Learn About Malas

What is a Mala: 
A mala is a string of 108 beads used traditionally to count mantra prayers or intention while meditating. They can also be used to count breath. 

Malas can be worn as a necklace or bracelet. 

Mala is a word from the Sanskrit language of ancient India and Nepal, it translates to “garland” in the english language. 

Similarly, the Latin term, Rosary, translates to “garland of roses”

History: 

Humans have been adorning themselves since the beginning of time. 

As far back as 70,000 BC, at the very southern tip of Africa in a cave known as Blombos, shell beads were discovered to be string on on a cord and worn as decorative ornaments.

The use of beads in prayer appears to have originated around the 8th century B.C.E. in India.

Beads have been used throughout our history as talismans for protection, amulets for luck, status symbols for wealth and authority, spiritual and religious tools, and as a form of barter.

Mala beads are used in other cultures and religions but are known by different names, such as prayer beads, rosary beads, and worry beads. 

Over two-thirds of the world’s population employ some type of counting beads as part of their spiritual practice.

Anatomy of a Traditional Mala: 

  1. String of 108 beads
  2. Guru Bead: represents the student-guru relationship, So honoring your teachers, masters, etc. 
  3. Tassel: represents enlightenment  or higher consciousness. As the strands combine together in to one, it represents our connection to the Divine and to each other. Oneness

Note: Sometimes mantra malas are made up of 112 beads.

Significance of 108 beads: 

Traditionally malas are made up of 108 beads. There are many beliefs around the significance of this number. 

According to an ancient text from the 4th Centruy BCE, The Buddha said to one of his followers, a King “if you want to eliminate earthy desires and put an end to their suffering, make a circular string of 108 beads made from the seeds of the Mokugenji tree. Hold it always to yourself. Recite Namu Buddha - Namu Dharma - Namu Sangha.” Count one bead with each recitation.”

In decoding this text, we learn that Buddha suggested that King Haruri craft a string of beads from seeds and use it recite mantra by counting each bead. 

It is from this text that the number of 108 beads in a mala originated but there are many suggestions that the Buddha derived the importance of the 108 from ancient times. 

Note: The Sanskrit mantra Namu Buddha - Namu Dharma - Namu Sangha a loosely translates as “devotion to awakening, the dedication to the right way of living or cosmic order, a devotion to the community (or all beings)”. Namu means devotion or to dedicate ones self.

Hindu belief is that 108 represents the distance between our body and the God within us. 

The Sanskrit alphabet has 54 letters, each letter a Shakti (feminine) and Shiva (masculine) quality, multiply 54 x 2 = 108

Buddhist:  108 represented the 108 human passions that impede enlightenment. Or in other words, 108 temptations that man has to overcome in order to reach nirvana.

In yogic practice: 108 represents the 108 sacred sites throughout India, 108 Vedic texts and 108 sacred life force points on the body. It’s why we do 108 sun salutations. 

The Astrologic meaning of 108 represents the 12 houses and 9 planets (12 x 9 = 108). Vedic mathematicians measured the Sun’s diameter to be 108 times larger than the diameter of the Earth, and measured the distance between the Sun and Earth to be 108 times the Sun’s diameter.

Traditional Mantras and Personal Mantras

Mantra is a Sanskrit word, 'ma' meaning 'mind' and 'tra' meaning 'that which protects.' A mantra is a sacred utterance recited aloud or repeated internally to aid in concentration during a spiritual practice or meditation. .

Traditional Mantra 

Traditional mantra meditation uses existing Sanskrit hymns and chants that have been shared and practiced as a part of Vedic tradition. These mantras are typically vocations towards certain deities for blessings specific to them. The sounds of these prayers said in repetition are meant to induce a deeper meditative state, such as when a lullaby soothes a child to sleep, The linguistic nature of traditional mantra and the quality of their sounds works to quiet mental chatter and fosters a peaceful environment for the body and mind to exist. 

An example of a very simple traditional mantras:  Om (ohm): The simplest to repeat, yet a powerful acknowledgement of connection between all beings.

Personal Mantra

Personal or unique mantra is another way of approaching a mediation practice and benefiting from it. Just as is true of thoughts, there are no right or wrong mantras. Rather, your mantra is based on personal experience, and holds power as an individual and unique expression of your most desired state of being. Whether it be aimed at manifesting security, deep connection, pervasive self-confidence, or release from suffering, the only requirement of a personal mantra is that it is authentic.

A personal mantra is more akin to an intention. It is not a goal.

To me, the difference between a personal mantra or intention and a goal is that an the former is not attached to a certain outcome. It’s more of a guiding message as to where you want to focus your energy. Whereas, a goal would be attached to a quantifiable outcome within a certain time period. 

Again, your personal mantra is an authentic, individualized expression. A concentrated effort to help you achieve stillness, and peace and ultimately aids in creating  your optimal state of being. 

Whatever that is for you at this moment, is right.

How to Use Your Mala: 

A Hindu mala is usually worked with by using the right hand. The mala is held resting over the third finger of the right hand, and the beads are brought toward you, one by one, using the thumb. Each bead counts one repetition of the mantra. When you get around to the guru bead, you don’t count it, and you don’t pass it; you stop there, mentally bow to the guru, flip the mala around, and start going back the other way. Each time you come to the guru bead you awaken once more, then you turn around and go back the way you came.

If Your Mala Breaks: 

As you wear your mala, it is natural that your string may wear down and, eventually, break. If your mala breaks, it symbolizes that you’ve outgrown the intention associated with that piece.