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What is a Mala?

December 07, 2018

What is a Mala?

Many different cultures have contemplative traditions that use prayer beads as a part of their practice and known by many different names such as rosary, misbahah, komboloi, worry beads or Japamala to name only a few. Prayer beads originated from both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions and were originally used by lay people who, often unable to read or write, used beads as a tool to learn, recite and pass on teachings and traditions.

The word Mala (short for Japamala) originates from the Sanskrit term for garland and translates into a garland or string of beads. Mala beads are traditionally composed of 108 beads (or a division of 108), a guru bead and finished with a tassel, each piece carrying its own symbolic significance.

While both Hindu and Buddhist malas are composed of 108 beads, the meaning for each is different. Hindu philosophy supports cosmic reasoning while in Buddhism 108 signifies the 108 delusions that we encounter in life. All Touchstone Malas are designed using 3 different sized beads signifying the Sangha, Dharma and Buddha, the Three Gems. Designing malas in the form of a necklace or bracelet circular pattern signifies the infinite cycle of birth and death.

All beads are worry beads. We often feel overwhelmed by problems or worries and seek a way to actively manage stress. No matter the tradition, prayer beads are used in some form of prayer, appealing to a higher power in whatever form that might be, God, the Universe, Allah, Mother Nature, etc…we look for guidance and help to find strength, understanding and wisdom throughout different stages of life. Meditation beads are a device to help build meaningful ritual in our lives; ritual provides stability, focus and a way to engage our energies in a more positive and beneficial way.

If you have ever held a mala in your hands, you have likely felt feel the sense of
grounding, comfort and positive power that emanates from the beads. Composed of wood, seed or semi-precious gemstone beads, the cool feel of the stones is reassuring to the touch. These natural materials remind us of our connection to the earth and the universe as a whole.