Malas and how to use them
Malas are a wonderful way to add beauty to your wardrobe, but are also very spiritually significant – and are a tool when it comes to mediation.
A Mala is a strand of beads – much like that of a rosary in the Catholic faith– that is used for meditation and prayer. The beads are used to help you keep a count of the number of times you repeat your mantra or the number of breaths you take during meditation. Mala beads are known by a lot of different names such as japa, prayer beads, meditation beads, or malas (which can come as necklaces or bracelets). Malas are commonly used by Hindus, Buddhists, and some Sikhs. . A Japa – a type of mala necklace - can be used during meditation but also can be worn and used as a reminder to for a personal mantra connected to bead the necklace is made from. As well as being a counting/breathing tool, malas can help keep your mind focused and help guide your attention back to the meditation if your mind drifts away.
Typically strands are 108 beads plus a single “guru” bead and/or a tassel. Malas can also be made of 27 beads or 21 beads for use in shorter meditations. This is to mark the beginning and the end of your meditation. A more modern twist on a mala may have fewer beads, and may have beads of certain colours to imbued the prayer for even more of a certain type of energy or element. The beads can be made from a variety of woods or gemstones. (I will be talking more about that in my next post!)
Why 108 Beads?
There are many ideas as to why the number of 108 is particularly significant. Here are a few thoughts I have come across in my reading:
108 is a sacred number in Hinduism, the number one stands for God/universe/your highest truth; zero stands for emptiness/stillness/humility and eight stands for infinity.
Some people believe there are 108 stages on the journey of the human soul.
Others associate the possibility of enlightenment with taking only 108 breaths a day, while in deep meditation.
I have also come across the idea that there 108 energy lines connecting the various chakras to the heart, (where one of them is thought to be the path to self-realization/enlightenment).
Another belief is that the Sanskrit language has 54 letters in the alphabet – but each letter has a masculine and feminine version –creating 108 letters!
Those in the Vedic tradition believe this number represents the wholeness of the universe: one represents the solar masculine, zero represents the lunar feminine and eight represents the infinite nature of all things.
Then there are the mathematicians and astronomers who favor the number 108 because it is divisible by the sum of its parts and most of its proper divisors, making it a semi-perfect number. In astronomy, the diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times that of earth and the distance from our planet to its solar star is, on average, 108 times the diameter of the sun.
Now, A Word about Mantras to use with your Mala:
If you’re interested in a more modern interpretation of meditation, you can pick any word that resonates with you. Words such as love, freedom, and peace make terrific mantras. In a previous blog post I discussed mantras and how to create your own! Please go here to learn more about that!
Using your Mala for Meditation:
Take your normal sitting or kneeling position for meditation. Center and align yourself with your intention by taking a few deep breathes.
Decide on the mantra you will be meditating on and how many repetitions you want, either chanting aloud or silently.
Hold your mala in your right hand, draped between your middle and index fingers. Starting at the guru bead, repeat the mantra moving the mala toward you with your thumb. One bead equals one repetition.
When you reach the guru bead, that counts as 100 repetitions. Once you have made a complete rotation on the strand of beads, instead of passing over the guru bead, simply reverse direction and begin again.
Stay tuned for my next post where I will discuss the different kinds of beads that can be used in a mala – and I will introduce you to Marie of Harland Mae Handmade Jewelry and her amazing variety of Malas!