Malas- How to use Buddhist Malas and Prayer Beads

About Prayer Beads
Malas are prayer or rosary beads used for reciting repetitions of prayers or chants called “mantras,”  and help to facilitate ritualized meditation practice. They have been used for thousands of years in Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, Japanese  Buddhism and Hinduism. Prayer beads in different forms are used in Christianity and Islam as well. 

What is a Mala?

A full mala is usually 108 counting beads with a formal three holed special finishing bead called a “guru” bead, “mother/parent” bead or “Buddha” bead. They are oftentimes additional marker beads that may or may not be counted that divide the mala into quadrants, constituting a sum of 108 counting beads.  We, at Sakura Designs, use 108 counting beads, with three additional marker beads. One marker is placed at number 21 on either side, as many mantra practices require 21 recitations, and at one marker 1/2 way through at number 54. The malas are then fastened with guru bead and tassel or with some styles, tied into knots.

Recitation of Mantra Prayers

Mantras are spiritual syllables or prayers and are usually repeated many times. In Tibetan Buddhism, one mala constitutes 100 recitations of a mantra. There are 8 additional recitations done to ensure proper concentration. One holds the mala with the left hand and begins to recite from the guru bead, clockwise around the mala.

“Jupshe”  or Mantra Counters

Once one has completed one entire mala, a 10 bead mantra counting beads called counters are used. One bead is moved to equate to 100 recitations. When one stand of counters is complete, another strand of counters is used, and one bead is the moved to account for 1000 recitations. Many mantra recitations can be counted, using a “jupshe.” 

108 Beads- Tibetan

108 Beads in 

Tibetan Buddhism

108 beads in Buddhism is considered an “auspicious number” often used.108 beads in Buddhism is said to represent the  following formula:
6 x 3 x 2 x3 = 108
6 senses of a human being: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought
3 times:  past, present, future
2 conditions of heart, mind or intention: pure or impure
3 disturbing emotional states or “kleshia”:  like, dislike, indifference
108 Beads- Japanese
108 Beads in Zen BuddhismNumber of beads- 108 plus 4 plus 1. The formal Juzu has 108 koshu ‘children’ or main counting beads, plus either one or two larger boshu ‘parent’ beads at the beginning or end. There are markers after  #7 and #21 on either side. The 108 koshu represent the 108  earthly desires, worldly & or confused  passions which the follower of the Dharma seeks to overcome.

Japa Mala

In Sanskrit, the word mala itself means necklace. Japa malas are usually worn around the neck when not in use. Hindus will recite mantras semi-audibly with their Japa Mala, holding the mala with the right hand. Hindu malas are usually made from earthy, natural materials including “Tulsi” (basil), Sandalwood, Lotus, Bodhi Seeds or Rudraksha beads.

Tasbih or “Worry Beads”

In Islamic culture, a 99 bead rosary, called a Tasbih, is used for daily prayer. The Tasbih is divided into thirds with a placeholder marker after each 33 bead. The Tasbih are finished with a cylindrical shaped finishing bead and tassel. These are known in popular culture as “worry beads,” and are held as “good luck” charms. 

Power Beads or Wrist Malas

Smaller, handheld malas are often used. These recently entered popular culture and were known as power beads or hand malas. These are usually made from semi-precious stone or wood and have 21 beads, strung on a stretchy cord to be worn around the wrist. 

Hand Malas and Hand Juzu

In Tibetan Buddhism , a hand mala is most commonly used for prostrations, which is an active meditation form of bowing.  In Chinese or Pure Land Buddhism, the 27 or 36  beads mala called a Juzu is most common. In Japan the 27 or 36  bead handheld mala is called a Juzu or Ojuzu, and is used in prayer, wrapped around hands in prayer and bowing called “Gassho.” Gassho is the gesture of closed  praying hands, held at the heart. 

Jodo Shin Shu

This 27 or 36 bead Juzu of the Jodo Shin Shu has 2 marker beads and the parent or ‘Buddha Bead’  In prayer, the beads can be placed over the fingers of the center hand (or both hands) – letting them rest between the fingers and the thumb, while bring the hands into “Gassho.”

Juzu or Ojuzu

The formal Juzu  has 108 main beads and two parent beads. There are markers after  #7 and #21 on either side.

Each parent bead has two large tassles hanging from it. There are also 5 additional beads on the tassle- strings of one of the parent beads.

In prayer, the doubled loop of beads can be placed over the fingers of both hands – letting them rest between the fingers and the thumb, while bring the hands into “gassho.”

Zen Shu

Soto & Rinzai Zen use a Juzu with a single loop of 108 children beads and one boshu parent bead, from which hangs a single or double tassle. It also has 4 ‘segment’ or ‘marker’ beads after #7 and #21.

In prayer, the Juzu is placed in a double loop on the center hand.

Tibetan Buddhism- The Significance of The Mani Mantra- 

The Mani Mantra is the most common Mahayana Buddhist Mantra, that is open for all to chant as a compliment to meditation practice. In Tibetan culture, it is common to see laypeople walking on the street, reciting the mani mantra, semi-audibly. Other mantras and meditation practices should be personally given to you by a Buddhist teacher, and should not be recited without instruction.  In general, the more ritualized or Tantric  Buddhist  practices come as an extension of a relationship with a teacher, and are not public. Mantras can be very powerful tools and a personal relationship with a formal teacher and or Sangha (meditation community) is always recommended.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are considered to be six classes of beings, that take birth. Some of these beings are perceptible to an ordinary person, some are not. They are: Gods, Jealous Gods, Humans, Animals, Ghosts and Hungry Ghosts, and being who have unfortunately taken birth what the Buddhist’s consider an impermanent “hell”. These beings have taken birth due to the karma of believing in a permanent “self.”

 Until attaining enlightenment, we are stuck in an endless cycle of birth and death, creating for the most part, the “8 worldly concerns,” namely: pleasure and  pain, loss and gain, praise and  blame, and finally, disgrace and fame (these are easily remembered as they do rhyme!)  Being caught up in this cycle of both having things work out for us, or not creates more suffering, attachment and karma with each day.

Buddhist strive to break this pattern, and become a more compassionate, selfless and enlightened being. The Mani Mantra with the six syllables, correspond the each of these six classes of beings, and when it is recited, and should be done so semi audibly, it is believed to have the power to remove the suffering of all classes of beings. A Buddhist, in their heart while reciting the Mani Mantra, will hold the feeling, “please let my recitation of this mantra help to liberate the suffering and confusion that we all experience in this life.” In turn, by having this proper motivation, one can bring about qualities of being mentally clear, self rested and compassionate.

How to Use your Mala- OM MANI PADME HUM
View All Mala Beads

The mala should be held with the left hand, and you start your recitation at the first bead after the guru bead. The Mani Mantra is the Sanskrit mantra of Avolokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is as follows: OM MANI PADME HUM, which literally translates as “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus.” It transliterates to: ohm manee padmae hoom. It is considered to be the sacred six syllables

Prayers For Peace

How to Care for your Mala

Malas, in Buddhist cultures and communities, are frequently given as gifts, for example, to celebrate a birthday, marriage, or holiday. In Tibetan Buddhism, you may receive (or purchase) a mala when it is time to begin to formally count your prostration mantra recitations. They are also given as keepsakes and a source of protection to loved ones, of any denomination.

If you have a spiritual teacher, it is traditional for you to request that he or she “bless” your mala, to ensure that your meditation practice is free from obstacles. If not, you can “bless” your own mala by creating a sacred space, for instance- lighting a candle and then holding your mala over sage, incense or juniper smoke. While you are doing this, say a quiet prayer with an aspiration that your use of this mala may bring benefit to all. 

Malas become sacred objects to be treated with respect and taken care of. They should not be left lying around carelessly, placed on the floor or stepped on, and should be cleaned with a damp cloth, or even soaked overnight in warm salt water and kept in good repair. We offer restringing service, and treat your mala with utmost respect and care. When the tassel shows some wear, you can wet and comb the strands, trim if needed, and let dry overnight. We make sure that most every mala comes with a complimentary silk pouch for you to store it in when not in use.

Malas that have damaged beads that are beyond repair should be disposed of properly  and are called “Vajra Waste” because they hold blessings. They would be taken to a Holy Place or Shrine, where other sacred objects are, and offered to the shrine or buried. 

May All Beings Be Free of Suffering, especially in these difficult times!

*Most Malas are made to order, and as with all natural stones and monitor variations, actual colors may vary slightly from web images. Customers can specify the color and placement of the three “marker beads”  used to divide Mala and tassel color. We will do our best to accommodate custom requests with materials available. Each piece is one-of-a-kind and considered a “work of art.”   Malas will be sent as close to the web image as possible depending on available materials, if no custom requests are required. Complimentary Mala bag is offered in assorted colors, and we make the best effort to choose a harmonious color and style. If you’d like you Mala redesigned or if your mala breaks after our warranty period, we offer restringing service  for $18.