Using a Mala

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Using a Mala

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Feb 19, 2010 12:28 pm

MALAS - PRAYER BEADS

These ramblings were originally intended for Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. However, as other Buddhist schools also use malas, I have placed it in the genera Mahayana Buddhism section, in case anyone finds it beneficial.

Buddhist malas are used at a basic level for counting mantras, but the materials used and the number of beads have acquired meanings as their use has evolved. There is a nice book entitled 'Beads of Faith' (authors Henry & Marriott) which charts the use of rosaries across all faiths, and of course our own Robert Beer who offers some insight into Tibetan usage:
http://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Tibetan- ... 401&sr=1-3

For a really entertaining insight, check out Tsem Tulku:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHdbLJo2kPs

I am not at all shy to admit that the Buddhist mala derived from the Hindu 'japa mala' and that the meanings ascribed to 108 beads have been adapted for our needs. There are also superstitions - use only the left hand, the ring finger or the index finger and thumb. (A Hindu would be horrified - they use the right hand, as the left is used for 'toilet' functions.)

Most monks I have spoken to (mainly Tibetan) have a simple wooden or seed mala with no markers or decoration, and advise that either hand will do and the superstition of not crossing the guru bead is all tosh. 108 beads mean that we have 100 plus 8 to account for mistakes. Tibetans also use their mala for blessing others, as it is believed the mala absorbs great power through deity mantra practice.

Some, I believe, have a 'public' mala, but use another in private for Tantra, when the numbers and usage become much more complex and meaningful than originally indicated by the monks.
They will cover a mala when in use for mantra recitation.
Maybe this is a cultural habit from India. Hindu monk will use the mala inside a mala bag when in public, which prevents others seeing it - there is quite an emphasis on seeing as the principal way of engaging with a deity and the 'evil eye' is prevented from affecting a hidden mala.

I have tried several different materials because I felt 'drawn to them'. Fancy lapis with heavy carved gemstone dorje dangling and tinkling as a bell, huge seed malas which would be more at home around the neck of a Saddhu (or 2), and weird materials such as fossil coral.

Some practitioners use Lapis for Medicine Buddha, Carnelian for Vajrayogini, Bone for wrathful practices etc. - a different one for each deity. The colour of the deity is matched by the gemstone, in general.

Others believe that as the mala may be part of an 'offering' (for example as part of a mandala) they should be of the best material we can afford.

With many hundreds of thousands of mantras to count, in the end simple and lightweight seems best, so I have strung a few of my own using small bodhiseed, green sandalwood (scented), and ebony - with gemstone markers. I have found doubled -up nylon thread is best, sometimes with a single very thin fishing monofilament as a backup in case of breakage, with knots superglued, and with a stainless steel ring at the bottom, instead of a tassel, for me to attach whatever I want.

I have give away many malas as I have experimented and have no 'attachment' to them, but find the use of them interesting.

The method of blessing I have been taught involves placing the mala in the right palm, placing the left hand on top (so cupping the mala) silently reciting the Yidam's mantra 3 or 7 times and then blowing on the mala 3 times. When finished with, the same is done.

I oil wooden or seed malas (patchouli and lavender) but not gemstones. Some gemstones are quite fragile; lapis, for example, can be harmed by sweat and water, so is not a good one to wear all the time. If there is a risk of dampness (of any sort) I keep gemstone malas in a waterproof pouch on my belt or in my pocket. Some oils may have chemicals which affect gemstones, but I'm not sure. I do spray any new wood or seed mala with fabric waterproofer to protect the string and bead, then oil afterwards.

There is a special demand for bone malas made from the skulls of dead monks. I believe there to be a lot of fake malas of this type on the net. The Chinese (including Hong Kong) also may call any blue mala 'lapis', for example, and pretend they are unaware that it is a specific material. There are also many fake gemstones in use. Gems described as 'moonstone' may in fact be opalite (glass), and most dzi beads are the result of laboratory chemistry and cookery rather than nature. Caveat emptor. ;)

Methods of stringing vary as well. Three strands (or another significant number) tends to be recommended in Tibetan malas, but most I've seen are on a bit of rough waxed string, maybe some made from Yak wool or simply cotton. In India malas tend to be knotted between the beads (a Hindu preference for beads not to touch each other). In China, the trend seems to be a single piece of strong thread.

There is a practical consideration. In group work the sound of gemstones clicking may be distracting. Easily resolved - use a wooden or seed mala, or string the gemstone mala so that it may be tightened a little to avoid noise.


When dealing with Bodhiseed or bone, 5 or 9 threads is possible, especially if twisted into one string and waxed beforehand, as the holes drilled in the beads tend to be large. With gemstones I rarely find the holes large enough to take more than 3.

Some shapes are easier to use than others I find. Doughnut shaped beads (say 8x6 mm) are easy to move and allow the mala to be shorter than if using round beads (of say 8mm). This means a full mala can be easily kept off the ground during prostrations or when seated on the floor.

Aside from the various meanings ascribed to the beads and threads, practical considerations are also important. I've found (no surprise) that good quality costs more and that good maintenance (restringing, cleaning, oiling) is very important. But even more important is its place in the relationship with the guru, who may have given the mala to you or blessed it, and that can be priceless.

Apparently they are also used in Zen and in the Theravada:

http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/754783

quoted by Gyatrul Rinpoche in "The Generation Stage in Buddhist Tantra (with thanks to Dorje):

Padmasambhava, says: "The best type of mala to use to increase the number of recitations is a mala made from some type of precious jewel (Tib. Tin O che). A mediocre type of mala is made from the seed of a tree or fruit, and inferior type of mala is made from wood, earth, stone or medicine."

A mala made from seashells, earth, wood or seeds from trees or fruit is meant to be used to accomplish peaceful sadhanas and peaceful action. A mala made from gold will accomplish expan­sive karmas. A red coral mala is best for accomplishing powerful sadhanas. A steel or turquoise mala is good for wrathful activity. A mala made from dzi or other precious stones can be used to accom­plish any of the karmic activities you are doing.

A mala made from apricot stones will accomplish expansive ac­tivity. A mala made from "lot ton" (a tiny, round black seed within a fruit) accomplishes powerful activity A mala made from raksha beads accomplishes wrathful practices. A mala made from bodhi seeds accomplishes all dharmas. Malas of bodhi tree wood accom­plish peaceful karmas. A mala of mulberry beads accomplishes powerful karmas. Malas of mahogany wood accomplish wrathful practices. Malas made of ivory, especially from an elephant's tusk, will accomplish all concerned activity.

Beads made of stone are good for expansive practice. Beads made of medicine are good for wrathful practice. Malas with many different types of jewels are good for any practice. However, I sug­gest that you not attempt to create a mala with a lot of different beads on it because, unless you know which combinations are ef­fective, you may cause a non-positive result.

Next, the text mentions the different kinds of benefits that are derived from using different types of malas. An iron or steel mala multiplies the virtue that is accumulated with each recitation in a general way. A copper mala multiplies each recitation four times. A raksha mala multiplies each recita­tion by 20 million, and a pearl mala by 100 million. A silver mala multiplies by 100,000 and a ruby mala by 100 million. A bodhi seed mala manifests limitless benefits for any form of practice, be it peaceful, expansive, powerful or wrathful.

You should all know the mala's meaning and the best way to string it. String your mala using three, five or nine strings, and no other number. Three strings symbolize the three kayas, five strings symbolize the five buddhas, and the nine strings symbolize the nine vehicles.

The main guru bead may be composed of three beads, symbol­izing the three vajra states of being, the three kayas. The smallest bead on the outside should be blue, perhaps made of lapis. The color blue symbolizes the unchanging mind of ultimate truth. The bead in the middle should be red, to symbolize vajra speech, and the innermost bead should be white, to symbolize the vajra body.

Your mala must be blessed by a lama, and you should constantly bless your mala yourself by imbuing it with energy. You must put energy into your mala before counting recitations with it, to pro­duce real benefit.

You should clean your mouth and hand, and then your mala, before using it. You may also scent it with sandalwood oil.

Next, generate yourself as the deity, place the mala in your left hand and arrange the beads with the guru bead placed vertically in the center. Recite the mantra that transforms all dharmas into the awareness of their true nature: OM SWABAVA SHUDDO SARVA DHARMA SWABAVA SHUDDO HAM. This mantra cleanses and transforms impure perceptions into the awareness of emptiness.

From emptiness, the guru bead appears as the central deity in the mandala, and the other beads appear as the members of the entourage. This part of the practice is the meditation upon the samayasattva. Next, invoke the jnanasattva. Invite the primordial wisdom beings to come forth, hooking them so that they dissolve into the samayasattva, just as you would in a sadhana. Invite the wisdom beings to come from their pure lands into the space in front of you. They then dissolve into your mala and remain firm there. Thus, every part of your mala is the entire mandala. This includes the central deity, entourage, lotus seats, ornaments, hand emblems, colors, etc. Blessing your mala in this way multiplies each syllable of whatever mantra you then recite 100,000 times, besides causing good karmic results. Therefore, it is extremely important to do this.

Your mala represents not only the form of the deity but the speech of the deity as well. For example, if you recite the One-Hundred­Syllable mantra, the guru bead represents the syllable OM and the other beads represent the remaining syllables.

Guru Padmasambhava said, "Whenever you recite peaceful mantras, use the tip of your thumb to count the mala. When recit­ing expansive mantras, use the third finger. Use the ring finger and thumb when reciting powerful mantras, and use the little fin­ger when reciting wrathful mantras." Use only your left hand to count mantras. The right hand is but rarely used; for instance, in some wrathful practices. Some books teach the use of both hands, but do not use the right hand only.

Whatever kind of practice you are doing, whether peaceful, wrathful, powerful or expansive, always be aware that the thumb is a vajra hook which hooks spiritual powers, deities and other blessings. It is also easy to move the beads with your thumb.

The text does not elaborate, but there are some extensive teach­ings on how to move the beads on the malas when performing certain practices. In some wrathful practices, you jerk the beads with both hands and so forth. The following teachings, which explain how to care for your mala when you are not using it, come straight from the mouth of Guru Padmasambhava. If your mala has been repeatedly blessed by great lamas, by your own teacher and by yourself as part of your deity practice, it should accompany you like your shadow. You keep the root samaya of the vajra mala by never letting it leave your body.


I'm interested to know who else uses one and if materials etc play a part in choosing one.


How do you regard yours - precious, holy - or just a string of counting beads! ;)

Note: Elephant ivory is very rare and there are ethical sourcing issues, of course. Yak bone malas are more commonplace. I would seek the advice of a guru before acquiring a bone mala.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Virgo » Fri Feb 19, 2010 6:58 pm

I would argue that although Hinduism may have been practiced before Buddhist tantrta, the use of the mala in Buddhist tantric practice has not evolved from Hinduism; instead, it was introduced in the Buddhist tantras that came from the wisdom mind of masters. In Hinduism, some of the same technologies were also introduced as were in Buddhism, however.

As Buddhists, on a personal level, the most important thing is our refuge. That is because whatever your motivation for practicing is, it all boils down to your refuge. For example, if you are a hinayana practitioner you need your refuge in order to hear the teachings that lead you to the cessation of suffering. If you are a Mahayana practitioner your goal is full Buddhahood and you need your refuge because it enables you to work for all sentient beings. It is likewise in Vajrayana.

As mantrikas, we take refuge in the Buddhas and bodhisattvas by saying their mantras. We also cultivate bodhicitta through saying their mantras, and we accumulate the necessary merit and wisdom to attain the Omniscient eye through their practice, which is essentialized in their mantras. Therefore, the whole path is contained within the use of a mala for a tantrika. The mala is like our shrine or our refuge. It is our door to the Pure Realms.

Kevin
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Feb 19, 2010 7:36 pm

Virgo wrote:I would argue that although Hinduism may have been practiced before Buddhist tantrta, the use of the mala in Buddhist tantric practice has not evolved from Hinduism; instead, it was introduced in the Buddhist tantras that came from the wisdom mind of masters. In Hinduism, some of the same technologies were also introduced as were in Buddhism, however.

As Buddhists, on a personal level, the most important thing is our refuge. That is because whatever your motivation for practicing is, it all boils down to your refuge. For example, if you are a hinayana practitioner you need your refuge in order to hear the teachings that lead you to the cessation of suffering. If you are a Mahayana practitioner your goal is full Buddhahood and you need your refuge because it enables you to work for all sentient beings. It is likewise in Vajrayana.

As mantrikas, we take refuge in the Buddhas and bodhisattvas by saying their mantras. We also cultivate bodhicitta through saying their mantras, and we accumulate the necessary merit and wisdom to attain the Omniscient eye through their practice, which is essentialized in their mantras. Therefore, the whole path is contained within the use of a mala for a tantrika. The mala is like our shrine or our refuge. It is our door to the Pure Realms.

Kevin


Hi Kevin :namaste:

I certainly agree with you that this can be our intention and our practice, although I have never heard the significance of 108 as anything other than 100 plus 8 for errors. The Tantric significance and visualisations are of course, not given in response to such a general question, and different Tantric practices may also use various materials and numbers of beads.

I also agree that the traffic between Hindu and Buddhist Tantra was not one-way. I understand, for example, that Vajrayogini appeared in written scripture around 200 years before a very similar depiction of Kali.

I am a bit confused about your use of the word 'hinayana' and why you introduced it. Who do you mean? And would they make use of a mala? I may have missed the point you were making, sorry.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Virgo » Fri Feb 19, 2010 7:44 pm

Yeshe wrote:
I am a bit confused about your use of the word 'hinayana' and why you introduced it. Who do you mean? And would they make use of a mala? I may have missed the point you were making, sorry.

Hi Yeshe. Sorry if I was unclear. The point was about that refuge is of upmost importance in all three yanas (Hinayana here referring to Shravakayana). Then I showed how the important concept of refuge, as well as most of the path can be practiced with and contained within the use of our mala. This was how I tried to show how important the mala is for Buddhist practitioners.

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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Feb 19, 2010 8:33 pm

Virgo wrote:
Yeshe wrote:
I am a bit confused about your use of the word 'hinayana' and why you introduced it. Who do you mean? And would they make use of a mala? I may have missed the point you were making, sorry.

Hi Yeshe. Sorry if I was unclear. The point was about that refuge is of upmost importance in all three yanas (Hinayana here referring to Shravakayana). Then I showed how the important concept of refuge, as well as most of the path can be practiced with and contained within the use of our mala. This was how I tried to show how important the mala is for Buddhist practitioners.

Kevin


Hi Kevin.

Thanks. :)

I'm always a little hesitant to use the word 'Hinayana' as Theravadans may feel it to be pejorative. Shravakayana is much under-used, I feel. Thank you for clarifying the context.

I agree very much with what you say. When travelling , sometimes with no shrine or sadhanas, we can indeed find our path contained within mala practice. . :)
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby muni » Sun Feb 21, 2010 10:27 am

"How do you regards yours."

:namaste: Precious in some kind of way, cannot express exactly. A mountain Cristal one is always with me. Another is new and is made from wood with stones coral and turquoise.

I take others Mala with me as well for blessing.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby White Lotus » Sun Feb 21, 2010 4:41 pm

i have 'adopted' a mala, it was given to me by a friend who aquired it from her boyfriend who had treated her badly. so there may be negative forces associated with it, but i love it anyway. it is made of little strange seeds, spherical and wrinkly and a little bit shiny. i wear it all the time unless i decide to pray with it, or practice meditation with it. it seems to me that an object of hatred should be loved. i sometimes worry about the thread that it will break and i will lose the precious seeds. i feel that being made of seed is very precious since the seeds have given their life to provide prayer beads. for me i love plants just as much as animals, so this is very special.

love, white lotus. xxx
in any matters of importance. dont rely on me. i may not know what i am talking about. take what i say as mere speculation. i am not ordained. nor do i have a formal training. i do believe though that if i am wrong on any point. there are those on this site who i hope will quickly point out my mistakes.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Virgo » Sun Feb 21, 2010 4:55 pm

Yeshe wrote:
Virgo wrote:
Yeshe wrote:
I am a bit confused about your use of the word 'hinayana' and why you introduced it. Who do you mean? And would they make use of a mala? I may have missed the point you were making, sorry.

Hi Yeshe. Sorry if I was unclear. The point was about that refuge is of upmost importance in all three yanas (Hinayana here referring to Shravakayana). Then I showed how the important concept of refuge, as well as most of the path can be practiced with and contained within the use of our mala. This was how I tried to show how important the mala is for Buddhist practitioners.

Kevin


Hi Kevin.

Thanks. :)

I'm always a little hesitant to use the word 'Hinayana' as Theravadans may feel it to be pejorative. Shravakayana is much under-used, I feel. Thank you for clarifying the context.

I agree very much with what you say. When travelling , sometimes with no shrine or sadhanas, we can indeed find our path contained within mala practice. . :)

Hi Yeshe.

Hi Yeshe.

Yes, I understand. Shravakayana is perhaps a better term for us to use, as I know that some Theravadins may take offense to other terms. In Tibetan Buddhism though, in general, as you probably know, the term Hinayana is usually used just as a term to specify and denote that certain vehicle and doesn't carry much negative connotation to it at all, if any, although there is no doubt that the Mahayana is considered the more Noble among paths in there (and in general in Mahayana literature).

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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Blue Garuda » Sun Feb 21, 2010 6:45 pm

Kevin

Yes, I had no idea myself that 'Hinayana' was a term which upset some people - until encountering a Buddhist forum some years ago and getting my knuckles rapped! LOL :)

This is another useful resource on malas:

http://www.khandro.net/practice_mala.htm
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby catmoon » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:10 am

Um yeshe - there is a chicken nesting on your head. Why is that?
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby catmoon » Mon Feb 22, 2010 8:51 am

:focus:


I picked up a sandalwood mala some time ago. It was not at all what I wanted, and I did not even believe it was real sandalwood at the time. But I needed one so I bought it.

It has 110 beads. You think you have a hot mala? Hah! Mine goes to 11! But I long regarded this as a flaw. There are no halfway markers and the guru bead is the same size as the others.

It has Tibeten style counter beads attached, but they won't stay in place and are useless. There is a small knot that looks like a dorje and a skimpy tassel.

Of course it works just fine, and after being handled a bit it started emitting that wonderful sandalwood odor. The beads very quickly changed from an anemic looking pale tan to a rich dark brown. It turns out my error rate is high and the extra 2 beads help compensate for that.

Then a friend gave me a little 24 bead bracelet. This little guy is amazing. I will sit in a coffee shop with the beads under the table, looking at the snowy mountains or a sunny landscape painting and run the beads, keeping tally of rounds on a napkin. After each round I get a slurp of coffee. Although I do not attain Nibbana, there is a rising joy to this practice and 600 or 1200 manis slip by in what seems like no time, while doing 300 on the big mala seems a Herculean effort. I dunno maybe it has something to do with the fact that the guru bead is in 2 pieces and if you pull them apart, there is a tiny carved Buddha in there. Maybe he's helping. Maybe it's the comfy chair. At any rate it is much easier to stay alert in the coffee shop.

Ok that's enough me and mine fer a while

namaste
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Devotee » Mon Feb 22, 2010 1:09 pm

For the number 108, I once read (sorry, I forgot the source) that:

Three causes of sufferings (greed, anger and ignorance) multiplied by the three ways of producing bad karma (body, speech, and mind), multiplied by the three world-systems (that is, past, present, and future), multiplied by the four effects they produce (birth, aging, sickness and death) = 108. (3x3x3x4 = 108).

But also:

" Desire, anger, greed, attachment, pride and envy are the six defects or foes of the soul (shadripu). Often more than one defect is dominant at a time. Sometimes even two defects can be dominant. Thus one derives six permutations of a defect, for instance desire, desire-anger, desire-greed, desire-attachment, desire-pride, desire-envy, etc. Thus from the six defects, thirty-six permutations are obtained. These thirty-six permutations have either sattva, raja or tama, as their predominant component, for instance desire-anger-sattva, desire-anger-raja, desire-anger-tama. Thus 36x3=108 permutations are obtained. Every bead in the mala is a representative of such a permutation. The merubead (merumani) maintains its separate existence inspite of being with the rest. Thus finally the mala consists of 109 beads. The spiritual emotions developed in every bead are generated from the nine types of devotion (navavidha bhakti).’ "
(http://www.hindujagruti.org/hinduism/kn ... ds.html#61)
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby ChangYuan » Mon Feb 22, 2010 4:40 pm

I have made my own mala's as well. I use embroidery floss, and just dyed oak beads, as they are easy to obtain. But I also have one made with soapstone beads as well that I keep at home. I will either use it to recite the nianfo, "Amituofo", or to recite the Green Tara mantra if I feel a particular need to send compassion to another being.
_/\_ Amituofo

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Re: Using a Mala

Postby AuNatural » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:15 am

When you make peace with yourself you make peace with the world.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby METTAXCORE » Sun May 16, 2010 3:13 am

I have yet to start using a mala, but would like to.

White Lotus: What you said about the seed giving its life for the prayer beads... that was very moving to me. True compassion! I want to hug you!




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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Chaz » Mon May 17, 2010 7:12 pm

My thinking on Malas is that first and foremost, Malas are counting tools.

The material used may or may not be important. The merit accumulated may or not be affected by manner of use or material used. One type of bead may be more useful for some practices and not for others, or it may not make any difference at all. The number of threads used may be critical or of no real importance.

One thing can be said with certainty: A Mala is a good way to keep track of repetition counts.

My guru wants his students to do a short Vajrasattva practice on a regular basis. While a mala made of white beads - Mother of Pearl, Pearl, Ivory, Howelite, Riverstone, glass, plastic, etc. - could be of some additional benefit, my guru makes no mention of using a certain type of mala in his instruction. In fact, as I recall, there's no mention of malas at all in those instructions. I take that to mean, if accumulation is important (and I believe it is), then any way of keeping track of recitations is sufficient (even counting on one's fingers).

I've used a number of malas using different materials - Sandalwood, Petosky Stone, Lotus Seed (or what is sold as lotus seed), and so on. I've settled on an mala made with 8mm Tiger Ebony beads, strung on an elastic cord. My criteria was more practical than metaphysical. The beads are light, durable and are easily worked with the thumb and index finger. I have a basic 108-bead mala for mantra recitation and a 21-bead mala for use in Shamatha when using a breath counting technique to maintain concentration.

If using a particular kind of mala made in a certain way deepens your practice, then I'm all for it. However, choosing a "fancy" mala over another can be more of an ego thing which isn't particularly wholesome.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Sonam Wangchug » Wed Jun 09, 2010 11:57 pm

After reading some words of advice from my guru I will use Bodhi seed for my life, unless otherwise specified. For me my mala is sacred, because after I recite mantras or during I blow onto the mala blessing it I have also recited the mala blessing mantra, onto it thereby making it much more powerful for accumulation of mantras.

"A Blessing for the MALA

om rutsira mani prawa taya hum

In the Palace of Vast Jewels, it says to recite this seven times and blow on the rosary (or any counters to be used) to increase the power of subsequent recitations."

http://www.khandro.net/practice_mala.htm

I have also had Two of my teachers Bless it, so for these reasons it is a holy object.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby tktru » Thu Jul 22, 2010 11:25 am

I have used malas and have been all too familiar with them (even during the time when wrist malas became a fashion fad at one point!), but they have been my tool for practice my whole life.

I use a plain black sandalwood Japanese-style mala with which I use to recite mantras such as the the Komyo Shingon (Light Mantra). Its a very sturdy set of beads that I have grown to symbolize my daily practice. I feel a bit spiritually stronger when rubbing the mala beads together, symbolizing rubbing away the 108 passions in Shingon. Cultivation in reciting the mantras is very efficacious for those engaging in the esoteric nature of the Dharma, and the mala is a strong tool for that practice.

That's my two cents.
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Bodhi » Thu Jul 22, 2010 6:56 pm

As for now I have a mala with 108 beads. It is made of woods and very dark in color. It is extremely Smooth and I got it from the Maitreya Project group.
Wherever you are, that is where the mind should be. Always be mindful, and be your own master. This is true freedom. - Grand Master Wei Chueh
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Re: Using a Mala

Postby Shutoku » Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:21 am

Hello,

I practice Shin Buddhism. We also use a mala (Nenju) however for us it is not used for counting. We wrap it around both hands in Gassho. The left hand representing Samsara, the Right hand representing the Pure Land, or Nirvana and the Nenju wrapped around both to symbolise oneness.
Most shin followers use a smaller wrist mala of 27 beads plus two spacers, and a Buddha bead. Mostly I've only seen Sensei's with the formal 108 bead Nenju.
when not in use we hold the Nenju in the left hand.
Many people wear an even smaller nenju with elastic. I wear one all the time (except in
the shower, or playing Hockey..I'm a goalie and I'm not sure getting hit with a puck would be good for a nenju! :D )
Namo Amida Butsu
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