What Are Mala Beads?
Mala beads are an overarching term for Buddhist prayer beads. The name itself stems from Sanskrit, and literally translates as “Heavenly Garland.”
Their origins date back nearly 3,000 years to the formation of what is now modern day Hinduism. Today Mala beads are commonly used in Tibetan Buddhism, and throughout the various sects and schools of Buddhism.
Mala beads are comprised of 108 beads and a larger guru bead.Traditionally, Mala beads are used during meditation and prayer, with each bead symbolizing a mantra, prayer or affirmation.
Practitioners hold the Mala beads in one hand and use the thumb to count each bead as they recite their mantra or prayer. The larger guru bead marks the end of the Mala and signifies the completion of the practice. The repetitive physical and mental act of counting each bead is believed to help still the mind and deepen the meditative experience.
In modern times, Mala beads have become popular not only for their spiritual significance but also for their aesthetic beauty, with many people using them as a reminder to stay focused and present in their daily lives.
Why 108 Beads?
Although Mala beads often come in different bead amounts, most notably 72/54, the most commonly used is the Mala of 108 beads. While the reason for 108 beads is contested, it is a spiritually significant number found throughout Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
In Hinduism, there are 108 Upanishads, ancient texts from spiritual sages. There are also 108 revered Hindu goddess. In Buddhism, there are 108 earthly desires or 108 illusions that must be overcome to achieve enlightenment.
Finally, some people have found the number 108 significant in astrology where the multiplication of 12 houses and 9 planets equals 108. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that 108 beads holds great significance across Hindu-Buddhist religions.
Outcomes of Mala Meditation
Meditation with a Mala bead can bring a number of positive outcomes to your life, beyond the traditional benefits of meditation itself. Through the repetitive physical motion of using the Mala, the mind is allowed to focus and quiet, allowing for greater self-awareness and introspection.
Meditation with a Mala bead has helped countless individuals achieve personal growth and development. For example, many individuals struggling with addiction have found that incorporating Mala meditation into their recovery routine has helped them cultivate mindfulness and emotional regulation, reducing the likelihood of relapse.
For those searching for purpose in life, Mala meditation can provide a sense of calm and clarity, enabling them to better connect with their inner selves and desires.
Those processing grief have reported that Mala meditation has helped them find peace and comfort, while others struggling with anxiety have found that it helps them develop resilience and manage stress in a healthier way.
These are just a few of the many examples of the positive outcomes people have experienced through Mala meditation.
How To Choose A Buddhist Mala
When choosing a Buddhist Mala, it is important to consider a few different things.
- Bead Size: Whichever Mala you choose, you're going to want to make sure that the beads feel comfortable and even calming between your fingers. A good size for those with smaller fingers is 6 or 7mm round beads. For people with larger fingers, 8 to 10mm is recommended. Of course, this doesn't means 12 or even 14 mm bhodi seeds are out of the question, as many monks often count on these as well.
- Bead Texture: Some people prefer the energy transference of a metal Mala, the texture of a conch shell mala, or even the properties of crystal mala beads. Others find wooden mala beads the most satisfying to roll. And there are those that prefer prickly rudraksha seed Mala beads.
- Mala Weight: The Buddhist Mala is often adjustable and worn around the wrist. If you prefer something lighter, wood is your best option. For a more substantial feel, copper, brass, conch shell or crystals are preferred.
Overall, it's a good idea to test each type of Mala before committing. Discover which one speaks to you the most to and your unique energy. For a collection of wearable 108 bead Malas, you’ll find our collection here. We are big believers in karma, always offer returns, and strive to treat every customer the way we would want to be treated.
Why Choose A Blessed Mala?
In countries such as Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, it is common to have a new Mala blessed by Buddhist monks.
The Wodechen Thuk-Je Choeling Monastery is one place where one can have their new Mala blessed. Here, blessings are done according to ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
This monastery is located 365 steps above Kathmandu, in one of the most revered Buddhist temples in the world.
In the words of its modern founder, His Eminence Drubthob Rinpoche, this monastery is dedicated to the “restoration of a harmonious human society, and for the well being of every sentient being in this world.”
What Makes A Blessed Mala So Special?
1. A Blessed Mala Is Purified
Monks bless new Mala beads through a powerful ancient ceremony. The senior monk who physically blesses the beads are often accompanied by a group of disciple monks. Together they recite the mantra “Om Ranchi Ramni Tawa Taya Hum” in unison. This is an ancient Tibetan mantra used specifically for purifying Mala beads.
2. A Blessed Mala Is Infused With Positive Energy
More than simply a tool for counting and recitation, the Mala can be thought of as a store of energy. The more it is used, the more energy is infused within it. The more one recites positive intentions or sacred mantras on its beads, the more positively powerful it becomes.
3. One Makes A Donation To The Monastary
At the Wodechen Thuk-Je Choeling Monastery, the monks appreciate any sized donation. However, 500 Nepali rupees, around 5 USD, is what we recommend, and what we donate on your behalf.
If you’re interested, you can find our Blessed Mala & Jewelry Collection here.
How To Meditate With Mala Beads
Starting mala meditation can seem overwhelming, but with gradual progress, it becomes an integral part of one's daily routine. The key to success is to set achievable goals and gradually increase the amount of time spent in meditation each day. It's recommended to start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase the time as one becomes more comfortable with the practice.
It's important to have a designated time and place for meditation each day to ensure that it becomes a habit. Consistency is key, and by setting achievable goals, the practice of mala meditation becomes easier and more enjoyable over time. Remember to be patient with yourself and celebrate each small success along the way.
Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Make sure you won't be disturbed for the next 10-20 minutes.
Get into a comfortable position. You can sit cross-legged on the floor or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed.
Hold your mala bead in your right hand and drape it over your middle finger. The mala bead should be long enough to reach the ground.
Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply.
Start with the first bead and recite your chosen affirmation or mantra. You can also visualize a positive thought or feeling.
Move to the next bead and repeat the affirmation or mantra. (See below for mantra examples.)
Continue moving from bead to bead, focusing on your breath and the repetition of your affirmation or mantra.
When you reach the last bead, you can either turn the mala bead around and start again or simply end your meditation.
Take a deep breath and slowly open your eyes.
Repeat this process as often as you like, either daily or as needed.
Tibetan Buddhist Mantras
- OM MANI PADME HUM – the six syllables,
is known to be the sound of truth; truth in purity, truth in the path, and truth in compassion. It is an ancient mantra surrounding the bodhisattva of compassion or Avalokiteshvara. Since the Dalai Lama is considered to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, this mantra is his. It is also the most widely used of all Buddhist Matras.
- OM AMI DEWA HRIH
is believed to protect you from dangers and obstacles, and help you to overcome hindrances to your success.
108 Names Of Buddha: In many Buddhist temples and monasteries, the names of Buddha are often recited while counting Mala beads.
- Om budhaaya namah, Om budhaarcitaaya namah, Om saumyaaya namah, Om saumyacittaaya namah, Om shubha-pradaaya namah
(Buddha has a lot of names!)
- OM NAMAH SHIVAYA,
is one of the most popular Hindu mantras and the most important mantra in Shaivism (Worship to the God Shiva). It is often translated to mean “I honor The God Within me,” which is a pillar of Hindu dogma.
The ancient mantras hold great meaning and power, but we tend to gravitate towards mantras in English that are more relateable. Here are some of our favorites that we like to recite:
1. To combat negative thoughts:
“Today I will make a conscious effort to replace negativity with positivity. ”
To think bad thoughts is easy. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral down into ever-increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts however requires effort, discipline, & continual consciousness.
2. To help avoid frustration
“I will not set unreasonable expectations”
Frustration is an unhealthily attachment to people, things or outcomes we wish we could control but can not. Let us free ourselves from stress by removing attachment to outcomes we can not control.
3. To help manage anger
“Anger is a response I can choose not to use”
Anger is an emotion innate to the human condition. We will feel angry sometimes, but we can learn how to express or even transform anger in ways that do not define us but rather assist us.
4. Towards overcoming loneliness / a feeling of disconnection.
“We are all connected in suffering and joy.”
We all experience loneliness. It is a feeling that connects us all. The great thing about loneliness is that it always passes. So remember, be kind to yourself in the meantime.
5. Towards alleviating anxiety
“I have no reason to be anxious, everything always works out the way I want it to.”
Anxiety is best understood as a fear of the unknown. Anxiety has never been able to change one’s circumstance, only positive thoughts and actions can.
6. For managing the difficulties of everyday life.
“When life feels hard I always overcome.”
Life is suffering. However, it is only through suffering that we learn to adapt and grow. It is only through suffering that the Buddha attained enlightenment. Embrace the difficulties of life.
7. To alleviate fear
“My fears are only as strong as I allow them to be.”
Everyone is often so worried about their own fears and problems they couldn’t care less about yours. The less you fear, the less you realize you need to fear.
A Few More Modern Mantras:
- "I am not my past mistakes"
- "I release all negative energy"
- "I am open to new beginnings"
- "I choose to let go of the past"
- "I am grateful for this new day"
- "I trust in the journey of my life"
- "I am strong and resilient"
- "I choose love and forgiveness"
- "I am worthy of happiness"
- "I am capable of change"
- "I am in control of my thoughts"
- "I choose to focus on the present"
- "I am surrounded by positivity"
- "I trust the universe's plan for me"
- "I am grateful for the lessons of the past"
- "I choose to live in the present"
- "I am open to new opportunities"
- "I am deserving of love and respect"
- "I am constantly evolving"
- "I am at peace with who I am"
- "I am reborn in each moment"
- "I am deserving of my dreams"
- "I let go of fear and embrace courage"
Developing Your Own Style
One of the greatest aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism is that they are religions open to great interpretation.
Although Buddhism and Hinduism offer guidelines and paths towards enlightenment, in the end, it is up to you to achieve your own enlightenment and contentment.
As the Dalai Lama once stated, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
In other words, it all boils down to kindness & love for ourselves and all creatures. With this in mind you can decide exactly the practice that resonates with you when meditating with your Mala.
You can create a custom mantra specific to your struggle. You can simply count your breaths as you count the beads. You can also just wear them, and in doing so remember to become more mindful, grateful and compassionate.
However, as with any endeavor, especially one as challenging as enlightenment, it is important to remain disciplined and dedicated. If you start reciting your own mantras, make it a habit!
Recite once when you wake up and once before you go to sleep. Recite when you feel stressed or restless. Recite whenever you feel the need.
We sincerely hoped this guided helped. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch at Sherpas@BackpackBuddha.com
From all of us at Backpack Buddha in the USA, Nepal, & around the world, we wish you the greatest inner peace, contentment, and love on your path.