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Buddhist Rosary Beads / Mala

A Monk With Mala BeadsBuddhist Rosary Beads / Mala

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A Reader recently phoned in with the question:
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Could you please discuss Buddhist Rosary Beads? What re they for and how do you use them?

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My Response:
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Buddhist “rosary” beads consist of either 108 beads most commonly for Mahayana Buddhists, or sometimes, 27 beads as in Pure Land Buddhism. These are called “mala” or “japa mala.” Hinduism also uses these. They are usually made from wood, preferably sandalwood, while the string is traditionally either human hair or silk.

They are commonly used for counting prayers, chants, or repeated mantras. Some mantras are meant to be repeated hundreds of times, and the person meditating will use the mala, moving their fingers across the beads rather than break their concentration on counting. Depending on the group or sect, sometimes it makes a difference which hand or which fingers are used to count the beads.

Why 108 beads? According to Wikipedia:Buddhist Sandalwood Mala Beads

In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions or klesas. There are 6 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by 3 reactions (positive, negative, or indifference) makes 18 “feelings.” Each of these feelings can be either “attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure” making 36 “passions”– each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future. All the combinations of all these things makes a total of 108, which are represented by the beads. This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times.

In addition, practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism, use the number 108 for a different purpose. After reciting 100 mantras, 8 extra mantras are done to compensate for any errors. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_prayer_beads )

Here is some additional information from the Edmonton Buddhist Meditation Group:
http://www.serenereflections.ca/Articles/2004/TheUsesoftheBuddhistRosar.html

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Find Buddhist Mala Beads – Large 14mm beads – Black sandalwood at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000JD9I9M/?tag=askdrarca-20

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