Buddhist prayer beads

Buddhist prayer beads
Juzu

Buddhist prayer beads are a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited whilst meditating. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions; thus some call this tool the Buddhist rosary.

Contents

Mala

Set of Japa mala, made from Tulasi wood, with head bead in foreground
Buddhist prayer beads of 100yen shop

A Japa mala or mala (Sanskrit:माला; mālā, meaning garland[1]) (Tib. threngwa[2]) is a set of beads commonly used by Hindus and Buddhists, usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers, usually divisible by 9, are also used. Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This practice is known in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with 19, 21, 27, 54 or 108 beads.

In Tibetan Buddhism, traditionally malas of 108 beads are used. Some practitioners use malas of 21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations. Doing one 108-bead mala counts as 100 mantra recitations {5}, the extra repetitions done to amend any mistakes in pronunciation or other faults of recitation.

Malas are mainly used to count mantras. These mantras can be recited for different purposes linked to working with mind. The material used to make the beads can vary according to the purpose of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for all purposes and all kinds of mantras. These beads can be made from the wood of the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa), or from 'Bodhi' seeds, which is a misnomer as the seeds are from a tree related to the Rudraksha (Elaeocarpus ganitrus) and not the Bodhi tree (being a fig tree, its seeds are inside a tiny fig, and are minuscule). The scientific name of this tree, native to Nepal, is yet to be determined.[3] Another general-purpose mala is made from another unknown seed, the beads themselves called 'Moon and Stars' by Tibetans, and variously called 'lotus root', 'lotus seed' and 'linden nut' by various retailers. The bead itself is very hard and dense, ivory coloured (which gradually turns a deep golden brown with long use), and has small holes (moons) and tiny black dots (stars) covering its surface.

Pacifying mantras should be recited using white colored malas. Materials such as crystal, pearl, shell/conch or mother of pearl are preferable. These can serve to purify the mind and clear away obstacles like illness, bad karma and mental disturbances. Using pearls is not practical however, as repeated use will destroy their iridescent layer. Most often pearl malas are used for showing off or 'Dharma jewelry'.

Increasing mantras should be recited using malas of gold, silver, copper and amber. The mantras counted on these can "serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit."[3]

Mantras for magnetizing should be recited using malas made of saffron, lotus seed, sandalwood, or other forms of wood including elm wood, peach wood, and rosewood. However, it is said the most effective is made of Mediterranean oxblood coral, which, due to a ban on harvesting, is now very rare and expensive.

Mantras to tame by forceful means should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads or bone. Reciting mantras with this kind of mala serves to tame others, but with the motivation to unselfishly to help other sentient beings.[3] To tame by forceful means, means to subdue harmful energies, such as "extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions"[3]. Malas for these mantras are made from Rudraksha seeds, or even human bones, with 108 beads on the string. Only a person that is motivated by great compassion for all beings, including those they try to tame, can do this.[3]

The mala string should be composed of three, five or nine threads, symbolizing the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), the five Dhyani Buddhas (Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi) and their wisdoms or the nine yanas or Buddha Vajradhara and eight Bodhisattvas. The large main bead, called the Guru bead, symbolizes the Guru, from whom one has received the mantra one is reciting. It is usually recommended that there be three vertical beads in decreasing size at this point: one white (Nirmanakaya) one red (Sambhogakaya) and one blue (Dharmakaya), or enlightened body, speech and mind.

Usage

Mantras are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions.[citation needed] One repetition is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb clockwise around each bead, though some traditions or practices may call for counterclockwise motion or specific hand and finger usage. When arriving at the Guru bead, Hindus traditionally turn the mala around and then go back in the opposing direction. However, Buddhists do not do this, passing over the Guru bead and continuing in the same direction. If more than 108 repetitions are to be done, then sometimes in Tibetan traditions grains of rice are counted out before the chanting begins and one grain is placed in a bowl for each 108 repetitions.[citation needed] Each time a full mala of repetitions has been completed, one grain of rice is removed from the bowl. Many Tibetan Buddhists have bell and dorje counters (a short string of ten beads, usually silver, with a bell or dorje at the bottom), the dorje counter used to count each round of 100, and the bell counter to count 1,000 mantras per bead. These counters are placed at different points on the mala depending on tradition, sometimes at the 10th, 21st or 25th bead from the Guru bead. Traditionally, one begins the mala in the direction of the dorje (skillful means) proceeding on to the bell (wisdom) with each round. A 'bhum' counter, often a small brass or silver clasp in the shape of a jewel or wheel, is used to count 10,000 repetitions, and is moved forward between the main beads of the mala, starting at the Guru bead, with each accumulation of 10,000 mantras.

Juzu

In Japanese Buddhism, they are known as "juzu" (数珠?, counting beads) or "nenju" (念珠?, thought beads), and both words are usually preceded by the honorific 'o-' (as in "o-juzu" (御数珠?)). Female speakers make use of the honorific o- more often than male speakers.[citation needed]

Shu zhu

In Chinese culture such beads are named shu zhu 数珠 ("counting beads"), Fo zhu 佛珠 ("Buddha beads"), or nian zhu 念珠 ("mindfulness beads").

Seik badi

Theravada Buddhists in Burma use prayer beads, called seik badi (စိပ်ပုတီး, pronounced [seiʔ bədí]), shortened to badi. 108 beads are strung on a garland, with the beads typically made of fragrant wood like sandalwood, and series of brightly coloured strings at the end of the garland.[4] It is commonly used in samatha meditation, to keep track of the number of mantras chanted during meditation.[4]

Numbers and symbolism

There are numerous explanations why there are 108 beads, with the number 108 bearing special religious significance in a number of Hindu and Buddhist traditions.[5]

Ananda Coomaraswamy holds that the numerology of the decimal numeric system was key to its inception. 108 is therefore founded in Dharmic metaphysical numerology. One for bindu; zero for shunyata and eight for ananta.

In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions or klesas.[6] There are six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by three reactions (positive, negative, or indifference) making 18 "feelings." Each of these feelings can be either "attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure" making 36 "passions", each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future.[citation needed] All the combinations of all these things makes a total of 108, which are represented by the beads in the ojuzu[7]. This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times.

In addition, practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism, use the number 108 for a different purpose. After reciting 100 mantras, eight extra mantras are done to compensate for any errors.[citation needed]

See also

References

  1. ^ Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965), written at Delhi, The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary (Fourth revised and enlarged ed.), Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, ISBN 81-208-0567-4
  2. ^ DiamondWay-Buddhism.org - Glossary Retrieved 2009-02-05
  3. ^ a b c d e Buddha Dharma Education Association and Buddhanet.com Buddhist studies: Malas (beads) Retrieved 2009-02-05
  4. ^ a b http://www.usamyanmar.net/Buddha/Article/Praying%20beads1.pdf
  5. ^ Religion Facts
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Bishop Shinsho Hanayama, "Story of the Juzu"

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