Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 2, 2017 11:41
I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created. I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.
Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.
A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention. Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.
The Thread: "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together. The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.
The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.
The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life. They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.
The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit. The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.
The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together. It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings. It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.
Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.
Under My Thumb....or...What Is a Mala, Anyway? April 11, 2015 18:55
The Rolling Stones are slated to appear in Indianapolis on July 4 later this year. WTTS, a local, independent radio station, just played “Under My Thumb” as a tribute and a reminder to listeners to “buy your tickets now.” The iconic Stones have been around forever, and they are still rockin’ and rollin’ for their fans today.
Malas have also been rockin’ and rollin’ since the dawn of mankind. Every culture and religion on the planet has incorporated rosaries, prayer beads, japa malas, or subha as a way to deepen their spiritual practice. The materials, designs, and even number of beads may vary, but the common denominator is the same—to be still, to climb inside, and to connect with Universal Source, God, Allah, Shakti, Shiva, Spirit, Energy, Light….whatever name we choose to call that creative force that’s bigger than ourselves.
So, what is a mala?
* Mala means “garland” in Sanskrit. It is a strand of beads used for mantra meditations, recitations, or chanting.
* A mala is a meditation tool that contains 108 beads (although some contain 27 or 54 beads). Some malas include additional marker beads or counter beads, which are not counted as part of the meditation cycle. Instead, these marker beads function as reflection points or pauses, giving the meditator the opportunity to reconnect with his/her intention or focus.
* The large guru bead (teacher bead/guiding bead) or pendant acts as the starting and ending point. However, the guru is not counted, and it is never crossed if the meditator chooses to chant/recite more than one circuit.
* Malas (like prayer beads and rosaries) have been used for centuries as a meditation aid in virtually every spiritual or religious practice. You don’t have to belong to a particular religion or denomination to use a mala.
* Some meditators prefer to wear their mala as it reminds them of their intentions or affirmations throughout the day.
* Malas can also be used to decorate a sacred space. They add color and texture to an altar space or shrine.
* Some yoga practitioners wear their malas during practice or keep them on their mats to absorb the energy of their practice. A mala is a tangible reminder of the spiritual and mental benefits of their practice.
* Use a mala to recite or chant a mantra, prayer, or affirmation for each bead in the circuit. Recitations can be silent, whispered, spoken aloud, or sung.
Middle Moon Malas are hand-knotted between each gemstone bead, seed, or bead unit. This allows the meditator to see and feel more of the bead between the finger and thumb while meditating. Traditionally, full malas contain 108 beads. Why? While open to interpretation, there are more than 108 reasons why this number is so significant. Here are just a few:
* 108 is a “harshad” number, which is Sanskrit for “great joy.” A harshad number is an integer that is divisible by the sum of its digits. 1+0+8 = 9. 108 divided by 9 = 12.
* Any mathematician will tell you there’s power in numbers. One to the first power (1x1), times two to the second power (2x2=4), times three to the third power (3x3x3= 27), equals 108.
* 108 energy lines or nadis converge to create the heart chakra—and one of them, the Sushumna, is believed to be the path to realization.
* There are 108 qualities of praiseworthy souls and 108 stages along the journey of the human soul.
* The number 108 connect to the relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth. The metal silver is associated with the moon. The atomic weight of silver is 108 (well, it’s actually 107.8682, but we’ll round up).
* In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, there are 54 letters in the alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine form, Shiva and Shakti. Consequently, 54 times 2 = 108.
You can sing, chant, whisper, or think the mantra that you choose to use with your mala. Your mantra can be a traditional prayer (“Our Father”) or a traditional Sanskrit mantra (“Om gum ganapatyai namaha). It can be a personal affirmation, a phrase, or a single word that helps you connect with your intention, purpose, or source.
You can use different mantras for the same mala, or, each mala can have its own mantra. I am a collector of malas, and I tend to favor the latter approach. One of my favorite mantras comes from Aibileen Clark, a character from Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Mantras can be as personal and specific or as universal and general as you’d like. They can inspire, uplift, instruct, or honor a concept, belief, philosophy, deity, guide, or ethical code of your choosing. Each bead on your mala resonates with the mantra that you choose, and the repetition creates a soothing flow, allowing you to absorb and connect with the message more deeply. Just like the lyric goes, and in meditation, too, “It’s down to me…the change has come…under my thumb.”