In this short post I'll introduce you to Mala Beads (Malas), explain what they are and how they are used. At the time of this writing, I'm new to them myself so my understanding is still quite fresh. I will most likely add to this post over time as my understanding about Mala beads deepens.
Here are some points that summarize the rest of this article, in case you just need to know at a glance:
- Mala beads are used as a tool for repeating a mantra while meditation or chanting
- They are most often made with sandalwood, rudraksha seeds or lotus seeds
- They contain 108 beads, plus one guru bead
- They benefit the wearer in terms of helping to focus the mind by helping to count mantra repetitions, helping the wearer remember her intention and impairing energetic/healing benefits from the energy of the beads themselves
What Are Mala Beads
Mala Beads, also known as Japa Mala Beads or Buddhist Prayer Beads are strings of 108 beads with an additional larger bead called a Guru Bead or Meru Bead. They are used in many Eastern spiritual traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism. They are a power object that act as a tool for our spiritual evolution.
The word Japa Mala is sanskrit for Garland.
Why 108 Beads?
108 is a significant and auspicious number that's found commonly in the universe and in our own bodies. It is considered a sacred number in many traditions. I encourage you to listen to Sadhguru explain the significance of 108 in this short video.
Mala Bead Types
Many types of beads are used for Malas, but the most common are rudraksha seeds, sandalwood and lotus seeds. Crystals and stones are also commonly used.
Meaning of Mala Beads
Technically speaking, Mala Beads are a tool to assist in focusing the mind in meditation or chanting. They are used as counting devices to repeat a mantra 108 times, instead of having to engage the mind in the counting.
Benefits of Mala Beads
Outside of the main benefit of helping to count our mantra repetitions without using the mind, therefore helping us to focus and empty the mind, another benefit to Mala Beads is as a reminder of our spiritual practice and the intention that you are setting.
Also, the seeds, woods, crystals and/or stones used as beads on Malas have their own unique energetic/sacred properties that can impair benefits when wearing them or being in proximity to them. I will cover those in separate posts, so stay tuned for that!
How to Use Mala Beads
The short of it is that you want to use you middle finger and your thumb to go through each bead one at a time, repeating your mantra each time. The index finger isn't used, because it represents the ego and superficial self, which we are working towards transcending through our practice.
Once you've done a full mala (108 beads), if you want to continue, you flip the mala around as traditionally we avoid crossing over the guru bead.
As it can be hard to understand well through written words, so I encourage you to watch this short video from Mala Collective about how to use Malas in meditation or chanting.
Cleansing Mala and Activating Beads
Some people advocate for the cleansing of Malas when you receive them or when they have been in the presence of undesired energy. Yet, others say that the beads themselves often carry an energy strong enough as to not need external cleansing.
If you do decide to cleanse your Mala for good measure, two popular methods are smudging smoke from burning sage or placing your Mala in a Tibetan Signing Bowl and playing it, letting the sound vibrations cleanse your Mala.
In terms of activating your Mala, the goal is to impair it with your intention for it. You can simply bathe in the sun with your Mala and focus deeply on your intention.
Cleaning Your Mala
To care for your Mala, you can use a brush to clean off any dust. If needed, you can clean your Mala more thoroughly using water and then let it dry in the sun. And then you can also use different types of oils to massage on the beads. Here's a great video that discusses caring for your Mala in more details.
If your Mala is made of seeds or wooden beads, you'll want to make sure it stays as dry as possible and avoid long-term exposure to moisture, to prevent mold from growing on it.
If you're interesting in learning more, I highly recommend the following 2 videos: