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Malas

edited November 2010 in Meditation
How important are malas to meditation? I've been looking into getting one but am not sure if it's something I truly need.

Does anyone use one? What kind do you use?

Comments

  • edited July 2010
    I don't think it's an absolute necessity, especially not for meditation. Malas are primarily used for counting mantras and prostrations. So if you're going to be reciting hundreds, thousands, or millions of mantras then I would recommend buying one.

    Meditation doesn't require anything except your awareness.
  • edited July 2010
    It all depends on the particular school one follows and/or personal preferences.

    Nios.
  • edited July 2010
    This ^^^
    In Jodo Shinshu it isn't used for counting anything, but rather is wrapped around both hands in Gassho. This is a symbol of one-ness. Traditionally the right hand represents Nirvana, the left Samsara, and Nenju (or mala) wrapped around shows the one-ness of both.
    I think using it to count mantras or even breaths might be helpful but certainly not necessary.
  • edited August 2010
    Thank you so much. I've seen them all over and wasn't sure if it was something that was popularly used or if it was necessary.
  • edited August 2010
    The mala is a tool.
    If you dont have a job to do that requires a certain tool there is no need for it.
    If you have a job to do then the right tool is necessary.
  • edited September 2010
    The Buddha talks about making a "garland of beads" as an instruction to lay practitioners as a way to quell anxiety and worry. He said that when such feelings arise you can use your thumb and forefinger to go through each bead and recite "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha." Even if you don't use a mantra, malas can be very helpful. There have been many studies done on the calming effects that rubbing your thumb and forefinger together have on the mind. Try it for yourself to see if it helps you. I love using malas for that very reason. You can find a decent sandalwood, or lotus seed mala for about $20. There are also bracelet style malas that have less beads, but serve the same purpose. Hope that helps.
  • edited November 2010
    Malas are more or less necessary for Tantric/Vajrayana practitioners of the Tibetan tradition. In deity yoga, the mala acts like a "conduit" to one's yidam. The recitation of mantras for a particular deity is to "get in touch" with the qualities of that deity. The purpose of mantra recitation, with the help of a rosary/counting beads, is to develop a close relationship with the deity. Trantric students recite their respective deity's mantra over and over as part of the generation stage (being one with the deity); it helps in single-pointed meditation when practicing the deity's sadhana. Also, malas, in the tantric sense, can be used as an offering to one's deity. They become cherished, sacred objects . . . in a sense, it becomes an attribute of the deity.
  • edited November 2010
    I use a mala for metta meditation, one round for sending metta for each group of people. So, I use it more as a timing tool.

    Does anyone know why a mala usually has 108 beads?

    I also recently came across a mala (think it's Tibetan) with 4 "head" beads, that divides the mala into four sections of 27 beads - any significance?
  • BonsaiDougBonsaiDoug Veteran
    edited November 2010
    [quote=sukhita;142814]I use a mala for metta meditation, one round for sending metta for each group of people. So, I use it more as a timing tool.[/quote]
    I pretty much do the same.

    As to the "108," you'll get many reasons. My understanding is that it's the "power of 9's" at work.

    You will see malas made of 18 beads, 27, 36, 54, and 108 - and wrist malas are made of 21 (for Tibetan Buddhist) and 99 or 33 (for Muslims) - still the 9 appears in the form of a 3 at times - 3x3=9.

    [B]Desires[/B]: There are said to be 108 earthly desires in mortals.
    [B]
    Lies[/B]: There are said to be 108 lies that humans tell.
    [B]
    Delusions[/B]: There are said to be 108 human delusions or forms of ignorance.
    [B]
    Heart Chakra[/B]: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
    [B]
    Sanskrit alphabet[/B]: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
    [B]
    Buddhism[/B]: Some Buddhists carve 108 small Buddhas on a walnut for good luck. Some ring a bell 108 times to celebrate a new year. There are said to be 108 virtues to cultivate and 108 defilements to avoid.
    [B]
    Chinese[/B]: The Chinese Buddhists and Taoists use a 108 bead mala, which is called su-chu, and has three dividing beads, so the mala is divided into three parts of 36 each. Chinese astrology says that there are 108 sacred stars.

    And the list goes on.................
  • edited November 2010
    Thanks. It's interesting that so many cultures share this number. :)
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Anti-theist Samsara Veteran
    edited November 2010
    I have a prostration ebony mala that I wear on my wrist, most all of the time. It is a physical reminder to me of my practice as well as using it as punkmonk described.
    With Metta,
    Todd
  • edited November 2010
    I find physical reminders usual also in my practice.
  • edited November 2010
    [quote=sukhita;142814]I use a mala for metta meditation, one round for sending metta for each group of people. So, I use it more as a timing tool.

    Does anyone know why a mala usually has 108 beads?

    I also recently came across a mala (think it's Tibetan) with 4 "head" beads, that divides the mala into four sections of 27 beads - any significance?[/quote]

    Most Tibetan malas have THREE extra beads (the FOURTH one is actually the guru bead). They have the following functions:

    1. They divide the mala into four equal sections of 27 beads, thus acting like a "grid" or point of reference as to how far you are in your counting, even though this is not necessary. These three beads are sometimes called SPACERS or MARKERS.

    2. They are usually of a different color, stone, and/or size--sometimes matching the guru bead if the guru bead is of a different color or stone as the mala proper. If the guru beads represents your teacher (who embody the Three Jewels), then the other three represent, not surprisingly, the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha). In my tantric practice, I use the mala as my mandala offering when I perform my sadhana. The three extra beads help remind me of the Triple Gem, visually reminding of my vows of refuge whenever I do my offering. Each of the three beads represents an offering to each refuge.

    3. Some traditions/schools practice chanting their mantras 111 times as opposed to the usual 108 beads, but, again, not necessarily. Since the 3 extra beads are already present while counting, there's no reason they have to be skipped. The 3 extra recitations of the mantra may represent, again, the Three Jewels.

    4. There are, however, some traditions that have FOUR (instead of THREE) marker/spacer beads. Two of them allocated SEVEN beads away from each side of the guru bead, then the other two are positioned FOURTEEN beads away from the first marker/spacer beads, thus placing them TWENTY-ONE beads away from the guru beads. Certain mantras are recited SEVEN and/or TWENTY-ONE times (such as White Tara's mantra traditionally recited seven or twenty-one times); these conveniently positioned marker/spacer beads make it easier in the counting process.
  • edited November 2010
    Thank you, Silmaril, for your contribution. Now, when I come across the different types of malas, I'll at least have some idea of their significance. :)

    @ Paisley - excuse me if I seemed to hijack your thread somewhat.
  • edited November 2010
    [quote=sukhita;143166]Thank you, Silmaril, for your contribution. Now, when I come across the different types of malas, I'll at least have some idea of their significance. :)

    @ Paisel - excuse me if I seemed to hijack your thread somewhat.[/quote]

    You're welcome!

    Here's another type of Tibetan mala (quite uncommon) concerning those "enigmatic" marker/spacer beads:

    Instead of 111 beads, the regular 108 rosary has its SEVENTH and TWENTY-FIRST beads away from both sides of the guru bead in a different color or stone--not necessarily in size. I saw a sandalwood mala once; upon further inspection, I noticed four of its beads are rosewood. Then I realized they're the seventh and twenty-first beads from the guru. Totally unique and clever! Must've been a modern idea; I've never seen anything similar to that style from vintage and antique collections.
  • edited November 2010
    [quote=silmaril;142918]

    1. They divide the mala into four equal sections of 27 beads, thus acting like a "grid" or point of reference as to how far you are in your counting, even though this is not necessary. These three beads are sometimes called SPACERS or MARKERS.

    [/quote]

    With regards to the first function above, I'm adding a fifth one that I forgot to mention:

    5. During mantra recitation, it's not uncommon that one needs to unexpectedly stop or pause (e.i. answer a phone call/doorbell or to go to the bathroom) then, hopefully, continue if situation permits. The marker/spacer beads come in handy—one can keep on chanting towards the closest marker/spacer and attend to the interruption. It's easy to remember which of the three spacers/markers to return to and continue the recitation session. Of course, this is just superficial!

    6. The three spacer/marker beads can serve as decoration!

    There are no rigid rules about [Tibetan] malas! The only rule that I personally follow is to treat the rosary with respect.
  • No it's totally fine. Hijack away! I had no idea any of that info about malas but it's really interesting. :)
  • edited December 2010
    Yes, my mala has 111 beads (112 including guru bead). Basically (without going into deep meaning) the extra 11 are for mistakes.

    When I do a full mala I count only 100 of them, not 111. So, let's say you do 30 full malas. I would count that I've done 3000 recitations, not 3330.

    But yes, It all simply depends on what school of Buddhism you're practicing. :)
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