How to Use a Mala September 06 2011
The meaning of the Sanskrit word “Mala” is “garland.” For Buddhist and some yoga practitioners, a mala is considered an essential tool. Below is a brief explanation about malas, their purpose, meaning, and use.
What is a Mala?
From a practical and outer point of view, a mala can simply be understood as a method for counting Mantra recitation. There are typically 108 beads on a Mala string. However, a Mala can be a great deal more than just a counting device.
Symbolism of a Mala
On a deeper level, the Mala represents the Form and Speech of a Deity. It can be viewed as the Root Deity and the entire assembly or mandala of that Deity. In this view, the Mala is a support for one’s practice and can become an object of refuge for the practitioner.
How to Use a Mala
Traditionally one holds the mala in one’s left hand. With each recitation a bead is pulled forward. Symbolically, this represents the “Vajra Hook” which brings forth blessings and virtue. The basic instruction is to use the thumb to move the bead forward.
While reciting mantra, it is auspicious to hold the mala to one’s heart. This is symbolic of “protecting one’s heart” with virtuous activity.
The large bead on the Mala is called the Guru Bead or Mother Bead. One never crosses over this bead, just as one would never step over something precious and rare. Out of respect and gratitude, one reverses direction after 108 recitations.
Types of Malas
A variety of materials may be used to make a mala: wood or metal beads, seeds, rudraksha beads, as well as precious gemstones or jewels.
Guru Rinpoche once gave specific instructions on various types of malas and their use. For example, he said that a mala made of iron or steel multiplies the virtue of accumulating mantra recitations in a general way. With a copper mala, the virtue increases four times. A Raksha mala increases it 20 million times. A pearl or ruby mala increases it 100 million times. The virtue is multiplied by 100,000 if one uses a silver mala. The potential benefit from using a Bodhi seed mala is limitless for any form of practice.
To understand the meaning and purpose of Malas, one should also understand Mantra recitation. For each practice that is dedicated to a meditation, there is a mantra specific to that meditation. A Mantra is a collection of precious seed syllables representing the condensed essence of all the pure qualities and attributes of a Deity or meditation. Reciting a Mantra in this profound, virtuous way helps our own pure qualities to come forth. These qualities are ultimately non-dual. If a practitioner recites the "Om Mani Padme Hum" mantra with a pure heart and proper motivation, seeking to be of benefit to sentient beings, with faith, devotion, and proper understanding of the method, then only benefit will arise in the mind. One’s natural compassionate nature will be cultivated and nurtured. Over time, transformation of one’s negative qualities will be replaced by virtuous, pure qualities that are inherent within us all. This method of recitation helps us to awaken to our true nature.