What is a Mala?
A mala is a string of beads used to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) in sets of 108 repetitions.
What is a Mantra/Affirmation?
A word, sound or statement repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
Why the Number 108?
Sanskrit alphabet: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
Pranayama: If one is able to be so calm in meditation as to have only 108 breaths in a day, enlightenment will come.
Planets and Houses: In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.
Heart Chakra: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra.
One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
1, 0, and 8: Some say that 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
How to Use a Mala?
A mala is traditionally held in the right hand and hangs over the middle finger, with the thumb used to rotate the mala - one bead at a time towards oneself with each mantra repetition. During the practice, the index finger is kept out of the way as it is known to represent the ego and is be seen as the greatest impediment to self-realization in ancient Hinduism. Once a full round is completed. A pause is taken when the guru bead is reached to reflect and offer gratitude to past and present teachers. As a sign of respect the guru bead is never passed over. Instead, the mala is turned around to proceed again in the reverse direction.
Why Use a Mala?
Meditation can be a tricky practice because the mind, by its very nature, tends to wander off during the practice. If ones energy is low at the time of meditation, falling asleep can result. If the energy is too high, fantasy and distraction may become the barriers. The mala provides an anchor to bring the mind back to focus. Malas also allow the practitioner to keep count of mantra repetitions.
How is a Mala worn?
Malas create lovely necklaces, and can also be looped multiple times around the wrist. It is believed that when malas are used regularly for meditation and repeating mantras, they absorb the vibrations of the practice. The more it is worn, the more energy it absorbs and reflects back.
Caring for your Mala
A mala is considered sacred, especially if it is used for spiritual practice and should be treated with respect and care. Consider storing your mala in a safe place, preferably in a mala bag. The more you use a mala to recite mantra the sooner it will wear out. When it eventually breaks it is an invitation to consider it a breakthrough and serve as a reminder of Buddha's principal teaching of Impermanence - all things are subject to dissolution, decay and change.
Malas can be cleansed in several ways - burning sage, indirect morning sunlight or the light of a full moon. Cleansing sounds and vibrations of Tibetan singing bowls or Tingshas (cymbals) may also be used.