Buddhist prayer beads / malas are necklaces and wrist bracelets that you can use for meditation.
These traditional Buddhist bead necklaces are so much more than just jewelry. They are one of the essential tools used in meditation, and they often have special healing properties based on the particular material that the beads, tassel and the thread.
I personally absolutely love Buddhist prayer beads / malas. And I want to share everything I know about Buddhist prayer beads, from years of working as a meditation teacher.
Here’s what we’re going to look at in this guide:
- How To Use Prayer Beads In Meditation
- What are Buddhist prayer beads / malas?
- Benefits of malas
- Why there are 108 beads on a mala
- The meaning and benefits of different gemstones used in malas
- How to make malas the DIY way
- How to use Buddhist prayer beads for meditation
- Best malas to buy
- How to cleanse a mala
So, let’s get started with this big guide to Buddhist prayer beads.
Tons of people buy malas without actually knowing diddly squat about them. Let’s correct that.
Meditation malas (Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and wrist straps) are one of the absolute most important products for meditators. (The fact that they look stylish is just a little bonus).
Called Japa in Sanskrit, meditation malas are Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and wrist bracelets made of gemstones. They come in various sizes, from wrist malas (18 or 27 beads) to full length malas, which are 108 beads long.
The beads go by many names. Tibetan malas are traditionally called “moon and stars”. And some retailers call them “lotus root”, “lotus seed” and “linden nut”.
These beads are used for meditation to count the breath, or when reciting mantras.
Buddhist prayer beads are made of various gemstones, each of which has different spiritual properties (see below).
The last bead is called a guru bead. This is a sacred bead that is used to represent the connection between student and teacher, and to express gratitude and appreciation.
And there is also the tassel. The way in which the different pieces of the string come together to form the tassel is said to represent oneness, like each person on Earth coming together to create one collective unconscious.
Those are the basic parts of a Buddhist prayer bead necklace and bracelet. But there’s more you need to know if you want to buy malas or make malas at home via DIY. So let’s look a little deeper.
Next time you buy malas wow the cashier by telling them why there are 108 beads on a Buddhist prayer bead necklace.
The actual number 108 is important because:
1: stands for God
0: stands for nothingness
8: stands for eternity
108 is an auspicious number. It’s the same reason why we often do 108 sun salutations in yoga.
- There are 108 Mukya Shivaganas
- There are 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra.
- There are 108 earthly desires
- There are 108 Upanishads (sacred texts)
- In astrology if you multiply the 12 houses by the 9 planets you get 108
- The sun is 108 x the diameter of the Earth. And 108x that diameter = the distance between the sun and Earth
When you want to buy malas (or DIY malas) you’ve gotta know your gemstones. Here’s the meaning and benefits of different Buddhist prayer beads:
Amazonite: for calm, alleviating fear and anxiety
Amethyst: for peace, stability and calm
Black Onyx: for alignment and connection
Carnelian: for abundance, prosperity and ambition
Calcedony: for stability, harmony and dreams
Citrine: for happiness, strength and though
Clear Quartz: for energy, creativity and clarity
Calmatian Jasper: for determination, strength and friendship
Garnet: for energy, charkras and balance
Green Aventurine: for new beginnings and prosperity
Howlite: for calm and third eye (ajna chakra)
Lapis Luzuli: for wisdom, intuition and third eye chakra
Moonstone: for intuition, dreams and energy
Obsidian: for protection and grounding
Ocean jasper: for relaxation, self love and calmness
Pearl: for purity, innocence and imagination
Prehnite: for energy and spirit
Pyrite: for fire energy and vitality
Red jasper: for grounding, balance and healing
Rhodonite: for Yin, Yaang and love
Rose Quartz: for love harmony and heart chakra
Rosewood: for proteciton and spirituality
Rudraksha seeds: for healing and guidance
Sandalwood: for calm and desire
Smokey Quatz: for grounding and stabilizing
Turqoise: for truth, grounding and proetction
White jade: for potential, goals and success
If you’re one of our readers who loved my guide to making a Zen garden, you’ll probably want to know how to make a mala nacklace too. It’s a great alternative to buying malas.
Have you ever tried to make your own Buddhist prayer bead necklaces and bracelets? It’s such a wonderfully relaxing activity, and you end up with a beautiful mala. Plus, DIY malas can feel more special than buying a mala because, well, you crafted it yourself so it’s part of you, like a wooden baby you wrap around your neck… or something.
Seriously though, making mala bead necklaces can takes several hours. And it definitely requires patience. But it’s a wonderful, joyous hobby that I highly recommend.
Simply go to your favourite Buddhist beads store and pick out the prayer beads you would like to use for your mala. Personally I chose to use coral because I love the feel of it and it reminds me of the water.
Once you’ve got your prayer beads, go home, put on some beautiful meditation music and get out all the items you will need to make your mala.
Then set to it. Gradually. This is a time when you should feel a deep state of Zen within you. Crafting your own mala is a patient and relaxing activity. And it’s really not about the mala that you make, it’s about the way you feel while you’re making it.
Make the mala beads necklace slowly, and really enjoy the experience. You’re going to find this a wonderfully relaxing activity that will boost your happiness and make you feel a deep sense of self love.
This is a beautiful process and it makes for an excellent gift.
Veronica Krestow has a brilliant video tutorial on how to make your own mala beads and bracelets. I’ve shared it on the next page.
Still got your heart set on buying a mala instead? Here’s my pick of the best ones.
So now you have a meditation mala, here’s how to use Buddhist prayer beads / malas for meditation: [I’ve written a more in-depth guide to how to use malas here.]
- Hold your mala in your right hand [unless this is hard because of the specific Buddhist mudra you’re using]
- Count by moving your thumb onto one of the Buddhist prayer bead. Count either each in-breath or each repetition of a mantra of Japa.
- Gently pull the prayer bead towards you
- Move on to the next prayer bead
- The mountain bead or guru bead (the large bead) is used to mark the beginning and ending of the meditation period
- If you are using a wrist mala (which has 27 beads) repeat 4 full cycles to do a full mala (27 x 4 = 108)
- After you have meditated with your Buddhist prayer beads mala for around a month (meditating once a day) your mala will be empowered with energy. You can then wear that mala necklace or bracelet to feel the energy.
It is important to cleanse mala beads so that they carry the right energy for your meditations.
Traditionally there is no prescribed time for when you should cleanse mala beads. It is all about getting in touch with your intuition. Do you feel that you should be cleansing your mala beads? There will be an observable energy in your being that tells you when it is time.
The longer you wear your mala necklace / mala bracelet the more the energy of those Buddhist prayer beads will be affected by the frequencies of other people.
Feel your mala beads. Ask yourself: are they creating the right energy? If not, it’s time to cleanse your mala beads.
Here’s how to cleanse mala beads the Buddhist way
- Sit outside and place your mala beads in the light of the sun or moon. The energy of the light will help to remove negative energy from the mala. It is a purifying process.
- Place your mala on the ground and burn dried white sage near it so that the smoke rolls over the mala.
- While the mala is being cleansed chant OM for 108 recitations.
- Wash the mala with seat-salt-water. For best result, wash it in the ocean.
- You may like to cleanse your meditation crystals at the same time. [take a look at my guide to the best meditation crystals for more on this]
And that is pretty much everything you need to know about Buddhist prayer beads / malas.
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