The story of the buddhist prayer mala beads origin is as follows:
“Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, paid a visit to king Vaidunya…Sakya directed him to thread 108 seeds of the Bodhi tree on a string, and while passing them between his fingers to repeat… ‘Hail to the Buddha, the law, and the congregation'… (2,000) times a day (Dubin).”
Another interpretation of this prayer is ‘om mani padme hum.' During recitation, this phrase is repeated over and over again according to how many beads are on a person's strand of mala beads.
Traditionally, there are 108 beads on a strand of buddhist mala prayer beads. The origin of is the sacred number related astrologically to the 12 astrological houses, multiplied by the 9 planets in our solar system. This number is the buddhist mala prayer beads significant because it represents the number of mental conditions or sinful desires that one must overcome to reach enlightenment or nirvana. Monks usually have mala beads with 108 beads, where as a lay person may have a strand numbering in 30 or 40 beads. This difference in length may possibly be explained by understanding each person's distance traveled on the path to enlightenment. Commercial sellers of mala beads have also suggested that individuals just beginning this prayer ritual begin with a shorter strand of beads.Just as variety exists for the number of beads, variety exists for the style, color, and material composition. Differences in the popularity and use of mala beads also exist cross-culturally. Typically, monks' mala beads are made of wood from the Bodhi tree. In Tibet, mala strands often contain parts of semi-precious stones. In this culture, the most valued strands are made of bones of holy men or lamas. Typically there are 108 beads divided by 3 large beads. The end pieces on these strands are “djore” (a thunderbolt) and “drilbu” (the bell). These end pieces represent the Three Jewels, or Buddha, the doctrine, and the community.
Although the structure of mala beads may vary among individuals or groups of Buddhists, the overall purpose of all mala beads is to create a sense of tranquility and inner-peace for not only the individual, but for the community as a whole. In reciting the prayer, ‘toxins' will leave and a sense of peace will enter making an individual that much closer to reaching nirvana.
Beside Buddhist prayer beads, wrist malas is also used in buddhism. Writs Malas with 9,22 or 27 beads, sometimes called "power beads" in the press, with development for doing prostration.
Prostration's are performed to purify oneself of karmic obstacles during Ngondro Practice, acknowledging the place and value of the Three Jewels(the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha). Performing prostration's is also a way to open oneself up more deeply to the teaching while cutting through the mind's tendency to habitually ego cling(selfishness, expressed as pride, anger, jealousy, hatred, lust and grasping.) A wrist Mala doesn't dangle or get in the way like a full sized 108 bead version would while going from standing to prostration position.The wrist Mala was created out of necessity to have a more easy to use Mala for prostrations, and for convenience when traveling. Hence, a wrist Mala can be safely held in the hand while doing a period of prostration's. You can imagine how a long necklace or Mala would flop around during prostrating, so wrist Malas are a natural solution to this dilemma.