Tag Archives: Mala Beads

Mala Beads

Hand with japa mala beadsMala is an eastern rosary used both in Hinduism and Buddhism for counting mantras (rhythmic sequences of sounds), chants or prayers.  It is used either for wearing on the neck (Mala) or for counting while chanting/reciting mantras (Jap Mala).

Mantras may be spoken aloud, enabling one to easily shut out distractions and to remain focused, whispered, or silently repeated, but concentration is most effectively centered when mala beads are used during the chanting.  The mala allows the participant to think about the meaning of the mantra as it is chanted rather than thinking about counting the repetitions.  Traditionally, one repeats a chosen mantra and counts a bead at a time until reaching the “guru” bead –the larger one at the top that has the thread coming out of it.

One always starts counting with the bead next to the “guru” bead.  Continue around until arriving back at the “guru” bead and then turn the mala around rather than crossing the “guru” bead.

This procedure makes using the mala easier as the beads will not be so tight on the string when used repeatedly.

A mala typically has 108 matched beads representing the 108 passions to be conquered in order to attain enlightenment; however, malas are also made using a lesser number of beads, but usually a division of 108.  Many believe that when one uses a mala many times, it takes on the energy of the mantra that is being chanted.  For this reason, it is common to chant only one particular mantra with a particular mala.

Mala beads are held in the right hand.  The left hand rests in the lap or on the left knee with the thumb and forefinger joined together with the remaining three fingers extended straight.   Each bead rests lightly on the right ring finger, with the thumb gently holding the beads in place.  Move the beads by progressing the thumb and middle finger onto the next bead or by flicking one bead to the next after the repetition of each mantra.  The index finger represents ego, the greatest impediment to Self Realization so it is considered bad form to use it with a mala.

Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning garland.  The English word “rosary” may very well have come from the Sanskrit jap mala.   When Roman explorers came into India and encountered the mala, they heard jap mala and jap for the Romans meant “rose.”  Thus, the mala was carried back to the Roman Empire as rosarium, and into English as “rosary.”

Whenever the mala is taken up, it automatically conditions the mind to the meditative state.  While there is nothing magical in such an act, that one can achieve such a condition is pretty terrific.  In this vein, the fact that so many of us –religious, non-religious, spiritual, non-spiritual, traditional, non-traditional –will all be celebrating a secular holiday with similar rituals, traditions and thankfulness is certainly extraordinary, maybe even magical!

 


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