A mala is a string of beads used for meditating and chanting a mantra or prayer in sets of 108 repetitions, to train the spiritual self. The use of beads in prayer is believed to have originated in India in the 8th century. Presently, more than two thirds of the of the world’s population use some form of prayer beads in their sacred rituals and religious practices.
The most common malas come in strands of 27, 54 and 108. A mala comprised of 27 beads must be chanted upon for four revolutions and a strand of 56 beads must be done twice to complete the 108 repetitions required for optimal results.
The number 108 is considered a sacred number in many religions and spiritual practices. In Hinduism, the number 108 is said to refer to the number of Hindu deities. In Buddhism, it is believed that there are 108 virtues that need to be developed. For Chinese astrologist, the number 108 represents the number of sacred stars. Many believe it represents the number of paths to God.
Mala beads are frequently made from gemstones, wood, seeds and bone. Each material infuses its own energy and virtues into the mala. When choosing a mala it is important to remember that the materials attributes should be complimentary to the mantra. Let your intuition and heart guide you. If you have received a mala as a gift, trust in it, for its attributes are a gift from the spiritual plane, and it is something you were meant to have.
When selecting a mala for use in prayer or mediation it is important to consider bead size. It is imperative that the size of the bead matches the size of your fingers. Small fingers work best with 5-6 mm beads, 7-8 mm bead fits most, and 9-10mm is a good option for those with large fingers.
A mala may also have different colored or shaped beads placed at different intervals within the strand. Theses beads are known as divider /spacer beads and are used for counting. Mala counters are another option for keeping track of mantra recitations and can be easily attached to your mala.
According to Hindu tradition the mala should be held with the right hand, as the left hand is thought to be impure. Drape the mala over the middle finger and use the thumb to hold the bead as you recite your mantra, prayer or affirmation. Once complete, use your thumb to push the bead towards you and move to the next. Note the index finger is elongated and should not touch the beads. Do this continuously until you have recited your mantra 108 times.
Buddhists differ in this view and hold the mala in the left hand, draping the mala between the index finger and thumb. When the affirmation is complete the thumb pulls the next bead in place over the index finger.
Note, both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions state it is imperative that you do not count, cross or touch the large Guru/Meru bead, that most malas have, while reciting your mantra. Instead, rotate the mala 180 degrees and begin again until you have completed your repetitions. The Guru bead is the large bead found at the end of a mala and it confirms the end of a chant cycle. Mantras affirmations should begin to the left or right of this center bead.
A mala becomes empowered with a mantra, prayer or affirmation, when it is recited each day, continuously, for 40 days. Once it is empowered it can be worn. When not in use, your mala should be stored in sacred place such as an altar, or drape it on a deity. Malas can also be stored in pouches made of natural material, such as silk and cotton.
A mala is an extremely useful spiritual tool for mastering the mind.