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Buddhist prayer beads

Buddhist prayer beads
Buddhist prayer beads are a traditional tool used to count the number
of times a mantra is recited whilst meditating. They are similar to other
forms of prayer beads used in various world religions; thus some call
this tool the Buddhist rosary.
Set of Japa mala, made from Tulasi wood, with head bead in foreground
Buddhist prayer beads of 100yen shop
A Japa mala or mala (Sanskrit:; ml,
meaning garland
) (Tib. threngwa
) is a set of
beads commonly used by Hindus and Buddhists.
Malas are used for keeping count while reciting,
chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the
name or names of a deity. This practice is known
in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with
16, 27, 54 or 108 beads.
In Tibetan Buddhism, traditionally malas of 108
beads are used. Some practitioners use malas of
21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations. Doing one
108-bead mala counts as 100 mantra recitations;
the extra repetitions are done to amend any
Malas are mainly used to count mantras. These
mantras can be recited for different purposes
linked to working with mind. The material used to
make the beads can vary according to the purpose
of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for
all purposes and all kinds of mantras. These beads
can be made from the wood of the Bodhi tree
(ficus religiosa), or from 'Bodhi seeds,' which
come from the Rudraksha (Elaeocarpus ganitrus)
and not the Bodhi tree. Another general-purpose
mala is made from another unknown seed, the
beads themselves called 'Moon and Stars' by
Tibetans, and variously called 'lotus root', 'lotus
seed' and 'linden nut' by various retailers. The
Buddhist prayer beads
bead itself is very hard and dense, ivory coloured (which gradually turns a deep golden brown with long use), and
has small holes (moons) and tiny black dots (stars) covering its surface.
Pacifying mantras should be recited using white colored malas. Materials such as crystal, pearl, shell/conch or
mother of pearl are preferable. These can serve to purify the mind and clear away obstacles like illness, bad karma
and mental disturbances. Using pearls is not practical however, as repeated use will destroy their iridescent layer.
Most often pearl malas are used for showing off or 'Dharma jewelry'.
Increasing mantras should be recited using malas of gold, silver, copper and amber. The mantras counted on these
can "serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit."
Mantras for magnetizing should be recited using malas made of saffron, lotus seed, sandalwood, or other forms of
wood including elm wood, peach wood, and rosewood. However, it is said the most effective is made of
Mediterranean oxblood coral, which, due to a ban on harvesting, is now very rare and expensive.
Mantras to tame by forceful means should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads or bone. Reciting
mantras with this kind of mala serves to tame others, but with the motivation to unselfishly to help other sentient
To tame by forceful means, means to subdue harmful energies, such as "extremely malicious spirits, or
general afflictions".
Malas for these mantras are made from Rudraksha seeds, or even human bones, with 108
beads on the string. Only a person that is motivated by great compassion for all beings, including those they try to
tame, can do this.
The mala string should be composed of three, five or nine threads, symbolizing the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma,
Sangha), the five Dhyani Buddhas (Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi) and their
wisdoms or the nine yanas or Buddha Vajradhara and eight Bodhisattvas. The large main bead, called the Guru bead,
symbolizes the Guru, from whom one has received the mantra one is reciting. It is usually recommended that there
be three vertical beads in decreasing size at this point: one white (Nirmanakaya) one red (Sambhogakaya) and one
blue (Dharmakaya), or enlightened body, speech and mind.
Mantras are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. The mala is used so that one can focus on the
meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition is usually said for each bead
while turning the thumb clockwise around each bead, though some traditions or practices may call for
counterclockwise motion or specific hand and finger usage. When arriving at the Guru bead, both Hindus and
Buddhists traditionally turn the mala around and then go back in the opposing direction. Within the Buddhist
tradition, this reversing of the beads serves to remind practitioners of the teaching that it is possible to break the
cycle of birth and death. If more than 108 repetitions are to be done, then sometimes in Tibetan traditions grains of
rice are counted out before the chanting begins and one grain is placed in a bowl for each 108 repetitions. Each time
a full mala of repetitions has been completed, one grain of rice is removed from the bowl. Many Tibetan Buddhists
have bell and dorje counters (a short string of ten beads, usually silver, with a bell or dorje at the bottom), the dorje
counter used to count each round of 100, and the bell counter to count 1,000 mantras per bead. These counters are
placed at different points on the mala depending on tradition, sometimes at the 10th, 21st or 25th bead from the Guru
bead. Traditionally, one begins the mala in the direction of the dorje (skillful means) proceeding on to the bell
(wisdom) with each round. A 'bhum' counter, often a small brass or silver clasp in the shape of a jewel or wheel, is
used to count 10,000 repetitions, and is moved forward between the main beads of the mala, starting at the Guru
bead, with each accumulation of 10,000
Buddhist prayer beads
In Japanese Buddhism, they are known as "juzu" ( , counting beads) or "nenju" ( , thought beads), and
both words are usually preceded by the honorific 'o-' (as in "o-juzin" ( )).
Shu zhu
In Chinese culture such beads are named shu zhu ("counting beads"), Fo zhu ("Buddha beads"), or
nian zhu ("mindfulness beads").
Seik badi
Theravada Buddhists in Burma use prayer beads, called seik badi ( [se bd]), shortened to badi. 108 beads
are strung on a garland, with the beads typically made of fragrant wood like sandalwood, and series of brightly
coloured strings at the end of the garland.
It is commonly used in samatha meditation, to keep track of the number
of mantras chanted during meditation.
Numbers and symbolism
There are numerous explanations why there are 108 beads, with the number 108 bearing special religious
significance in a number of Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
Ananda Coomaraswamy holds that the numerology of the decimal numeric system was key to its inception. 108 is
therefore founded in Dharmic metaphysical numerology. One for bindu; zero for shunyata and eight for ananta.
In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions or kleshas.
There are six senses (sight,
sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by three reactions (positive, negative, or indifference)
making 18 "feelings." Each of these feelings can be either "attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure" making
36 "passions", each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future. All the combinations of all these
things makes a total of 108, which are represented by the beads in the ojuzu.
This same number is also used in
Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times.
In addition, practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism, use the number 108 for a different purpose. After reciting 100
mantras, eight extra mantras are done to compensate for any errors.
[1] [1] Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965), written at Delhi, The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary (Fourth revised and enlarged ed.), Motilal Banarsidass
Publishers, ISBN 81-208-0567-4
[2] - Glossary (http:/ / www. diamondway-teachings. org/ en/ resources/ glossary-m. html) Retrieved 2009-02-05
[3] Buddha Dharma Education Association and Buddhist studies: Malas (beads) (http:/ / www. buddhanet. net/ e-learning/
history/ b_beeds. htm) Retrieved 2009-02-05
[4] http:/ / www. usamyanmar. net/ Buddha/ Article/ Praying%20beads1. pdf
[5] Religion Facts (http:/ / buddhism/ things/ mala. htm)
[6] (http:/ / shikokuhenro. 10-yen. net/ info/ thesis.php#nenju)
[7] [7] Bishop Shinsho Hanayama, "Story of the Juzu"
Buddhist prayer beads
Additional references
Dubin, L.S. (2009). Prayer Beads. In C. Kenney (Ed.), The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present
(Revised and Expanded Edition) (pp.7992). New York: Abrams Publishing.
Henry, G., & Marriott, S. (2008). Beads of Faith: Pathways to Meditation and Spirituality Using Rosaries, Prayer
Beads and Sacred Words. Fons Vitae Publishing.
Untracht, O. (2008). Rosaries of India. In H. Whelchel (Ed.), Traditional Jewelry of India (pp.6973). New
York: Thames & Hudson, Inc.
Wiley, E., & Shannon, M.O. (2002). A String and a Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads. Red
Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
External links
Buddhist Prayer Beads (Mala) (http:/ / dharma-beads. net/ buddhist-prayer-beads-mala)
History of Prayer Beads: Buddhist Malas (http:/ / dharma-beads. net/ history-prayer-beads/ buddhist-beads)
How to Use a Mala (http:/ / www. tibetanbuddhistaltar. org/ 2009/ 09/ how-to-use-a-mala/ )
Meaning and Purpose of Buddhist Prayer and Chanting, The (http:/ / clarkescott. org/
the-meaning-and-purpose-behind-buddhist-prayer-and-chanting/ )
Rosaries of India: Buddhist Mala (http:/ / dharma-beads. net/ rosaries-india/ buddhist-rosary)
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