This may sound like a bold assertion, but there are actually hundreds of thousands of Buddhists out there who would wholeheartedly agree – the Japa Mala is the most essential piece of jewelry one can wear. Unlike costume or fine jewelry, these unique and decorative garlands are used by Hindus and Buddhists for counting mantras or the name of a deity. Known in the Sanskrit language as “japa,” this practice is typically done while wearing a set of 16, 27, 54 or 108 beads.
What’s behind the numbers?
In the practice of Tibetan Buddhism 108 beads are used, but some believers prefer to wear malas with 21 or 28 beads. When a Buddhist does a 108-bead mala it actually counts as 100 recitations of the mantra, but 8 extra repetitions are added to amend any mistakes.
Why so many different beads?
Looking at a selection of Tibetan or Buddhist malas, it’s easy to believe that the bead selection is simply a matter of personal taste. But when it comes to practicing mantras, even the bead material is steeped in meaning. Malas are used to recite different types of mantras, each with varying purposes. Beads can be made from Bodhi seeds, lotus root seeds, linden nuts and exotic woods or ivory. As long as the bead is dense and very hard, it will be perfect for a Japa Mala.
What is the purpose of a Japa mala?
It’s hard to know exactly when and how the mala came into use, but Buddhist practitioners find this centuries-old tool a terrific way to focus the mind on prayer and meditation. Just the fact that the beads are arranged in a circle is a reminder of the never-ending cycle of Sanskrit prayer and healing. When combined with a specific mantra, each gemstone in a mala is thought to have its own special properties for empowerment. In addition to the prayer itself, the beads that have been “prayed over” repeatedly have their own special power to enhance well-being and spiritual growth.
By combining the tactile awareness of the beat in the conscious mind with the meditative state of repetitive mantras, the Japa Mala ritual becomes engraved on the mind of the practitioner. After a while it becomes routine and the mind becomes focused on the meaning of the mantra. It is no wonder that the beads are believed to take on an energy of their own.
Popular mala beads and their purposes
One favorite mala is made from aventurine and mother of pearl beads, which are believed to stimulate new growth, balance energy and repair a broken heart. Known as an attractor wealth, luck and abundance, aventurine is also a beautiful gemstone. Mother of pearl is also a symbol of wealth and good luck.
A Buddhist mala in ebony is startlingly beautiful in this durable black wood. Long favored as the wood of royalty in India, ebony is also known for its protective powers, particularly for the wearer’s home and love life.
The best way to recite a pacifying mantra is with white Mala beads made from materials such as shell, crystal, pearl and mother of pearl. In addition to calming the spirit, these beads can serve to purify the mind and clear bad karma or other mental barriers. The more practical choice for white beads is crystal, since pearl’s iridescent layer tends to rub off after regular use.
Gold, silver, amber or copper malas are often used for increasing mantras because they are a reliable way to increase knowledge and increase life span.
When magnetizing is the goal, mantras should be recited using saffron, sandalwood or lotus seed beads. Other forms of wood such as rosewood, peach wood and elm wood are often used to encourage spiritual growth
When one is faced with powerful spirits or harmful energies, mantras may be used to forcefully tame them. This is where beads made of bone or Rudraksha are essential, as they are used to tame others and subdue malicious spirits, but not everyone has the ability to do this. Only a person with great compassion can be motivated enough to successfully tame these negative forces.
Chopa.com offers an incredible selection of Japa malas and Buddhist malas for people from all walks of life. These attractive prayer necklaces use 8mm handcrafted beads, strung on a vinyl coated stainless steel cable, ending with a rayon tassel. Spacers are made from black onyx and the necklaces are 34” long.