. As monks and lay-persons held wheels at the level of their heart and rotated them clockwise, they discovered that turning the wheels has a comforting yet invigorating effect similar to art or music, to medicine, or to love, or other sources of deep satisfaction and fulfillment. This perception led to the construction of larger wheels, which have an even greater effect on the human heart and mind. Particular care was taken in their construction; the wheels were encased with copper, silver, or even gold, and ornamented with symbols in repoussé.