The backbone of Mala beads traces its roots back to the Hindu religion. It is thought that those who converted from the Hindu faith to Buddhism converted this devotional practice with beads and bead bracelets and it soon became a huge part of the Buddhist faith.
Ordinarily, there are 108 beads on a strand of Mala prayer beads. The significance of this number is that it is the number of mental conditions or sinful longings that one must overcome to get to enlightenment or nirvana. Monks commonly have Mala beads with 108 beads; where as a lay person might have a strand with 30 to 40 beads. It is suggested that someone just beginning this prayer ritual starts with a shorter strand of beads.
Just as there is an array of beads, there is also a huge variety when it comes to the color and material composition of each bead. Commonly, the Mala beads that monks use are fashioned with wood from the Bodhi tree. In Tibet, Mala strands usually have pieces of semi-precious stones. In this culture, the most treasured strands are made with bones of holy men or lamas.
The Mala can be used in two ways. It’s commonly held in the right hand and beads are moved towards the user one by one synchronized with each mantra recital. In one approach, the Mala is dangling between the thumb and the ring finger. The middle (second) finger is used to rotate the Mala. The other way to use the Mala is to let it hang on the middle finger with the thumb used to move the beads. The index finger is not used to touch the beads.
The basic intention of all Mala beads is to establish a sense of tranquility and inner-peace for the person and for those who surround them. In reciting a mantra, a sense of peace will be created making that person much closer to nirvana.
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