Beads Get Spiritual: All About Buddhist Prayer Beads

May 2, 2012

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend morning and afternoon prayers with a group of traveling Buddhist monks from southern India, and learn more about Tibetan Buddhism, meditation practices, and traditional Tibetan medicine, art, and music. It was a very spiritually uplifting experience for me, as well as a great family experience for my husband and son.

I learned so much during my two weeks spent meditating and praying with the group of traveling Tibetan Buddhist monks!
The Gajang Tsawa touring monks have been traveling all over the world to raise awareness of Tibetan Buddhism and culture, and these monks were picked to travel because of their special skills in music, dance, and their creations of intricate sand mandalas. Their monastery in southern India was founded in 1409 in Tibet, and was relocated in exile to southern India in 1959 after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. They are of the lineage of the current (fourteenth) Dalai Lama.

Among some of the objects that the monks offered for sale as part of their fundraising efforts for their monastery were Buddhist prayer beads. So of course I had to add a set to my collection of special beads!

My new mala beads are made from wonderfully scented sandalwood.
These prayer beads were made of beautifully scented sandalwood. Whenever I went to morning or afternoon prayers with them, I watched one of our local Tibetan residents as she used her own set, and she showed me how and when to move them through my fingers as the chants of the monks were repeated, similar to the way you move along the beads while saying the Catholic rosary.

Buddhist prayer beads are called mala beads, and they usually contain one hundred and eight beads. The number is spiritually significant, since when you add one and eight together, you get nine -- a particularly auspicious number in the Buddhist tradition.

Mala beads are used to count the recitation of mantras during prayers, and different types of mala beads can be used for different types of mantras. For example, mantras said using mala beads that are made out of gold, silver, or copper are said to increase life span and knowledge.

My mala beads are made from sandalwood, which is also important in the Buddhist tradition. Using mala beads made from sandalwood is supposed to transform your desires and help maintain your alertness during meditation. Sandalwood incense is also used for making important offerings to the Buddha.

While I don't have a chance to meditate with my mala beads every day, just holding them for a few minutes in my hand is how I like to remind myself to slow down, take a breather, and just enjoy being in the present moment. As a part of my spiritual tradition, these mala beads will always have a special meaning to me.

Do you have a special spiritual tradition or practice that involves your beads? Leave a comment here and share it with us!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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