The recent Good Karma retreat sparked lots of student reflections. This one, submitted anonymously, posits an answer to a frequently-asked question.

Seated gold Buddha

There is a question I arrived with that I never asked. How long do prayer flags stay up?

While sitting in the Abbey dining room, I looked at the ones out above the deck. I noticed that the ones that got more sunlight were faded. There is no color in them and the fibers are fraying.

Then I saw a bird with something in its beak. It hopped and flew awkwardly due to the burden, but eventually made it to a high place in a tree where I lost track of it.

I don’t know what the bird had, but it caused me to think that perhaps some of the fibers from the faded prayer flags were in bird nests near the Abbey.

If praying and saying or chanting mantra can leave good imprints on sentient beings even when they don’t understand it, how fortunate to be a bird born in a nest near this holy place?

The prayers of those who made the flags, those who hung them, and the sounds of your voices imbued in these objects for all the days it takes them to disintegrate enough to be repurposed—the benefit for those being . . . all this leads me to conclude an answer.

How long do prayer flags stay up? Forever.

I am a little bird right now, building a nest with the fibers of Dharma from this place. Back and forth I go, each time carrying a little more with me. It is a nest for future lives, a place to nurture better aspirations than I’ve ever held before.

The frayed flags might appear like something worn, something tired at the surface level. But I see them differently now. It’s change.

As long as the Dharma endures, and there are wise ones helping sentient beings, things can only possibly get better. No matter what else frays away in my life, I can build from it something wondrous.