Mala – Hindu Prayer Beads

22 May 2013

Mala beads (or prayer beads) contain quite a bit of mystery, especially for those who are unfamiliar with them or the practice of mantra meditation. Malas are also referred to as mala beads, Buddhist beads or Buddhist prayer beads. Mala beads have been used in Buddhism and Hinduism for centuries.

They can be made in a range of different colors and from a variety of materials, and although they’re generally used for the same basic reasons, they mean something slightly different to all who use or wear them. If want to learn more about these beads and how to use them, this article is for you.

If you practice yoga or meditate regularly, it may be good to consider using mala beads as an aid to meditation.

What exactly is a Mala?

Mala beads are a strand containing 108 beads commonly used for keeping count during mantra meditations. The 109th bead on a mala is called the sumeru, bindu, stupa, or guru bead. Malas can sometimes be made of 27 beads or 21 beads for use in shorter meditations. Malas are customarily made with round beads which are usually 7-8mm in size (sometimes 10mm), and their spherical shape allows them glide easily through your fingers.

Traditional malas are made with Rudraksha beads, lotus seed beads, yak bone, Bodhi seeds, or wood. Healing malas are made from assorted gemstones, which each have their own energies, properties, and colors. As an example, there are numerous malas that are made from black onyx, turquoise, rose quartz, or jade. Malas are used as a tool to help the mind focused while meditating, or counting mantras (Sanskrit prayers) in sets of 108 repetitions. This practice is known in Sanskrit as japa.

Why is using a Mala helpful?

Many people find meditation to be a bit tricky! It can be quite a challenge to sit still and quiet your mind for an extended period of time. The mala can provide a indispensable “anchor” during meditation. It also enables the user to easily keep count during mantra repetitions.

Just how is a Mala used?

Start by holding your mala in your right hand (in India the left hand is considered impure) and using your thumb to “count” each mantra by touching the bead during the recitation and then gently pulling the bead towards you on completion and moving on to the next bead. The index finger is extended and should never touch the mala (The index finger represents the ego, which is recognized as the greatest impediment to self-realization in ancient Hinduism). The large “sumero” (head bead) should not be counted or touched by the thumb and is used as a beginning and ending point of the recitation or repetition.

According to Hindu custom, the sumero is never crossed or passed over, so if more than one round (rosary) is planned, the mala must be turned around to resume again in the reverse direction.

Wearing a Mala. How is a Mala worn?

This is a personal decision and is up to you! Malas create lovely necklaces, and can also be looped multiple times around your wrist; but a mala should never simply be considered a piece of jewelry. It’s a commonly accepted that when malas are used regularly for meditation and repeating mantras, they absorb and retain the beneficial vibrations of the practice. So the more you wear it and use it during meditation, the more positive energy it absorbs and reflects back.

Final notes:

Contrary to popular belief, malas do not in and of themselves have some inherent power unless you “awaken” your mala during sacred prayer and meditation. There’s a lot more to the power aspect of malas than this, but in summary, it is your belief and your faith which is the deeper secret of the mala’s potential. Your relationship to your mala is based on the devotion you cultivate through controlling your own mind, during prayer, meditation and while reciting mantra. Basically, it’s your heart felt faith, good intentions and prayers that create the power.

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