As a Buddhist practitioner, I often use Buddhist beads for meditation as well as counting the number of times I recite mantras. However, I did not fully understand the significance and great benefits that Mala beads can bring until Venerable Thich Tri Hue explained it to me. Today, I would like to share with you some useful information about Buddhist beads, such as their history, meaning and how to apply them to Buddhist practices for your reference.
As you know, Buddhist mala beads is a mystical fusion of devotion and artistry. These beaded treasures, often found draped over the wrists and necks of monks and lay practitioners alike, hold within their intricate patterns the secrets to inner peace, mindfulness and spiritual growth.
But these beads are not just ordinary trinkets; they are the keys to a world of tranquility, self-discovery and deep connection. Each bead, carefully strung together in sacred harmony, serves as a tactile guide on the path to enlightenment. You may just find that these beads, while small in size, hold the power to transform your life in ways you never thought possible.
What are Buddhist Mala Beads?
Buddhist mala beads also known as prayer beads or simply “mala“, are a string of beads traditionally used in Buddhist meditation and spiritual practices. The term “mala” is derived from the Sanskrit word “japamala”, which means “prayer beads” or “garland” for chanting or repeating a mantra. Each mala typically consists of 108 beads, although some have fewer, such as 54 or 27 beads. The beads are typically made of various materials, including wood, seeds, gemstones and bone.
In addition to main beads, there is usually a larger “guru” bead or a tassel to mark the beginning and end of the mala. The guru bead represents the teacher or spiritual guide and serves as a starting and ending point for counting the repetitions of a mantra during meditation.
Buddhist practitioners use mala beads to help them focus their mind and keep track of the number of times they recite a mantra or the number of breaths taken during meditation. To use a mala, one holds the first bead between the thumb and the middle or ring finger, recites the chosen mantra, and then moves on to the next bead with each repetition. This process continues until practitioner reaches the guru bead, at which point they can either reverse direction or turn the mala around and continue.
Mala beads also serve as a tangible reminder of one’s intention or spiritual commitment and can be worn as a necklace or bracelet. They are believed to accumulate spiritual energy and blessings from the mantras and prayers recited with them, and thus can be a source of protection, inspiration and strength for the wearer.
History of Buddhist beads
The history of Buddhist mala beads can be traced back to ancient India around the time when Buddhism emerged in the 5th century BCE. The use of prayer beads as a meditation aid was common in the Indian subcontinent and was influenced by Hinduism, which predates Buddhism. Hindu practitioners used a string of beads called a “japamala” to help them focus on their prayers and keep track of repetitions when reciting mantras.
When Buddhism developed as a distinct spiritual tradition, use of prayer beads carried over from Hinduism and became an essential component of Buddhist meditation and spiritual practices. The design of the Buddhist mala was adapted to fit the specific teachings and symbolism of Buddhism, such as the number of beads representing the 108 worldly desires or defilements that one must overcome to achieve enlightenment.
The use of mala beads spread throughout Asia along with Buddhism itself. As Buddhism evolved and branched out into different schools and traditions, design and use of mala beads also diversified. Today, you can find various types of malas reflecting regional and cultural variations in materials, colors and symbolism across the Buddhist world, including countries like Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan and Southeast Asia.
Meaning and Benefits of Mala beads in Buddhism
Thich Tri Hue told me that mala beads carry various layers of symbolism and meaning that reflect the teachings and principles of tradition. Some of the significant meaning associated with mala beads in Buddhism are:
Number of beads: A traditional mala usually has 108 beads, which is a sacred number in Buddhism. The number 108 is believed to represent the 108 defilements or worldly desires that one needs to overcome to achieve enlightenment. It is also associated with other aspects of Buddhist teachings, such as the 108 feelings that arise from the interaction of the senses with the external world.
Mindfulness and concentration: Mala beads are used as a tool to help practitioners focus their minds during meditation and chanting. The tactile sensation of holding and moving the beads aids in maintaining concentration and staying present during spiritual practices, which is a fundamental aspect of Buddhist meditation.
Counting mantras: Mala beads help practitioners keep track of the number of repetitions of mantras or prayers recited during meditation. This counting process encourages discipline and commitment to one’s practice, both of which are essential qualities in the Buddhist path.
Spiritual energy: Mala beads are believed to accumulate spiritual energy, or merit, as they are used in meditation and mantra recitation. This accumulated energy is thought to provide protection, inspiration, and strength to the practitioner, supporting their spiritual journey.
Reminder of intention: Wearing or carrying mala beads can serve as a constant reminder of one’s spiritual intentions and commitments. They act as a physical symbol of one’s dedication to the Buddhist path and the cultivation of virtues like compassion, wisdom and mindfulness.
Connection to the guru or teacher: The larger guru bead in a mala symbolizes the teacher or spiritual guide, emphasizing the importance of the student-teacher relationship in Buddhism. It serves as a reminder to acknowledge and honor the guidance and wisdom provided by the teacher on the spiritual journey.
Wow, it’s amazing how much depth and significance there is to mala beads in Buddhism! They’re not just some random accessory, but a truly meaningful and practical tool that helps support your meditation practice. I’m blown away by how the use of mala beads reflects the core principles of the tradition – it’s really fascinating to see how everything ties together in such a deep and profound way.
How to use Buddhist Mala beads in meditation
As I shared at the beginning of the article, using Buddhist mala beads in meditation can help you focus your mind, maintain concentration, and keep track of the number of repetitions of mantras or breaths.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit for meditation. Sit in a comfortable posture with your back straight and your hands resting on your knees or in your lap.
- Hold the mala in your right hand, with the strand draped over your middle or ring finger. Your thumb will be used to move the beads during the meditation.
- Start with the bead next to the guru bead, which is the larger bead or tassel that marks the beginning and end of the mala. Place the first bead between your thumb and your middle or ring finger.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax and center yourself. Set an intention for your meditation or bring to mind the mantra you will be reciting.
- As you recite your chosen mantra or focus on your breath, gently roll the bead between your thumb and finger. You can do this silently, whisper the mantra, or say it out loud, depending on your preference.
- After reciting the mantra once or completing one breath cycle, use your thumb to move to the next bead, pulling it towards you over your finger.
- Continue this process, moving through each bead on the mala as you recite your mantra or focus on your breath. Maintain your concentration and awareness during the meditation.
- When you reach the guru bead or tassel, do not pass over it. Instead, you can either stop your meditation or reverse direction, turning the mala around and continuing in the opposite direction.
- Conclude your meditation by taking a few moments to sit in silence, absorbing the energy and benefits of your practice. You can also dedicate the merit generated from your meditation to the well-being and enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Did you know that using mala beads in meditation is not just some trendy fad, but a traditional and super effective way to take your practice to next level? I mean, i had no idea that something as simple as using these beads could actually deepen your concentration and help you stay connected to the spiritual principles of Buddhism. It’s kind of mind-blowing when you think about it!
Types of Buddhist beads
I am using mala beads made from agarwood and it has a very pleasant light fragrance. There are various types of Buddhist mala beads, which differ in terms of materials, colors, and designs, reflecting regional and cultural variations across the Buddhist world.
Wood beads: Wooden beads are a popular choice for malas due to their natural and organic feel. They are commonly made from the wood of trees that have spiritual significance in Buddhism, such as sandalwood, bodhi tree, and rosewood. The fragrant aroma of some wooden beads, like sandalwood, is believed to have a calming effect on the mind during meditation.
Seed beads: Seed beads are made from the seeds of certain plants, such as the rudraksha tree, which is native to India and Nepal. Rudraksha seeds are believed to have powerful spiritual properties and are often used in malas, especially in Hinduism and some Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
Bone beads: Traditional Tibetan malas sometimes use beads made from yak bone or human bone. The use of bone beads serves as a reminder of the impermanence of life and the importance of spiritual practice in the face of death and decay.
Gemstone beads: Gemstone beads are used in malas for their beautiful colors and unique properties. Each gemstone is believed to have specific energetic qualities that can support the practitioner’s intention and meditation practice. Common gemstones used in malas include amethyst, turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli and quartz.
Metal beads: Metal beads, such as silver, gold, or brass, can also be found in some malas. These beads often feature intricate designs or engravings, such as Buddhist symbols or mantras, which add an additional layer of meaning and symbolism to the mala.
Glass or ceramic beads: In some cases, malas are made from glass or ceramic beads, which can be crafted into various shapes, sizes and colors. These beads may be more affordable and offer a wider range of design possibilities.
In addition to the material variations, malas may also incorporate spacers, counters, and other decorative elements that carry specific symbolic meanings or enhance the aesthetic appeal of the mala. The choice of mala beads depends on personal preference, cultural background and the intended your purpose of meditation practice.
Note: If you are unsure about choosing a suitable mala bead for meditation, you can refer to this article: https://lotusbuddhas.com/mala-beads-for-meditation.html
Where to buy authentic Buddhist Mala beads?
Many people contact LotusBuddhas to ask where to buy authentic Buddhist beads. They believe that genuine Mala beads may have some kind of “power” or “magic” imbued in them. This is completely false, my friends. Authentic Buddhist beads simply mean that you need to consider the material and craftsmanship. You should check if it matches the seller’s description or advertising, but remember that Buddhist beads are just spiritual items, a tool that supports us in our Buddhist practices.
To buy authentic Buddhist mala beads, you can consider the following options:
Buddhist temples or monasteries: Some temples and monasteries, especially in Buddhist-majority countries like Tibet, Nepal, India, Thailand and Japan, have gift shops or stalls selling authentic mala beads crafted by local artisans or monks. Purchasing malas directly from these sources can ensure their authenticity and also support the local communities.
Local shops and markets: In areas with a significant Buddhist population or cultural influence, you can find local shops and markets selling mala beads. These places often have a wide variety of malas made from different materials, colors and designs.
Online retailers: There are many online stores and marketplaces, such as Etsy, Amazon or specialized websites, where you can find authentic mala beads. When buying online, it’s essential to carefully read the product description and check reviews to ensure that the seller is reputable and the mala beads are genuine. Look for sellers who source their malas from artisans in Buddhist countries or provide detailed information about the materials and craftsmanship.
Meditation centers or workshops: Some meditation centers, yoga studios, or workshops related to Buddhism or spiritual practices may sell mala beads. These places can be a reliable source for authentic malas, as they are typically connected to the Buddhist community and have a deeper understanding of the significance and quality of the beads.
When buying authentic Buddhist mala beads, you have to consider the materials, craftsmanship, and source of the beads. Genuine malas made from quality materials and handcrafted by skilled artisans or monks will not only serve as a meaningful meditation tool but also support the preservation of traditional art forms and spiritual practices.
In addition, you can also make your own mala beads like the Lotus Buddhism members did. You can refer to how to make Buddhist beads in this article: https://lotusbuddhas.com/how-to-make-buddhist-beads.html
What is the difference between Buddhist beads and other types of prayer beads?
Buddhist beads and other prayer beads actually have a lot in common when it comes to their use in prayer and meditation. But, there are definitely some differences between them too. One of the main things that sets them apart is the number of beads on the strand. Buddhist mala beads usually have 108 beads, while the Catholic Rosary has either 59 or 150 beads.
Plus, the materials used to make the beads are pretty different too. Buddhist Mala beads are often made of natural stuff like sandalwood, rudraksha seeds, or gemstones, while other prayer beads can be made of all kinds of things – glass, plastic, wood, you name it. Oh, and the way the beads are used during prayer and meditation can vary depending on the specific religion or spiritual practice.
How do you cleanse and care for Buddhist Mala beads?
To cleanse and care for Buddhist Mala beads, follow these steps:
- Store the beads in a clean, dry place when not in use. Avoid exposing them to extreme temperatures, sunlight, or moisture.
- Clean the beads with a soft, damp cloth. Do not use harsh chemicals or abrasive materials.
- To cleanse the beads, you can place them in sunlight or moonlight for a few hours. This can help to clear any negative energy that may have accumulated on the beads.
- You can also use sage smoke or other cleansing rituals to clear the energy of the beads.
- If you use essential oils on your Mala beads, be sure to use high-quality oils and dilute them properly. Do not apply oils directly to the beads.
- When using the Mala beads, handle them gently and avoid pulling or tugging on the thread. This can help to prevent the beads from breaking or becoming damaged.
- If a bead does become damaged, it is best to replace it as soon as possible to maintain the integrity of the Mala.
Finally, set an intention for your Mala beads and use them regularly in your meditation or spiritual practice to connect with their energy and meaning.
What is the significance of the different colors of Mala beads?
The different colors of Buddhist Mala beads can have different significance and meaning.
- White: purity, clarity, and a clear mind
- Red: energy, passion, and power
- Blue: calmness, serenity, and spiritual growth
- Green: balance, harmony, and healing
- Yellow: intellect, confidence, and self-discipline
- Black: protection, grounding, and stability
- Brown: grounding, stability, and connection to nature
- Purple: intuition, wisdom, and insight
- Pink: love, compassion, and kindness
- Gold: wealth, prosperity, and abundance
These meanings can vary based on specific traditions or practices. Mala beads also often come in multiple colors or types of beads to represent different qualities or intentions. The significance of the colors is subjective and can be interpreted differently by each individual. As for me, I’m wearing black mala beads of frankincense and I find it very suitable for me.
Can anyone use Buddhist mala beads or do you need to be Buddhist?
Did you know that anyone can use Buddhist Mala beads? Like, regardless of your religious or spiritual background, these beads are totally accessible. And it’s not just Buddhists who use them – people in other spiritual practices like Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism dig them too. Using Mala beads is a personal choice, and it can be super helpful if you’re trying to get more mindful, deepen your meditation practice, or just find some inner peace and calm.
LotusBuddhas hopes that through the useful information about Buddhist beads that we share, you can have better understand the meaning and usefulness of these spiritual bead strands.