A mala is a string of 108 beads with one bead as the summit bead called a 'sumeru'. It is a tool used to keep your mind on the meditation practice. The Mala or Rosary in Buddhism is the symbol of the never ending cycle. Mala is the Sanskrit meaning for this rosary while with Tibetans it is known as Phreng-ba. The traditional Buddhist rosary consists of 108 beads with the type of bead denoting the ritual that is prescribed for each of the four activities of tantra. Peaceful rites are associated with crystal, pearl, ivory and conch shell beads to name a few. The Bhodi seeds, silver and gold beads make up some of the prescribed beads for malas that are used in the rites of enrichment, while iron, human and animal bone are used in the destructive rituals. The two guru beads at the end of the mala are said to symbolize wisdom and emptiness itself and represent the enlightenment of the Buddha. Malas always have an extra bead hanging outside the row of beads, whose total number is usually 108. This 109th bead is called Sumeru.
The sumeru bead of malas should never be passed. It thus becomes a static point in these malas.
The aspirant should start the mala at the first bead next to sumeru and should end on the last bead before sumeru.
If the aspirant has to do the mala twice (or more), he should turn it and make the last bead become the first bead for starting the second round.
A wide variety of materials are used to make mala beads. Malas are generally made from different materials such as tulsi (basil) wood, sandal wood, rudraksh seeds or crystal. Each type of material has certain properties which subtly affect the subconscious mind of the practitioner. Some Tibetan Buddhist traditions call for the use of bones (animal, most commonly yak) or sometimes human, the bones of past Lamas being the most valuable. Others use wood or seeds from the Bodhi tree. Crystal and semi - precious stones such as carnelian and amethyst may be used, as well. The most common and least expensive material is sandalwood. In Buddhist Tantra or Vajrayana, materials and colors of the beads can relate to a specific practice.
The practice of meditating with malas has been a tradition for thousands of years and some variation of these beautiful malas find a place in Christianity, Hunduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism. Malas are used to count mantras or prayers and help you create and maintain a state of quiet reflection - a "closister of the mind and heart." Combining tactile and conscious awareness, simply pausing on a bead is an act of meditation, bringing one back to the center, stilling the mind and presenting, as Jewish thought has it, "a way out of the labyrinth of life." Many believe that when one uses a mala many times, it takes on the energy of the mantra that is being chanted. For this reason it is common to chant only one particular mantra with a particular mala
:: USES OF MALA ::
Malas (beads) are mainly used to count mantras, which can be recited for four different purposes:
- To appease,
- To increase,
- To overcome, or
- Tame by forceful means.
The malas (beads) used to count mantras intended to appease should be of crystal, pearl or mother of pearl, and should at least be clear or white in color. Mantras are often repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. The mala is used so that one can think about the meaning of the mantra as it is chanted rather than thinking about counting the repetitions. Each time the mantra is repeated, the fingers move to the next bead. A rosary for this purpose should have one hundred such malas (beads). Mantras counted on these malas (beads) serve to clear away obstacles, such as illness and other calamities, and purify one of unwholesomeness. The malas (beads) used with mantras intended to increase should be of gold, silver, copper or lotus seeds and a string of malas (beads) is made of 108 of them. The mantras counted on these serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit. The malas (beads) used with mantras, which are intended to overcome, are made from a compound of ground sandal wood, saffron and other fragrant substances. The mantras counted on the malas (beads) are meant to thame others, but the motivation for doing so should be a pure wish to help other sentient beings and not to benifit oneself.
The malas (beads) used to recite mantras aiming at subduing beings through forceful means should be made from raksha seeds or human bones in a string of sixty. Again, as the purpose should be absolutely altruistic, the only person capable of performing such a feat is a bodhisattva motivated by great compassion for a being who can be tamed through no other means, for example extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions, visualized as a dense black ball. Mala (beads) made of Bodhi seed or wood can be used for many purposes, for counting all kinds of mantras, as well as other prayers, prostrations, curcumambulations and so forth. The string common to all malas (beads) should consist of nine threads, which symbolize Buddha Vajradhara, and the eight Bodhisattvas. The large bead at the end stands for the wisdom which cognises emptiness and the cylindrical bead curmounting it, emptiness itself, both sumbolize having vanquished all oppenents.
If more than 108 repetitions are to be done, then grains of rice are counted out before the chanting begins and one grain is placed in a bowl or each 108 repetions. Each time a full mala of repetitions has been completed, one grain of rice is removed from the bowl.
The 109th bead on a mala is called the Sumeru or Guru bead. Counting should always begin with a bead next to the Sumeru. In the Hindu tradition, if more than one mala of repetitions is to be done, one changes directions when reaching the Sumeru rather than crossing it. The Sumeru thus becomes the static point on the mala.
Many believe that when one uses a mala many times in this way, it takes on the energy of the mantra that is being chanted. For this reason it is common to chant only one particular mantra with a particular mala.
Malas are also used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism, often with a lesser number of beads (usually a divisor or 108). In Pure Land Buddhism, for instance, 27 beads rosaries are common. In China such rosaries are named "Shu - Zu", in Japan "Juzu". These shorter rosaries are sometimes called 'prostration rosaries', because they are easier to hold when enumerating repeated prostrations. In Tibetan Buddhis, often larger malas are used of for example 111 beads; when counting, they calculate one mala as 100 mantras, and the 11 extra are taken as extra to compensate for errors.
Hindu tradition holds that the correct way to use a mala is with the right hand, with the thumb flicking one bead to the next, and with the mala draped over the middle finger. The index finger was considered rude, and so was also considered bad to use it with a mala. Buddhism, however, explained that there was no sense in this, and so taught that it was perfectly acceptable to use mala in the left hand with any fingers. In Tibetan Buddhism (tantra), depending on the practice, there may be preferred ways of holding the mala (left or right hand, rolling the beads over the index or any of the other fingers. In Hindu tradition, Brahma, Shiva, Ganesha and saraswati also carry Mala.
::TYPES OF MALA ::
Malas can be found in different sizes made of different materials. Some of the most common malas found are; Crystal Mala, Red Sandalwood Mala, Sandalwood Mala, Tusli Wood Mala, Navgraha Mala, Rosewood Mala, Lotus Mala, Rudraksha Mala Eony Mala and Bodhiseed Mala.
Mala (Beads) is specially used for Japa.
WHAT IS JAPA?
Repeating a mantra with or without counting devices such as malas is known as Japa. It is a practice used by aspirants of all religions as a powerful tool to control the mind. They excercise their mind by doing prayers or Japa often rosaries or malas(beads).
At the time of Japa one repeats a mantra for a prescribed number of times such as 108 times, 1008 times and so on, so in order to keep account of the number of repetitions made one uses a mala consisting of specific number of beads. In order to count the number of rounds done grains of rice are used that can be combined with malas. The grains of rice are counted and put i a metal pot. Each time a mala is completed, one grain of rice is removed from the remaining number of grains. Malas get charged with energy after they have been used for Japa frequently. If one has done 125,000 repetitions of the mantra on a mala, it becomes charged with energy (Siddha).
One can use a mala of 27 + 1 beads or 54 + 1 beads or 108 + 1 beads to perform Japa. Existince of a Sumeru bead is very necessary in a Japa Mala. Malas always have an extra bead hanging outside the row of beads, whose total number is usually 108. This 109th bead is called Sumeru. The Sumeru bead of malas should never be passed. It thus becomes a static point in these malas. The aspirant should start the mala at the first bead next to Sumeru and should end on the last bead before Sumeru. If the aspirant should start the mala at the first bead next to Sumeru and should end on the last bead before Sumeru. If the aspirant has to do the mala twice (or more), he should turn it and make the last bead become the first bead for starting the second round.
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