You may be wondering what a Mala is and why/how it is used to help you meditate. Hopefully, you will commit to this somewhat lengthy, but revealing blog post to help you come into a better understanding.
Malas are sacred and hold great power. They are living, energetic entities that have vibrational qualities capable of bringing about profound insights and changes for the practitioner.
I believe that having and using any Mala that you are attracted to or that ‘feels’ right is better than touted qualities from various materials used in a particular Mala. But, certainly, different materials have their own unique vibrations. It is thought that Agate brings grounding and is a perfect meditation stone. Jade is thought to bring luck. Wood brings you wisdom from the ancestors, and so on. If you don’t already have a Mala, make sure that you acquire one that you intuit is “Just Right”. This way you will want to use her more because she possesses qualities that seem authentically perfect for you personally. You can read about the healing properties of crystals with a google search if you are set on a specific stone and vibration.
Mala means garland because it is fashioned from a specific number (108 for Tibetan Malas) of 6, 8, or 10 mm round wood, semiprecious or other beads and divided by spacers into four sections of 27 that are strung on a circular string such as silk, wire or hemp that culminate in a Guru bead and a tassel.
The numerology is thought to be significant. The 27 bead sections represent a number that goes into 108 evenly (1 represents the singularity, 0 represents no- thing, 8 represents infinity… all things). It is also a Harshad number… 2 + 7 = 9 and 108 divided by 9 is 12… both are sacred. The number 9 represents the perfect movement of God and is also the number of patience, harmony, meditation, inspiration. In addition, 9 is a symbol of creation and represents the fullness and rhythms of life. 3 represents any triad… mother, father, child; father, son, Holy Ghost; body, mind, soul; above, below, within. And, 3 x 9 = 27.
The Guru bead is called thusly because a Guru is someone who removes darkness… ignorance. Anyone or thing can be considered a Guru if you are able to learn from that person or thing and move closer to the light or understanding. The spacers section your Mala and provide opportunities for pausing… creating space, and the tassel signifies enlightenment and the place where you enter the circle of your Mala (garland) in the hope that you can reach Turiya (full realization), and end the cycle of birth/death.
In general, Mala use is a tactile, sensory tool that facilitates concentration, a sense of calm and grounding, and aids the practitioner with keeping track of how many times a mantra or prayer is recited.
A mantra is a sacred utterance/vibration such as a word, sound, brief phrase, prayer or intention that is used to bring about a desired benefit and a transformation of the mind. “Man” means mind and “tra” means transport.
Choosing a mantra can be as simple as using a favorite prayer, chant, or a mantra you already know or have researched. Or, if you have a specific intention for your life, you can program your Mala with that and then repeat that intention as your mantra.
Ajapa Japa is a form of repetition that does not require mantra repetition. In other words, just listening to the breath or feeling the beads and listening inwardly becomes the mantra. It is felt that over time, one can learn to “hear” the natural sound the breath makes of “Soham” meaning “I am That”. Or, inverted, “Hamsa” meaning “That I am”. This is a powerful way of identifying oneself with the ultimate reality.
AUM- the universal sound from the first vibration that brought forth all of manifestation, is another viable option. This mantra represents birth, death and rebirth as well as transcendence of the 3 states of consciousness: waking, sleeping, deep dreamless sleep.
My personal favorite is the “Calming Mantra”… internally repeat “peace” on the in-breath, “be still” on the out-breath. This mantra is a favorite of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who was forced to leave his country because he touted peace and civility during the Vietnamese war.
Using a Mala and mantra in conjunction is a method of meditation called Japa. This type of practice is touted as quintessential for bringing one into present centered awareness aka mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is the energy of being awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive and present with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car, or take our morning tea.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
When we are mindful, choosing to pay attention on purpose in a specific way without judgement or drama, we are better able to think with clarity and remain emotionally calm and centered. We become more still, more grounded through the center of our being. This is a way to cultivate a perception of “coming home to yourself”. And, this is the very essence all mindfulness practices.
Mala and mantra use is an ancient practice that was initially used by laypersons desirous of ridding themselves of fret and worry. The Japamala (the name of the Mala when used with a mantra) was used as a way to adapt the monastic discipline to the limits and demands of non monastic life. One legend that is popular is that King Vaidunya asked the Buddha how to practice the dharma simply (as it was too profound and extensive for most). He wanted one practice that he could engage in and share… one that would help folks find comfort and a sense of calm. The Buddha responded by instructing him to make a circular string of bodhi seeds, hold them and recite these 3 phrases on each seed, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha (Awakened One), I take refuge in the dharma (the practice), I take refuge in the sangha (the community)’. It wasn’t until later that the monks themselves began to use this technique for their own sense of calm and collectedness.
Voila, using a Japamala to count mantra repetitions (Japa) was born and continues to evolve and change.
So, you have your Japamala and your mantra and your are ready to practice Japa. Follow these steps and you are well on your way to more peace and joy, greater awareness, and being more mindfully present with everything and everyone.
Step 1: Find a Mala and pick a mantra
Step 2: Purifying, Activating, Programming your Mala-
I prefer the visualization method as it is your vibrational intention being sent to your Mala in order that you and your Mala can align and co-create your personal intention. To do this, hold your Mala and visualize old energy moving out of the entire Mala and a purifying white cleansing light moving in. Stay with this for several minutes. Then awaken and activate it by visualizing each part of the Mala waking up and vibrating as it was intended. When programming your Mala, internally repeat your intention on each bead. Do not purify or re-activate until your intention has come to fruition or you no longer desire that intention.
Step 3: If you are not yet ready for a full round of Japa, you can opt to start your practice by simply placing your Mala in a sacred space (create a home altar) where you will see her regularly. When you feel compelled, pick up your Mala and sense the weight, color, luster and other qualities possessed and then put her back down. At some point, when you are ready, sit down with your Mala, eyes closed, breathe in and out until you feel like getting up. You can continue in this manner for many weeks. At some point, however, you will need to sit and practice rounds of Japa (mantra repetition) to facilitate further healing and consciousness raising.
Step 4: Japa
Sit with your Mala in your right hand thumb and third finger on the first bead to the right of the Guru bead. The other hand can be palm down on thigh (grounding) or palm up (energizing). Pause and feel, connecting to your breath and your Mala. Repeat your mantra internally or out loud on each bead as you make your way around the circle to the other side. Do not repeat your mantra on the spacer beads, simply pause and allow for space. Listen inwardly. When you reach the other side, do not cross over your Guru bead, flip the Mala and go back around. If you opt not to go back around. Pause on your Guru bead and offer up gratitude for your teachers, the practice, the community. Pause briefly.
This is Using a Mala for Meditation.
With daily formal practice, you will be more likely to take the elevated consciousness garnered into more moments of your day as part of an informal yoga practice.
Remember, that ALL stones, wood, and Mala’s can provide healing based upon your chosen intention no matter which stones, colors, or numeric configurations are chosen. The same holds true for your chosen mantra. Your personal needs, desires, & programming as well as how, and how often, you use your Mala will do more to impact your Mala’s healing benefits than any other thing. Use your Mala regularly and with patience knowing that your intentions will come to fruition. Make sure you “look/listen/feel” and “see/hear/know” as the gifts you receive show up in your everyday experiences.
Be ready for change.