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Buddhist rosaries have 108 beads, representing the number of earthly passions and desires that blind and delude us, entrapping us in the cycle of suffering and reincarnation, or samsara. The number also represents the 108 forms that the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is able to assume in order to help devotees. It is also said that this number was chosen to enable worshippers to repeat the sacred name of the Buddha 100 times, the extra beads allowing for any omissions made through absent-mindedness in counting or for the loss or breakage of beads.
As with the prayer beads of many spiritual traditions worldwide, mala are among the most beautifully crafted objects used by Buddhist practitioners. They are also among the most intimate tools used in the spiritual practice of millions of Buddhists. Held in the hand and fondled with love and devotion by priest and lay practitioner alike, these strings of beads assist in one of the most challenging aspects of Buddhist practice—focusing the mind and reining it in during the chanting of prayers, mantras, and names of deities. By grasping the beads and accepting their guidance, the practitioner edges forward during every prayer and every practice on the long journey toward enlightenment. Mantras and chants are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times, accompanying the humming recitations of mantras like om Mani Padme Hum, Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha, or Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Soha. In Tibetan it’s called Trengwa.
The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb clockwise around each bead, though some traditions or practices may call for counter clockwise motion or specific hand and finger usage. When arriving at the Guru bead, some assert that both Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists traditionally turn the mala around and then go back in the opposing direction. However, some teachers in the Tibetan traditions and beyond emphasize that this is superstitious and therefore not so important. To use your mala, start with the first bead next to the “guru” bead. Hold the bead between the index finger and thumb, and recite your mantra once out loud or silently. Then move on to the next bead with a rolling motion of your thumb, recite your mantra again and repeat. When you get to the guru bead again you have completed 108 mantras without needing to count each one. Within the Buddhist tradition, this repetition of the beads serves to remind practitioners of the teaching that it is possible to break the cycle of birth and death.

Caring for your Mala In general, your mala will grow in spiritual significance as you use it for mantra recitations and bring it to teachings and possible have it blessed by your guru. And while it is not in itself as sacred as a statue or a piece of Buddhist scripture, it is something we usually treat with respect. This means that you wouldn’t put it on the floor or put mundane objects on top of it or throw it.
When not using the mala, Tibetans wrap them around their wrists or hang them around their necks. (Although please note that they are not worn like a necklace, for decoration, or, with self-pride, as a way to show that one is spiritual.) When you don’t need it for a while, or are sleeping, for example, you can hang it on a clean, highest place, maybe near your altar.

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