Recently I have been fortunate enough to receive regular orders for my homemade mala beads so I decided it would be useful for my readers and customers to know a little bit about how to use them! Below is the letter that I send out with each mala as a guide – not as rules!
I strongly believe that hard and fast rules for using malas (such as not to wear them or not to let others touch them) can get in the way of their effectiveness. The most important thing to remember is that meditation is a method to achieve mindfulness and an awareness of self and I don’t believe that everyone can achieve this by following a strict practice – every person is different. With this in mind, I hope my guide can help you find your natural rhythm when using a mala to meditate…
The reason why malas consist of 108 beads is unclear. However, my favourite explanation comes from Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, a philosopher who also brought Indian symbolism to the West. He understood 108 in terms of Dharmic metaphysical numerology where one referred to Bindu (the subtle body), zero to Śūnyatā (openness) and eight to Ananta (without end).
Each wrist mala consist of 27 beads, a division of 108.
How should I use my mala?
Traditionally, malas are held in the left hand, with the strand draped across your middle finger, using your thumb to pull each bead towards you. It is often frowned upon to let the mala touch the index finger, as this finger is associated with your ego. Begin at the guru bead (the large one) and continue until have circled back to it. If you are using a wrist mala, do not skip over the guru bead but turn the mala over and begin again in the opposite direction (effectively, four circles of the wrist mala will complete your 108 mantras).
As you pass over each bead, recite your mantra. This can be a traditional Buddhist mantra (Om mani padme hum is the most well known) or your own. My own favourite mantra is “I am” to remind myself of my intention to be true to myself. You can add to this to suit your needs; for example “I am strong”, “I am compassionate”.
Most importantly, try to practice daily.