Often strung while prayer is recited, always strung with love and intention, mala beads are possibly the most recognized implement associated with Tibetan Buddhism. Mala, in Sanskrit, or trengwa, in Tibetan, are customarily used for counting mantra recitations such as om mani padme hum or om tare turi tutari turi soha.
Commonly consisting of 108 beads, each completion of a trip around the 108 bead mala is considered 100 recitations, the remaining 8 beads exist to accommodate any mistakes. Spacer beads are sometimes added at specific intervals, for instance after the 27th bead, 54th bead, and 81st bead to let the user know they are either 1/4, 1/2, or 3/4 of the way through one circuit. Shorter malas are frequently selected for use during prostration, these malas might be 21 or 27 beads in length. Counters, or chupshed in Tibetan, can be added to a mala for ease of tracking more than 100 recitations. For each full circuit of the mala (or 100 recitations) one counter bead is moved forward. The use of chupshed allows for up to 10,000 mantra recitations.
Typically, the mantra being recited determines which hand a mala is held in— the left hand during recitations focusing on female deities and/or sunyata (emptiness) and the right hand for recitations centering around male deities and/or compassion. If more than 100 mantra repetitions will be recited, it is most common to reverse the direction in which the beads are being counted instead of crossing the guru bead as the guru bead is often a symbol of one’s teacher. When not in use, malas are worn on the wrist, around the neck, or stored in a safe place.
Varying from rudraksha to rosewood, yak bone to conch shell, amethyst to coral, malas are made of many different materials. One may choose a mala based on the focus of their practice, to resonate with a certain chakra, or for reasons as simple as what they find aesthetically pleasing. The longer a mala is used, the more it will grow in spiritual significance to its owner. Always being conscious to have good intentions when using a mala and treating it with respect is a good place to begin a practice with a new mala.
At Hands of Tibet, we offer many different types of malas and are always happy to work with our customers to customize the perfect mala! Namaste!