Malas, Rosary Or Meditation Beads
For untold ages, humankind has sought to draw closer to God through prayer and meditation. Yogis who had achieved universal consciousness, or samadhi, perceived divine sounds during their deepest meditations. Those who devotedly chanted these rhythmic sequences of sounds, known as mantras, experienced a profound purification and strengthening of their minds and nervous systems, releasing miraculous energies.
The practice of japa, or constant repetition of a single mantra, establishes the mantra in ones entire system, calming the senses and mind. Japa may be chanted in one of three ways. Vaikhar Japa is chanted or spoken aloud enabling one to easily shut out distractions and to remain focused. This method of japa chanting is recommended for the beginner. Upamshu Japa is done in a whisper and lends itself to the purification of the heart. Manisika Japa is the silent repetition of the mantra and is the most difficult form of japa.
For a discussion of malas and their use, see: Mala Meditation for Physical, Mental and Spiritual Prosperity by Guru Kirin Kaur Khalsa ($6.50, 18 pp . paper, ISBN 0964683075). A full presentation about mantras is available in: Mantras: Words of Power by Sivananda Swami Radha ($14.95, 174 pp. Paper, ISBN 0931454662)
Mala Beads and Their Use
During the practice of japa, concentration is most effectively centered when mala beads are used during the chanting. Let a feeling of reverence and spiritual eagerness fill your mind and body as you prepare to chant japa. Mala beads are held in the right hand. The left hand rests in the lap or on the left knee in jnana mudra: thumb and forefinger joined together with the remaining three fingers extended straight. Hold the beads in your right hand for about one minute. Let all of your energy flow into your hand and into the mala. Each bead rests lightly on the ring finger, with the thumb gently holding the beads in place. The guru bead, also known as the meru bead, is slightly larger or is set apart from the other beads and is always used when mantra chanting begins. Move the beads by progressing the thumb and middle finger on to the next bead after the repetition of each mantra. If you wish to continue chanting upon returning to the guru bead, turn the beads in the opposite direction rather than crossing over the guru bead. Feel the sound vibration of the mantra continuing within you on a more and more subtle level. When you feel concentrated and meditative, allow the sound of the repetition to soften to a whisper and finally to the soundless echo of energy within.
Rudraksha beads have been known from antiquity to have many special powers. Their benefits are extolled in the Siva Purana and other Hindu scriptures. They are said to exert a beneficial vibratory influence on the physical body and on the subtle spiritual energies, or pranas, of the wearer. They are said to provide protection from many kinds of negative vibrational influences, as well as physical harm and disease. Other great claims have been made regarding their benefits.
The rudraksha bead is actually a seed and is said to be of a substance that contains all five elements in perfect balance: earth, water, fire, air, ether. There are basically two kinds of rudraksha beads: those that are heavy, dense, and will sink in water (a very durable kind), and those that are lightweight and float in water (more porous and less durable). Smoothness and roundness also determine the quality of the bead. Genuine rudraksha have well-defined "faces" or spaces between distinct lines around the bead. The number of faces on a bead determines certain specific qualities inherent in the bead. A rudraksha with five faces is Rudra himself. Its name is Kalagni. It is lordly. It bestows salvation and achievement of all desired objects. It is recommended that the rudraksha mala be kept in a clean place and not touch the feet or floor. It is advisable to make a cloth bag which can be used both as storage and to hold the mala while doing japa.
The cost of high quality rudraksha beads is well founded. Only a very specific climate will produce a tree that yields a small, hard seed. The seed must then be buried in the ground for at least two years in order to soften the outer shell in order to provide the least risk of breakage during the shelling process. The beads are sorted according to size and quality and then hand drilled. The smaller the bead, the higher the cost. A matched set of small rudraksha beads is much more expensive than a set of larger beads. A good size is 7 to 9 millimeters in diameter, with a cost of about $100 or more.
Buddhist Rosaries or Malas
Buddhist malas come in three forms: 108 beads, 54 beads and 27 beads. At their base is the large guru or meru bead, which is the symbol of activity and movement. The base bead is a symbol of activity and movement. On the Buddhist rosary, the three beads directly above the base bead represent the Three Refuges: Homage to the Buddha, Homage to the Dharma and Homage to the Sangha.
A 108 bead Buddhist rosary is divided into 6 groups of 18 beads, with a divider bead between each group. A 54 bead mala has 6 groups of 9 beads with a divider between each group. A 27 bead mala has 2 groups of 6 beads and 1 group of 15 beads, with 2 divider beads. All divider beads in a rosary represent points of pause for silent meditation: the putting of hands in gassho (hands in prayer position) whilst holding the rosary, or the putting of the brain, as it were, into gassho. Many malas that we stock only have a base bead without any division beads. Division beads are not essential.
Buddhist rosaries may be used in various ways. For beginning Buddhists, to quiet the mind by counting the breaths: one bead for an in-breath, one bead for an out-breath and a gassho at the spacer. Malas may be used for the transformation of merit for sick or dying persons, or any other cause whatsoever in the following manner:
When holding the base bead or guru bead think of the purpose for which the recitation is to be made. Continue by reciting the Three Refuges, pausing on the center spacer for a moment of silent meditation. On each bead, recite the name of a Bodhisattva, and pausing for silent meditation at each spacer. At the end of one full circuit, return to the recitation of the Three Refuges and again, think of the purpose of the recitation on the base or guru bead.
Among the Muslims, a chaplet of ninety-nine beads, generally having a pendant with a special knot of richer material and a tassel, is used to recite the ninety-nine names of Allah. Sometimes, the devout simply repeat the name Allah itself. Often a special bead is added called the iman or "leader," which stands for the real, inexpressible name of God.
The rosary may be prayed in many ways to mark the passage of particular prayers and to commerate spiritual litany. Often it is used as a devotion to the Virgin Mary. Various Christian traditions use rosaries of different styles and lengths, from five to fifteen decades (a decade is 10 beads). The Byzantine tradition uses a woven prayer chord (one hundred knotted beads and a woven cross). The Bridgettine rosary has six decades. The Franciscans use a seven decade rosary to commemorate the seven joys of Mary. The fifteen decade rosary is used to commemorate the fifteen mysteries (such as The Annunciation or The Visitation) and may be used as follows: To recite the Rosary, the Lord’s Prayer [Our Father...] is said on every large bead, the Hail Mary on every small bead, with each decade being terminated with the Gloria (Glory Be to the Father). Each decade is said in honor of some mystery which is set apart for contemplation during the recitation of the prayers.
- Hold the cross in the right hand and bless yourself with the cross, saying, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
- Still holding the cross, say the Apostles' Creed.
- On the first large bead after the cross, recite the Lord’s Prayer. On the next three small beads, recite the Hail Mary. After the third Hail Mary, recite the Gloria.
- Then name the mystery upon which you are to meditate: i.e. "The Annunciation."
- While meditating on this mystery recite the Lord’s Prayer on the large bead just before the medal. Then recite Hail Mary on the next ten smaller beads after the medal. After the tenth Hail Mary, recite the Gloria.
- Proceed to the second mystery, reciting the Lord’s Prayer on the large bead followed by ten Hail Marys on the smaller beads, ending with Gloria. Continue until the mysteries are finished.
For a full discussion of Christian rosaries see: Praying by Hand: Rediscovering the Rosary as a Way of Prayer by M. Basil Pennington ($10.00, 129 pp. Paper, ISBN 0060665416).