Often I wear my mala. It is one made of sandalwood beads bought at the Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai (in the office of the monk chat and silence retreats is a corner with mala’s). It has 108 beads and I exchanged some beads with colored ones and bigger marker beads to be aware of the 27th, 54th ad 81th position or for when I want to do a shorter meditation.

Normally the mala is 108 bead competed with a guru bead or sumeru. (so 109 beads in total). The guru bead is usually bigger or has another form and indicates the beginning or the end. In some traditions the beads are supposed not to touch each other. To prevent this there is a knot in between the beads. There are also mala’s of 27 or 54 beads. Other traditions use mala’s of 100 or 111 beads.

The mala can be made of (sandal)wood, crystal glass, gemstones or Rudraksha seeds. Every material, gemstone or crystal has her own effect and energy. In general they say that you just have to buy the mala that appeals for you. You can also choose the color that relates to the chakra you want to open more.

In Sanskrit (the language of ancient India), the practice of repeating a mantra or the name of a deity is called ‘japa‘. That’s why you often see the word “japa mala” when it is related to Hinduism or Buddhism.

Why 108

The 108 has a lot of possible explanations

  • 108 is the sacred number in Hinduism and other religions because there are for example 108 attendants of Shiva of 108 followers of Krishna
  • The 1 stands for God or the Universal Energy, 0 stands for emptiness and humility in spiritual practice and 8 stands for infinity and timelessness
  • 27 constellations (stars) x 4 padas (parts)
  • 12 zodiac houses x 9 planets
  • There are 108 Upanishads Scriptures of the Vedas
  • There are also 27 lunar mansions in Vedic astrology spread over the four elements,
  • The distance between the Earth and sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun.
  • There are 108 energy lines, or nadis, converging to form the heart chakra, and 108 marmas (pressure points) or sacred parts of the body

A lot of explanations refer to the fact that the number 108 represents the whole universe. So if you have counted or done something 108 times, you covered and remembered the whole universe by feeling and touching the presence of deity of the mantra in it thus reminding or connecting us to the Universal Self.

108 is also seen in the number of names of deities in Hinduism, the number of sacred sites in India or the 108 delusions in Tibetan Buddhism. But it is unclear what is cause and what is effect. (or just coincidence)

How to use the mala

The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. The use of a mala is very personal so you can always adjust the way you use it. The common practice is

  • Find a calm place. If you want you can set an intention.
  • Drape your mala over your ring finger of your right hand. Move to the next bead clockwise by using your middle finger and thumb. You can also drape the mala over your middle finger.Don’t use the index finger, it is said that it is linked with the ego, the greatest obstacle for self-realization, so it is considered best avoided when chanting on a mala.
  • Every time before moving to another bead you can
    • just count the bead. Some people like to start at 1 and count up, other people prefer to count down
    • do an inhalation and an exhalation.
    • You can use a mantra, say it in yourself, whisper it or say it aloud. Examples are
      • om (“the sound of the universe”)
      • so hum (“I am who I am”)
      • I am enough
      • I love being me
      • I am in the right place at the right time
      • love begins with me
  • When you have reached the guru bead, and you want to do another round, don’t go over it but go the opposite direction.

This video shows how to use it (from 1:11)

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