How To Use Your Mala Beads

We conduct mala bead making workshops around Singapore. In class, we briefly discuss how to use your mala for meditation purposes . . .

What is a mala?

MALA - Sanskrit word meaning “garland” is a counting device. A mala usually has 108 beads but can be any number that is a multiple of 9.

Why 108? 108 is considered to be a sacred number in the Hindu tradition and there are many theories why. One is 12 zodiacs x 9 planets = 108 which represents the whole universe . . .

The most basic mala will consist of the counting beads, a guru bead, and a tassel. Sometimes spacer beads and other add-on counting devices are used as well.

“Guru” definition - what takes you from darkness to light

Tassel - channels energy across your body if you’re wearing your mala

To make keeping track of repetitions simple, when doing more than one round of the mala, just consider one round as 100. So if you want to do a repetition of a mantra 1,000 times then you count around your 108 bead mala 10 times. This also accounts for the mind wandering during meditation.

The video shows how to hold your mala as you count the beads and how to "flip" your mala around when you reach the guru bead.

Holding your mala

Pick up your mala at the bead positioned right next to the guru bead with your thumb on top supported by your middle or ring finger (whichever is more comfortable) on the bottom.

Different traditions do different things but the most common way is to hold the beads with your thumb and middle finger and to avoid using the index finger. However, Tibetans use their index finger …. but not the Hindu’s …

Do whatever you feel comfortable with. If you’re going with the Hindu tradition, make sure you DO NOT use your index finger. Your index finger should not come into contact with your mala. Your index finger should be pointing away from you or towards the ground during usage.

The index finger is not used in the Hindu tradition because it represents the ego which is the largest obstacle in self-realization.

Move the beads towards you one by one. Move your thumb forward when you inhale. Pull the bead back when you exhale.

It is believed that:

In the Hindu tradition, it is believed that energy coming out of the thumb is good. Energy coming out of the index finger is quite negative perhaps that is why we use that finger in accusation and anger.

1. Chanting somehow purges bad energies and hidden energies through the index finger. That is why the index finger should point away from you or towards the ground.

2. Using the thumb to move the mala beads inbues the beads with good energy

3. Directing the index finger towards earth/ground makes sure that mother earth absorbs the bad energy

As you pull each bead towards you, you can say a “mantra”. This helps to keep your mind focused.

What is a mantra?

A word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.

Your “mantra” can be a traditional one or a modern one or it can just be a sound, or simply gibberish you invent. The mantra is after all only a tool used to help clear your mind of thoughts as you move each bead. So don't get too hung up on which to use. Just choose one you're comfortable with and go for it!

Your “mantra” can be traditional - “om mani padme hum”

Or some meaningless gibberish - dibbeda, dibbeda, dibbeda

Or you can simply count the numbers “one, two, three etc.”

Or just concentrate on your breathing … inhale, exhale with no mantra! 

Some simple ancient mantras to try:

1." Aum”

An oldie but a goodie, you really can’t mess this one up too badly. The “Om” is the sacred sound of Hinduism and is said to mean, variously: It Is, Will Be or To Become.

2. “Om Mani Padme Hum”

This one’s from Tibet and it means, roughly, “Hail the Jewel in the Lotus.” The jewel in this case is the Buddha of Compassion.

3. “Namo AmitaBha”

Homage to the Buddha of boundless light.

Modern Mantras:

“Love is the only miracle there is.” – Osho

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

“Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” – Laura Silva

“I change my thoughts, I change my world.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Turning your mala

When you’ve counted all the way around your mala, you come again to the guru bead. Mentally bow to the guru, flip the mala around, and start going back the other way. Each time you come to the guru bead you awaken once more, then you turn around and go back the way you came. DO NOT cross over your guru bead. Instead go back the same direction again by:

“Flipping” your mala. This may be a bit tricky at first but really simple after a few tries! Basically, your thumb that was on top of the bead should be on the bottom of the bead after you “flip” the mala. Your middle finger is now on top. Move your middle finger back to the bottom. Place your thumb on top. And start counting again! Simple, right?

Last words

In general, your mala will grow in spiritual significance as you use it for mantra recitations. When your mala is not in use, treat it with respect. Place it in a clean area, “higher” up (off the floor!), or near your altar (if you have one.) Usually people will have a mala that they meditate with that is used for that purpose only. Meaning, they do not wear it as “decoration.” So, make 2! One for your meditation practice, and one for wearing!

That’s it! Enjoy using your mala. Namaste!