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Malas as an aid to calming and concentration - Dhamma Wheel

Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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Bunjers
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Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Bunjers » Fri Mar 18, 2011 1:43 am

Mala beads don't seem to be (widely, at least) used in the Theravada (although I seem to vaguely remember reading something once, on this forum I think, about Thai monks in one monastery using them, although they were kinda made fun of by the monks of other temples haha Can't be sure because I can't find the reference now, d'oh...) I should think because of the 7th precept (which of course specifically uses the word 'mala.')
In any case, just recently I have started using them in conjunction with the breath, to help settle me down before meditation. Moving the a bead on the in-breath for about half a round, then moving the bead on the out-breath. When I feel more settled then putting down the mala and going into the mental counting.
The reason I like it is because it engages the sense of touch, a physical, tangible reminder, which helps maintain interest. Also, like walking meditation, I think it helps me ease my mind into the meditation. From my limited experience of the practice so far, anyway.

Earlier I was listening to a podcast and I was just moving the beads and watching my breath as well. It's just a physical reminder, helping keep an underlying awareness of the breath. My thinking is the mala beads are like the mental counting, except I don't think I could number count my breaths and listen to something at the same time.
Maybe some people would think it's too much of a jungle to experience breath, move beads and listen at the same time? :juggling:

I don't suppose anyone has ever heard a teacher (in this branch of Buddhism) mention or proscribe practice with malas?

Has anyone tried this practice? advantages/disadvantages?

Thanks :smile:

N.B. Also think malas can be a reminder of practice, if you always have them on your person, if one feel the need for a reminder of practice like that. Could also just be another subtle ego thing, "look at me looking all spiritual with my paraphernalia" :sage: hehe so that would be something to look out for :tongue:
Gāravo ca nivāto ca, Santutthi ca kataññutā, Kālena dhammasavanam, Etam mangalamuttamam :anjali:

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daverupa
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby daverupa » Fri Mar 18, 2011 2:02 am

I used to use a mala as a daily bit of reminder for mindfulness and clear comprehension, using at different times either a 32-bead wrist mala or a 100-bead necklace (from a Franciscan monastery, which is why it wasn't 108-count), but ultimately I discarded it as a tool because I ended up fidgeting with it more than meditating with it.

Other downsides besides my fidgeting habit included worrying about where it was or if it was lost, being agitated (even if only slightly) when I forgot to take it with me someplace, and so forth. I also became attached to it as a piece of flair accentuating my identity as a meditator, and of course this was further distracting. In the end I was simply self-conscious about wearing it, but not in a good way (possible pun).

Anyway, it may as well have been a manacle around my wrist or neck. In the end I decided to have my nose as my mala, and each in-breath and out-breath as the beads. Still engages the sense of touch, too.

:anjali:

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Ben
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Ben » Fri Mar 18, 2011 6:05 am

They're used a bit in Burma.
There's a very famous photo of a teacher within my own tradition, Saya Thetgyi, who in an early version of the photo he is holding mala beads which were later air-brushed out. They're used in what Ledi Sayadaw referrd to as 'surrogate meditation', which was an introductory practice before practitioners went on to kayagata-sati (anapana).
kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Mawkish1983
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Mawkish1983 » Fri Mar 18, 2011 7:49 pm


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Khalil Bodhi
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Fri Mar 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Hi Bunjers,

I use and wear malas all the time despite considering myself a pretty traditional Theravadin in most senses. For me, when I have the time and energy to meditate without struggling against real physical and psychological fatigue (not of the thina-middha variety) I usually dispense with them but I find my 108 bead mala particularly useful when I am very agitated or sleepy. Use it or don't I say but if it helps you to cultivate wholesome states I certainly would keep it up. Be well.

Best wishes,

Mike
To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
-Dhp. 183

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Ben
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Ben » Fri Mar 18, 2011 10:09 pm

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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Nibbida
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Nibbida » Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:08 am

I use a homemade 30 bead mala for metta. I'll do one round of metta towards myself, one round toward a benefactor, etc. Sometimes I'll just pick one person and do metta towards that person for the entire session. Otherwise the malas help remind when to move to the next person without diverting attention from the metta itself.

Engaging more of the senses can aid concentration. In the tantric practice of deity yoga (heresy!), one engages the mind (with visualization and a mantra), touch (posture/mudra), and emotional feel (e.g. compassion). But a similar thing could happen if one were to chant aloud in Pali: one is engaging the mind (focused on the verbal content of the chant), hearing (one's own external voice), touch (feeling the chest vibrate, mouth move).

So in one respect, mala beads can be a way of engaging more senses in practice.

PeterB
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby PeterB » Sat Mar 19, 2011 3:59 pm

I have a whole collection of malas...they have seen use from time to time with " Buddho"...

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Monkey Mind
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby Monkey Mind » Sat Mar 19, 2011 6:29 pm

Usually when I meditate, I either set a timer, or play a background soundtrack of chanting to keep time. I like using malas because it shifts the focus from "doing time" to "setting aside the time". I don't do it often, but a mala practice has a qualitatively different feel to it. Experimentation is the spirit of the practice...
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

Sutta Nipāta 3.710

sairaluas
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby sairaluas » Tue Jul 04, 2017 6:57 am

Thanks for sharing about malas as an aid to calming and concentration, but I don't have any experience about any malas for calming and concentration.

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WindDancer
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Re: Malas as an aid to calming and concentration

Postby WindDancer » Tue Jul 04, 2017 10:29 am

Thanks for the discussion. I have a 108 mala bead set that I have used; however, I have found that it is too distracting. The same is true for certain mental noting and counting meditation techniques. My mind is very visually oriented due to me being a visual artist, and I have been a pretty driven person. This makes it difficult for me to settle my mind. If I start focusing my thoughts on the beads, on visualizations or counting, I discover that most of my focus gets diverted into these actions. I end up not meditating as well and not getting into deeper more settled states.

I think I will try using my mala beads when I feel more sleepy or anxious/agitated and see how they work.

Happy trails,

WindDancer
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