How to Use Buddhist Prayer Beads for Meditation
A Buddhist Prayer Mala Bead Necklace is a string of 108 prayer beads that when used in meditation is primarily for counting mantras or breaths taken. Often times they will break during use and will need to be restrung.
If you meditate regularly or practice yoga, you’ve probably come across mala beads before. If you own Tibetan Mala or Tibetan Prayer Beads (as they are often referred to) – You may be wondering how to use Buddhist Prayer Beads part of your Meditation practice.
In this step by step guide with pictures we will discuss the use of Buddhist Prayer Beads/Mala. The process of counting a string of 108 Mala Beads in a Necklace is exactly the same be it Buddhist Mala, Tibetan Mala or Yoga Mala. Mala beads, commonly known as a Japa mala or simply a mala, are a type of prayer beads that have been used for centuries by a range of religions. The terms Buddhist Prayer Beads, Mala Beads or Buddha Beads are all used to describe the classic form of a 108 Bead Necklace.
How to use Buddhist Prayer Beads Necklace for Meditation
The easiest and most popular form of Meditation in both Hindu and Buddhist forms is the called Mantra Meditation or Japa Meditation. Mantras are either a meaningless slogan or spiritual statement used to focus the wandering mind and gain mental stillness and clarity.
Using a Meditation Mantra is called Japa Meditation and each Mantra is repeated hundreds or even thousands of times during a Japa meditation practice. Focusing on the Mantra, allows the meditating person to clear the intrusive conscious thoughts to zero in on just one thought and aids in the purpose of stilling the Mind.
The purpose of meditation is to still the mind, and keeping track of how many mantras you recite during your Japa meditation requires concentration and active conscious thinking. The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition of the mantra is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb around each bead.
This process is repeated and when arriving at the head or guru bead, the person meditating turns the mala around and then goes back in the opposing direction. Typically one cycle of Mantras is about 100, (sometimes 108) but generally what ever philosophy of Japa you are using, by the time you reach 108 counts you start a new cycle.
If more than 108 repetitions are to be done, or the style of mediation requires suggested numbers of mantra repetitions then counting devices can be added to the Mala.
How to Hold Your Mala Beads
1) Identify the Guru Bead
First Identify the guru bead. The guru bead, will hang off the counting beads at the middle bottom of the Mala Necklace. The guru bead is intended to be used as a place of rest and contemplation during meditations and mantra recitations. Monk Mala will have Guru beads that are connected to a tassel.
The guru bead will be where you begin and end your meditation or mantra.
2) Chose your Preferred Hand
Place the Prayer Beads Mala in your hand of choice. Some cultures use the left hand for toilet cleanup and it is consider impure, so they use the right hand. However, there are many other cultures and traditions that do not specify in which hand you need to place the mala. If the tradition of meditation you are using specifies a hand for counting it is best to use that hand. Otherwise use what is most comfortable for you.
3) Chose your Preferred Fingers
Hang the mala beads on your third finger. Place your Prayer Beads Mala on your third, or ring, finger before you begin reciting mantras or meditating. The third finger has a symbolic significance in many Buddhist traditions. However placing the mala on your third finger will also allow you to efficiently cycle through the mala throughout. There is however no best way of how to use Buddhist Prayer Beads with your meditation and mantra recitations.
How to Use Mala Beads for Counting Mantra
4) Use your Thumb to Rotate and Count the Mala
Using your thumb to rotate through each bead and then count each mantra or breathe. Your thumb should allow you to easily move through each bead that is held by one of your fingers. Using your thumb to pull each bead toward you and cycle through your Prayer Beads until you reach the Guru Bead.
5) Rotate the Mala until Reaching the Guru Bead
Continue until you reach the Guru Bead, but do not count it. At this point you can take a moment for reflection and decide if you will continue or stop your meditation. If you would like to end your meditation, simply remove the mala and put it in a clean and safe place.
If you wish to continue …..
6) Flip the Mala and Repeat the Counting Bead Cycle
Flip the mala around and continue counting. If you are reciting your mantra in repetitions, or want a longer meditation, flip the mala around once you reach the guru bead. Take the mala and turn it so the guru bead is just below your thumb. Once your Mala is in the start position again, continue counting each bead as you have done throughout your meditation or mantra recitation.
Image Source Acknowledgement: This article “How to use Buddhist Prayer Beads” has been adapted from, and images used from Wikihow
How to Use Buddhist Mala Beads .. Continued
What are 108 Mala Beads?
Traditional Buddhist Prayer Beads Mala’s are made from 108 beads strung together as a necklace using organic materials such as plant seed, wood, and animal bone. Usually the 108 Beaded Mala are carved or shaped into rounded beads. Today Mala’s can be made using a wide variety of gemstones with claims of specific healing properties. Although this is a modern western interpretation of various new Age philosophies and not something most Buddhist believe when they use Buddhist Prayer Beads for Mediation.
The aim of Meditation is to release yourself from material bonds and attachments by stilling the mind of such thoughts. This is best done using plain simple wood or stone Mala to avoid mental distraction. Despite what modern new age practitioners have been lead to think with clever marketing. Using multicolored Gemstone jewelry with different stones to represent different magic and healing qualities; has an insignificant effect on the benefits of normal meditation.
What does using Buddhist Prayer Beads Help With?
Mala beads can help you with different aspects of meditation, which is linked to a range of health benefits. Meditation can help reduce stress levels, improve sleep, and lower blood pressure, among other many other beneficial health and psychological benefits.
But meditation isn’t always the easiest of activities to start. Many people find it hard, especially in the beginning, to keep their mind from wandering off the various japa and mantras they need to focus on. That’s where using Buddhist Prayer beads come in handy. Another powerful way of stilling and calming the subconscious mind is to use Hypnosis which in itself is a form of meditative state of mind.
Buddhist Mala beads are probably the best and simplest way of keeping you focused during meditation. Two ways using a Buddhist Prayer Bead can help make meditation easier:
- The repetitive movement of your fingers across the beads helps ground you.
- Touching each bead as you say a mantra helps you keep track of how many times you’ve repeated the mantra.
- Touching each bead allows you to regulate and control your breathe
Caring for your Buddhist Prayer Beads
Protecting Your Meditation Mala Beads
As with all sacred objects, the Buddhist Prayer Mala should be kept off the ground. Many people will have a Mala devoted to Meditation which they use and then place into a bag for safe keeping.
The mala should not be worn while bathing, or allowed to get wet, as this may weaken the cord on which the mala beads are strung. If you chose to wear your Mala Beads as a Necklace, it is best to remove them before going to sleep so that you do not accidentally stress the cord and break it.
Cleaning Your Meditation Mala Beads
Cleaning Stone MalaYou can do this by placing the Stone mala in warm water. You can also add a mild soap if you wish. Soak the beads for some time (some suggest leaving it overnight). Use a delicate brush to scrub the beads. Leave to fully dry.
Cleaning Wood MalaRub the Mala with a damp cloth, taking care to clean all of the 108 Beads carefully. Let them sit for 5 minutes and if you wish use a natural oil or furniture protection product to form a water proof seal. After the Mala have been used long enough that they have changed color, your own body oils will offer all the protection sealing the Mala will need and this step is not required.
What To Do If Your Mala Bead Necklace Breaks
If your mala bead necklace breaks, you will likely feel sad and worried about why it happened and what it means if anything. Often people will worry if there is a deep and meaningful spiritual reason for why the Buddhist Prayer Bead Necklace has broken. This is usually the reason most websites and blog post articles will mention – that some Karmic cycle has been completed or was not supposed to have been started.
At Monk Mala, we are privileged to know hundreds of Buddhist Monks who regularly use and break their Buddhist Prayer Beads. Their answer to Why did my Mala Bead Necklace break? Wear and tear – nothing lasts forever. And they just restring their Prayer beads, using the opportunity to focus their magical intention on the purpose of the Mala Necklace.
How to Cleanse Your Mala Beads
If you have purchased your Buddhist Prayer Beads from Monk Mala, there is no need to cleanse them. They have already been Blessed by Buddhist Monks. However if you have purchased from somewhere else, made your own, or restrung your Mala Beads, you can use the following methods.
Intention Setting/Charging the Mala
Sit in a quiet place and make yourself comfortable. Take a few deep breathes, close your eyes and mentally project the ‘intention’ you have selected into the Buddhist Prayer Beads. This can be done silently or verbally expressed as you either hold or rotate the mala in your hand.
This is the essential elements, although because this is your personal magic – you can use a variety of different props to aid the ritual with additional meaning to you. Burn Incense or sage, have music on in the background – whatever makes the intention meaningful for your own personal beliefs.
Cleansing Your Mala
Once you have activated your mala beads, you may want to cleanse and clean them from time to time. Some people think this needs to be done because the Mala absorb energies. For the Buddhist this makes zero sense as the whole purpose of the meditation is to focus your energies on meditative calm and peaceful states of mind. It also makes very little sense that days, months or years of focused intention and energy can be replaced by dropping your mala or having another person hold them.
However if you do wish to cleanse the Mala the easiest way is to leave them outside for a day and a night, allowing the energy of the Sun and Moon to be absorbed into the Mala.