Mala is the Sanskrit name for garland. Mala beads are used during prayer and meditation, and serve as a device for counting the number of times you recite your prayer or mantra. This is used so that you can think about the meaning of the mantra as it is chanted, rather than worrying about counting the number of repetitions. Many people believe that the energy of accumulated mantras becomes stored in the mala, increasing its energy and effectiveness in carrying out your prayer.
To call any prayer string a mala is not correct. Christians use a rosary which typically contains 150 beads, a number which was derived from the Old Testament’s 150 Psalms. This device used by Catholics as a tool to aid in counting may have been adapted from the mala, however its name was derived from the beads that were carved to resemble roses. The origin and use of mala beads can be traced to Hinduism, but has since been used by people of various cultures for thousands of years for the purpose of enhancing divine knowledge and intuition, prosperity, patience, and as a stress reduction aid.
The mala beads are most commonly seen in necklace or bracelet form, with the necklace being the traditional method. Nine is the sacred number and common denominator in mala prayer beads, and they typically contain 27 or 108 beads. There is also one “odd” bead, that is usually larger, or which hangs below the circle to mark the beginning and ending point which validates one round of a prayer cycle. This bead has been given several different names, according to religious tradition, including guru bead, mother bead, Meru bead, vase bead or Buddha bead.
Regardless of the number of beads on the mala, the importance is that it is used to count mantras with devotion.
Choosing a Mala
You may have been fortunate to have inherited a mala, or received one as a gift. For those that seek to purchase one for themselves, the first factor in selecting a mala should be the intended purpose. Malas are usually designated or consecrated to aid in one specific aspect of your life. For example, you may choose a green Jade mala for prosperity, or a pink Rose Quartz for healing. Once you have decided what your intended purpose will be, choose a mala by the color, type of stone/seed, feel when handling the mala, and aesthetic appearance. You may elect to have it professionally blessed by a religious master, or you can bless it yourself prior to using it. To concentrate and bless your own mala, create a sacred space, say a quiet prayer, and set your intentions that your use of this mala may bring benefit to you and to all.
Using Your Mala
The mala can be used with different fingers of the hand that signify different parts of the brain, as it is believed that there are energy centers in each of your fingers. The “rules” vary according to tradition. Hindu tradition claims that the correct way to use a mala is with the right hand, with the thumb flicking one bead upwards to the next, with the mala draped over the middle finger. Buddhists hold the mala in the left hand, close to the chest, above the heart, and in between the index finger and thumb. With the reciting of each mantra, the thumb pulls down another bead into place over the index finger. As your finger counts each bead, a prayer, mantra, statement of intent, or sacred sound is uttered. It is also customary to not cross the guru bead, but instead, flip the mala around and then resume counting, because the energy of accumulated mantras stored there could be dislodged.
Caring for Your Mala
Some people wear their mala on their wrist, or as a necklace, with the guru bead and tassel against the chest, as opposed to the back of the neck. As these are considered sacred objects, they are to be treated with respect and taken care of. They should not be left lying around carelessly. It is customary to keep them in a pouch, box, or on top of an altar, in a safe and energetically clean place when it is not being used.
Meditation can be a difficult process for beginners because the mind is like a child, and often wanders. If your energy is low at the time of meditation, sleepiness sets in and can interfere with the process. On the contrary, if the energy is too high and intense, the mind can easily become distracted. During such times, the mala provides a needed anchor. When the mala beads are moved in rhythm with the breath and the mantra, its value during meditation is immeasurable. When you use your mala regularly with a personal mantra, it absorbs the vibrations of the practice and serves as a visual reflection of your devotion.
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