Author Topic: Choosing and Using a Mala  (Read 3275 times)


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Choosing and Using a Mala
« on: February 06, 2010, 01:50:46 pm »
Here are some useful tips from Snowlion Publications on the following site:

Some Mala Basics

The mala is held with gentleness and respect, generally in the left hand. One bead is counted for each recitation of the mantra, beginning with the first bead after the "guru" bead- the larger, more decorative bead at the mala's end. The first bead is held between the index finger and thumb, and with each count the thumb pulls another bead in place over the index finger.

(Yeshe's edit: The mala should never touch the ground.   The first few mantras should be counted by passing the mala over the ring finger, then the rest may be done over the index finger.  It is also possible to bless your mala yourself, but in the first instance your guru can bless it for you.)

After completing a full circuit of the mala, the practitioner flips the mala around 180 degrees (this takes practice to accomplish) and continues as before, in reverse order. One aims to avoid passing over the "guru" bead, as doing so is symbolically like stepping over one's teacher.

According to the Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London, the guru bead signifies the wisdom that cognizes emptiness. Surmounting it is another, cylindrical bead that symbolizes emptiness itself; together, these two beads symbolize having vanquished all opponents.

To aid in mantra counting, on many Tibetan malas there are divider beads of a different color, spaced equally along the mala's length. One also may attach a pair of counter strings to the mala as an additional counting aid- each string of the pair is a double-plaited cord threaded with 10 small ring beads, generally made of silver, gold or bronze, which are used to count the tens and hundreds of completed mala cycles.

A third counter also may be attached to the mala to keep track of the thousands of cycles completed. Often featuring the symbol of a wheel or jewel, this counter is attached to the thread between two beads, and then repositioned from bead to bead.


Choosing a Mala

A mala of 108 beads is used for general purposes by most practicing Tibetan Buddhists. Beads of bodhi seed generally are considered auspicious for any practice or mantra, and red sandalwood or lotus seeds also are widely recommended for universal use.

A variation of the standard 108-bead mala is the wrist mala of 27 beads- four circuits total 108 mantra repetitions. This number 108 is abundant in significance, according to Robert Beer:*

"The sacred number of 108 predates Buddhism, being the classical number of the Hindu names assigned to a deity or god. As a multiple of 12 and 9, it represents the nine planets in the 12 zodiac houses. As a multiple of 27 and 4, it also represents the four quarters of the moon in each of the 27 lunar mansions or constellations. Nine is also a 'magic' number. A number multiplied by 9 results in a number the sum of whose digits is also a multiple of 9. In Pranayana Yoga it is calculated that a human being takes 21,600 breaths in a 24-hour cycle consisting of 60 periods of 360 breaths; a 12-hour 'day' cycle therefore equals 10,800 breaths. The 108 beads also ensure that at least a hundred mantra recitations have been completed in a full rosary turning."

Besides the multi-purpose malas described above, there are other types of malas that are deemed auspicious for various purposes.

Mantras can be recited for four different purposes: to appease, to increase, to overcome, or to tame by forceful means, according to the Office of Tibet in London, which offers these additional guidelines for choosing the right malas for the purpose:

The 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. A rosary for this purpose should have 100 such beads. Mantras counted on these beads serve to clear away obstacles, such as illness and other calamities, and purify one of unwholesomeness.

The beads used with mantras intended to increase should be of gold, silver, copper or lotus seeds, and a rosary is made of 108 of them. The mantras counted on these serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit.

The beads used with mantras which are intended to overcome are made from a compound of ground sandal wood, saffron and other fragrant substances. There are 25 beads on this rosary. The mantras counted on them are meant to tame others, but the motivation for doing so should be a pure wish to help other sentient beings and not to benefit oneself.

The 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 60. 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.

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, circumambulations and so forth.**

Different Tibetan spiritual traditions may offer variations on the above guidelines. For example, in the Bön tradition, a Bodhi seed mala is recommended for all four activities; and for pacifying activity, a mala with 100 beads of crystal, conch or lapis lazuli is recommended. For increasing activity, a mala of 108 beads of gold or silver is recommended; for power activity, a mala of 50 beads of coral, copper or red sandalwood is recommended; and for wrathful activity, a mala of 10 rudraksha seeds is recommended.*** Rudraksha seeds are the dried berries of the rudraksha tree, which grows in Indonesia, Nepal and India; they are round and pitted, with granular protuberances, and are sized between a quarter of an inch to more than an inch in diameter.

It is often advised that malas of bone- whether human or animal bone- should only be used by accomplished yogins, since ritual objects crafted of bone are believed to harbor karmic influences.


Some Words About Mantra

Who is saying the mantra, how it is said, one's intent while saying it- all these are important considerations. In some cases, one also may need to consider who is within hearing distance as one recites. Bardor Tulku Rinpoche notes that in his Kagyu tradition, it is acceptable in any circumstances to recite a mantra out loud, even when others who are unlikely to understand or respect the sacredness of the mantra can hear it. However, a number of other traditions specify that certain powerful mantras must be kept entirely private.

Some practices require a practitioner to recite a certain mantra as many as 100,000, or even a million, times. Because just one mantra recitation condenses the essence of vast spiritual teachings into a few concise syllables, it's easy to conjecture about the power of repeating a mantra so many times over. Those who faithfully do the recitations, who keep the samadhi in their mind while reciting, and who rely on the blessings, empowerments and instructions of a qualified master, have an opportunity to experience the power of and blessings of mantra firsthand.

POLLY TURNER is a freelance writer in Charlottesville, Va., and former editor of Sangha Journal. She can be reached at:



    * From The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, by Robert Beer, Boston: Shambhala, 1999.
    * Reprinted with permission from, the Website of the Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London.
    * Bön specifications are per His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, spiritual head of the Tibetan Bön tradition; courtesy of Sherab Palden and Judy Marz.


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Re: Choosing and Using a Mala
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2010, 02:20:20 pm »
This is a really entertaining and informative teaching by Tsem Tulku on Malas:

« Last Edit: February 07, 2010, 01:42:13 am by Yeshe »

Offline Ngawang Drolma

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Re: Choosing and Using a Mala
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2010, 12:07:26 am »
Nice Yeshe, thanks  :)

Offline Caz

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Re: Choosing and Using a Mala
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2010, 09:29:31 am »
Thanks yeshe you read my mind i just bought i new mala yesterday.  :pray:

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Re: Choosing and Using a Mala
« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2010, 10:36:06 pm »
Thanks yeshe you read my mind i just bought i new mala yesterday.  :pray:

I am making 3 malas.  One is a set of Juzu.
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