How to use Tibetan mala or Tibetan prayer beads

Tibetan prayer beads, or Mala beads, are a tool that can be useful for helping to enhance the benefits of meditation, prayer, and mantra recitation. In fact, mala beads are so useful that some teachers discourage the chanting of certain mantras if you aren’t using mala beads.

Tibetan prayer beads have 108 beads on them, for reasons which we’ll discuss in more detail below. This article will teach you a bit about the history of mala beads and explain how you can introduce them to your practice.

The Meaning of Mala Beads

Mala beads aren’t just a useful tool for meditation. They are highly symbolic objects that can help direct the consciousness in certain directions. They have a number of practical and metaphysical applications, many of which relate to the fact that prayer beads have 108 beads on them.

One of the first questions that people ask when they begin using mala beads is, “why are there 108 beads?” This number holds a lot of significance in Hinduism and in Tibetan Buddhism:

  • In Hindu tradition, there are 108 attendants of Shiva, known as the Mukhya Shivaganas. Followers of Shaiva religions (religions based on Shiva) also prefer to use malas with 108 beads.

  • In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Lord Krishna is believed to have had 108 followers, whose names are often recited along with the counting of a set of prayer beads during religious ceremonies.

  •  In Buddhism, Bhante Guanarata teaches that the multiplication of the six senses by certain factors (painful or not, pleasant or not, internal or external, present, past, or future) equates to 108.

  • Tibetan Buddhist mala beads are said to reflect the words of the Buddha which were written in 108 volumes.

  • In Japanese Buddhism, bells in temples are chimed 108 times, representing one of the 108 earthly temptations that an individual must overcome in their lifetimes.

  • There are many more ancient and esoteric understandings of the number 108, as well:

    • The Sanskrit alphabet has 54 characters, each with a masculine and feminine form totaling 108.

    • There are 12 constellations and 9 arc segments in astrology; there are also 12 houses of 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.

    • The diameter of the sun is almost exactly 108 times greater than that of the earth – a fact discerned by ancient practitioners that has only recently been re-confirmed by modern science.

Using Mala Beads

There’s little doubt of the significance of the number 108. Now that you understand a bit more about the choice of the number, you can learn how to properly use these beads. It’s really quite simple.

  • Choose a comfortable meditation position. Sitting with an erect spine is often recommended. Take a few breaths to realign yourself with your intentions for the ceremony.

  • Choose your mantra, if you haven’t done so already.

  • Hold the mala. Hold it in your dominant hand, with the beads draped down between your middle finger and your ring finger. Grab the ‘guru’ bead, which is the largest bead found at the middle point in the mala.

  • Move the beads. Use your thumb to pull one bead while you are reciting your mantra, pulling one bead per repetition. By the time you return to the guru bead, you will have repeated the mantra 108 times.

Depending on the type of work that you are doing or the particular mantra that you are chanting, it may or may not be a good idea to continue chanting the mantra for several repetitions of the mala beads. 

For example, certain mantras are recommended to be repeated several thousand times over the course of a week. This would require that you perform multiple repetitions of your mala beads on a daily basis. It is believed that the longer you chant the mantra, the more powerful that its effects can become, so it would be sensible to do this all at once.

In Conclusion

Mala beads are sets of beads with 108 beads on them. The number 108 holds huge significance in Hinduism, Buddhism, and many schools of esoteric thought.

Hopefully this article has explained how you can use Mala beads for your meditation. Good luck on your practice!