Held in the hand and fondled with love and devotion by monks and all devotees alike, Buddhist prayer beads are highly revered as the “strings of enlightenment”. The prayer beads assist in one of the most spiritual aspects of Buddhist practice, aiding in focusing the mind and letting go of all earthly desires. Prayer beads are the most beautifully crafted objects in the Buddhist artistic realm.
They are among the most intimate tools used in the spiritual practice of chanting prayers, mantras, and the names of deities. By grasping the beads and accepting their guidance, the practitioners edge forward during every prayer. Holding the 108 beads of dharma, they embark on the long journey toward enlightenment.
What are Buddhist prayer beads?
Also known as Malas, Buddhist prayer beads are similar to other prayer beads used in various world religions. Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning “garland”. While speaking of the Buddhist rosary, it usually refers to strings of beads. These prayer beads are used to keep track while one recites, chants, or mentally repeats a mantra or as a tool to keep count of prostrations. Traditionally, Buddhist rosaries have 108 beads and have been in existence for thousands of years.
Even today, people use prayer beads as a way to create calm and peace of mind in everyday life. Malas are used in traditional prayer and meditation, although anyone can begin to use malas without prior experience.
Buddhist rosary- a significant religious artefact in Bhutan
The Buddhist faith has led people all around the world to mindfulness and the hope for a peaceful existence. The Buddhist country of Bhutan is one such place where mantras and meditation practices help people find harmony. Every Bhutanese has been guided to the path of devotion.
Buddhist prayer beads are a common and cherished religious artefact in Bhutan. Prayer beads are used prevalently by Bhutanese to chant mantras and delve into the tranquil realm of Dharma. Known as chyem or threngwa in Dzongkha, religious scriptures explain that the term refers to the yearning in the mind. The rosary is used to inculcate in the mind a yearning for the blessings of the Buddha.
Connection between Bhutanese and prayer malas
According to Bhutanese culture, the sacred rosary acts as a channel of spiritual blessings from the enlightened deity. The repetitive recitation of a mantra such as om mani padme hum, om tare tuttare ture soha, or om muni muni maha muniye soha, calms the mind and leads to spiritual healing.
People spend large amounts of money to acquire good prayer beads in Bhutan, and some malas are passed down as family heirlooms. Rosaries used by holy people are revered as significant religious relics as they are used to carry out personal rituals. Prayer malas in Bhutan have 108 counting beads. It also consists of a special, three-holed, finishing bead called a “guru” bead or “Buddha” bead.
The meaning of 108 beads
Traditionally, Buddhist rosaries have 108 beads, representing the number of earthly passions and desires entrapping humans in the cycle of suffering and reincarnation, or samsara. The 108 kinds of feelings or desires we have can be classified as follows:
- When we experience an object of consciousness, there are six different types of delusion that are claimed to be possible: delusion via the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue, the body, or the mind.
- Each of these objects can in turn be perceived in the past, the present, or the future, making for eighteen possibilities in all.
- Multiply these by the two conditions of the heart (pure and impure).
- Finally, multiply again by the three possible affected sentiments (like, dislike, and indifference)
- It is discovered that there are 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108 potential delusions or feelings that result in afflictions.
This is a reason why Buddhist prayer beads have 108 beads. Each time a bead is moved during chanting, it represents victory over each of the 108 defilements.
It is also said that this number was chosen to allow worshipers to recite the Buddha’s holy name 100 times. The extra 8 beads account for any errors made due to forgetfulness, loss, or broken beads.
The Guru bead
The guru bead is the largest bead at the top of the bead marked with a tassel. It represents the sacred bond of the student-teacher relationship. The 109th bead pays tribute to all the spiritual teachers who helped on the path to enlightenment.
In Buddhism, with each cycle of prayer, it is the teacher and the teachings one keeps coming back to. In the course of reciting a round of mantras, one begins and ends with the guru bead. Therefore, once you have completed a full circuit of the mala and reached the guru bead again, you reverse direction by flipping your mala. It signifies that you are not stepping over your Guru. The guru bead is the starting point for the circuit and is not counted among the 108 total.
What are Buddhist malas made of?
Buddhist prayer beads are made from organic materials, such as plant seeds, wood, and animal bones, cut into a spherical shape. Malas made of Rudraksha and Bodhi seeds are traditionally believed to hold a unique significance. The Rudraksha seed is believed to hold spiritual and healing power. And Bodhi seeds represent the ancient fig tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment more than 3,000 years ago.
In Tibetan culture, prayer beads made of carved bone are popular; they represent impermanence and the need for compassion while living in this world. Additionally, mala beads made of wood or tagua nuts symbolize a spiritual kinship with the soil and are excellent for encouraging mindfulness. It brings energy back to its source during meditation. Now the prayer rosaries are even made using a wide variety of gemstones with specific healing properties.
Typically, Buddhist prayer beads are usually hand strung on a protection cord. Blessed protection strings are thought to have been endowed with spiritual power and are considered to assist in shielding the wearer from difficulties and bad luck.The protection cords are generally made from cotton, wool, silk threads, or narrow strips of cloth. Different colours signify certain rites and deities. It is believed that you should use white string for peaceful practices, yellow for increasing, red for magnetizing, and black for wrathful.
How do you hold and use Buddhist prayer beads?
The mala is handled gently and reverently. Take a few cleansing breaths and make an effort to quiet your mind before using your beads. When you are relaxed, with your eyes closed and your back straight, doing this is considerably simpler. Try to think about your intention, use your mantra or chant, while continuing to visualize your intention. Hold the beads in your right hand, start at the Guru bead, and count, using your thumb to pull each bead toward you with each mantra or chant. When you find your way back to the starter bead, you can reverse your direction if you choose to chant more mantras.
First, there is the soothing feel of the beads themselves, which only increases as they become smoother or darken with use. Then there is what they symbolize—the tangible link to an age-old tradition. Run a string of prayer beads through your hands and you are touching an ancient Buddhist practice. The Buddhist Prayer Beads often hold special significance for the wearer the energy resonance they feel with the beads.
Meditation and Buddhist rosaries
Meditation is a slow-healing process that gives the heart and mind a feeling of unending tranquility. A mala of 108 beads is claimed to transport the practitioner of meditation deeply inward, past the “noise” of the mind and the “distraction” of the senses. There is no prerequisite knowledge of customs, prayers, or rituals needed to use a meditation mala. All you need is a clear intention and a peaceful place to sit quietly for 10 to 15 uninterrupted minutes.
Breathe deeply and slowly as you pass the beads between your fingertips one at a time. By starting a continuous, repetitive physical motion, this fluid sequence sends information from the muscles to the brain and calms the central nervous system. During meditation, the beads are often held between the palms to promote the flow of energy.
The soothing feel of the beads themselves is the first, and it only gets better with time as they smooth out or darken. Then there is the symbolic connection to a long-standing custom that it represents. When you pass a string of prayer beads between your hands, you are interacting with an age-old Buddhist ritual. The Buddhist Prayer Beads often hold special significance for the wearer the energy resonance they feel with the beads.