Mala: An Introduction

What are Mala?

Mala or Japa Mala is the Sanskirt word more commonly known as “rosary” or “prayer beads” in English. The mala is used in both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism for counting mantras, chants or prayers.

Mantras are often repeated in several hundred or thousand cycles. Using a mala aids one to think about the meaning of the mantra as it is chanted without having to concentrate on counting the repetitions. Each bead on a mala represents one mantra recitation. Across religions, this powerful rite is believed to help guide the believer towards the path of self-realisation and virtue.

How To Use Mala

In Hindu tradition, the correct way to use a mala is with the right hand, with the thumb flicking one bead to the next, and with the mala draped over the middle finger. The index finger was considered rude, and so was also considered bad to use it with a mala.

However in Tibetan Buddhism, depending on the practice, there may be preferred ways of holding the mala (left or right hand, rolling the beads over the index or any of the other fingers, etc.).

Types of Mala

In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, mala's are often created using 108 beads, as a 108-bead mantra repetition represents the 108 worldly sins in the Buddhist doctrine. In addition, the number 108 is considered to be sacred in Eastern religions, representing the universe as one thing (1), nothing (0) and everything (8, or infinity).

Traditional 108-bead malas are divided into six groups of 18 beads, with a divider between each bead. Each dividing bead represents a point of pause for silent meditation. We create two variations of the 108-bead malas as shown below:

Types of Mala