Mala necklaces and bracelets are increasing in popularity and are used during meditation, or worn as jewelry. They are seen as bracelets, necklaces, and on the altars of meditation devotees and at the top of mats of yoga practitioners. These beautiful necklaces often hold special significance for the bearer based on where they got it, why they chose the stones, and the energy resonance they feel with the beads.
Traditionally a mala has 108 beads strung together and one “guru bead,” which is larger than the rest. The guru bead is used as a place marker for the fingers to feel for the end or the beginning of the necklace for meditation or mantra chanting. Sometimes there are special or different shaped beads (marker beads) placed after every 27th bead to make it easier to keep track of the mantra. These marker beads are in addition to the mala bead count. You’ll often also find bracelets and decorative necklaces with 27 beads. Nowadays, malas are made out of a variety of materials including wood, seeds, stones, pearls, and crystals.
The significance of 108 beads in Hinduism and yoga is not completely clear but here are some thoughts. Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence. This number also connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth: The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters. Such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance. According to yogic tradition, there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, throughout India. And there are also 108 Upanishads and 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body. A Japa style mala will often have knots in the cord between the beads.
In Tibetan Buddhism, people traditionally use malas with 108 counting beads and a special, three-holed, finishing bead called a “guru” bead or “Buddha” bead. Often the 108-bead malas have additional marker beads that may or may not be counted and that divide the mala into quadrants, constituting 108 counting beads all together. There is also a smaller, wrist-sized mala, made of 27 beads for example, that is often used when doing prostrations. In this case, the smaller size is wrapped around your hand and repeated 4 times. There are usually no knots between the counting beads on a Buddhist style mala.
Conventional Buddhist tradition counts the beads at 108, signifying the mortal desires of mankind. The number is attributed to the Mokugenji (soapberry seed) Sutra wherein Shakyamuni Buddha instructed King Virudhaka to make such beads and recite the Three Jewels of Buddhism. In later years, various Buddhist sects would either retain the number of beads, or divide them into consecutive twos, fours, for brevity or informality. A decorative tassel is sometimes attached to the beads, flanked by talismans or amulets depending on one's local tradition. Because prayer beads are often painted in pigment, various traditional schools attribute a consecration ritual by the Sangha to the beads, to "open the eyes" for the purpose of achieving Enlightenment unique to the Karma of each believer. The guru bead represents the relationship between the student and the guru or spiritual teacher.
There are no strict rules when it comes to malas and the way to count your mantras. Everybody does it slightly differently. There are common ways of doing things but these do not matter nearly so much as your intention and your attitude of prayer. If you are praying from your heart while using your mala, you are doing the right thing! Although some sources recommend using the mala in your left hand, some Tibetans also hold them in the right hand. If you have a prayer wheel in one hand and a mala in the other, it is more common to hold your mala in the left hand and the prayer wheel in the right. To use your mala, start with the first bead next to the “guru” bead. Hold the bead between the index finger and thumb, and recite your mantra once out loud or silently. Then move on to the next bead with a rolling motion of your thumb, recite your mantra again and repeat. When you get to the guru bead again you have completed 100 mantras without needing to count each one.
In general, your mala will grow in spiritual significance as you use it for mantra recitations and bring it to teachings and possible have it blessed by your guru. And while it is not in itself as sacred as a statue or a piece of Buddhist scripture, it is something we usually treat with respect. This means that you wouldn’t put it on the floor or put mundane objects on top of it or throw it.
When not using their malas, Tibetans wrap them around their wrists or hang them around their necks. (Although please note that they are not worn like a necklace, for decoration, or, with self pride, as a way to show that one is spiritual.) When you don’t need it for a while, or are sleeping, for example, you can hang it on a clean, highish place, maybe near your altar.
Benefits of Using Mala Beads
A common way to use the mala is to track a “japa,” or mantra meditation. The repetitive recitation of a single sound, such as “om,” a few words, such as “om mani padme hum,” or a longer mantra, such as the Gayatri Mantra, can be calming and transformative. Whether you’re chanting out loud, whispering, or repeating a phrase silently, tracing the beads of the mala with your fingers can help you keep track of the japa. “Japa” translates to “muttering” in Sanskrit.
Similar to praying with rosary beads, meditating with a japa mala has been shown to help slow respiration and encourage well-being. Repeating the mantra of your choosing redirects the mind from daily obsessions and introduces positive thought patterns. Similar devices have been used for generations in a variety of spiritual traditions and cultures across the world. Meditation positively affects the brain and mood and practitioners report feeling relaxed, better focused and higher self-awareness. Malas can be a significant part of your meditation practice.
We can custom make malas to your requirements. We offer a variety of materials for our beads, and our mala are handmade, with carefully drilled T-holes in the Guru bead so the string passes through all the beads on the mala and then through the Guru bead to end in an attractive tassel at the base of the mala.