Mala beads (also known as Buddhist prayer beads or malas) are a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited, breaths while meditating, counting prostrations, or the repetitions of a Buddha’s name.

Conventional Buddhist tradition counts the beads at 108, signifying the mortal desires of mankind. The number is attributed to the Mokugenji 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.

Malas for Mantra Meditation

Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This sādhanā (practice) is known in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with 18, 27, 54 or 108 beads.In Tibetan Buddhism,

In Tibetan Buddhism, malas of 108 beads are used. Some practitioners use malas of 21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations. In Tibetan Buddhism, malas are mainly used to count mantras. These mantras can be recited for different purposes linked to working with the mind.

The material used to make the beads can vary according to the purpose of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for all purposes and all kinds of mantras. These beads can be made from the wood of Ficus religiosa (bo or bodhi tree), or from “bodhi seeds”, which come from rudraksha.Another general-purpose mala is made from rattan seeds;[2] the beads themselves called “moon and stars” by Tibetans, and variously called “lotus root”, “lotus seed” and “linden nut” by various retailers. The bead itself is very hard and dense.

Another general-purpose mala is made from rattan seeds; the beads themselves called “moon and stars” by Tibetans, and variously called “lotus root”, “lotus seed” and “linden nut” by various retailers. The bead itself is very hard and dense, ivory-colored (which gradually turns a deep golden brown with long use), and has small holes (moons) and tiny black dots (stars) covering its surface. Pacifying mantras are often at recited using white colored.

Sources: Tibetan Handicraft Society in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala and Wikipedia

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