mad in pursuit notebook


Praying with Beads: Buddhist Style

Buddhist Mala from Tibet

My fascination with "meaningful" beads continues. Shown here is a Buddhist mala from Tibet -- their analog for a rosary. It has 108 beads. Buddhists use it to count repetitions of the mantra om mani padme hum ("the jewel at the heart of the lotus"), the "true words of Buddha" that put them on the path to enlightenment. The three larger beads at the end symbolize the three jewels of Buddhism: the Buddha himself (largest bead), his teachings (dharma), and the monastic way or community founded by Buddha (sangha).

detail of Buddhist mala from Tibet

I've read that Buddhist are free to wear their malas like a necklace. I have 3 or 4 of them in my collection, but they were all strung very tightly on old string, so lacked that loose hand-appeal that rosaries have. So I took it upon myself to restring this one one on cord.

I've always assumed this particular style was made from bone, but now that I can see them better I'm not so sure. In a groove around the circumference of each bead is glued either chips of turquoise and coral or a band of brass or copper.

The first one Jim got for me was sold to him as bone "carved from a dead monk's skull." Maybe it was; maybe it wasn't -- but whoever prepared it for sale darkened the "bone" with commercial shoe polish. It reeked of Shinola... and that smell just wouldn't fade away. It destroyed the whole sacred object vibe, so I sold it. I really need that illusion of authenticity.

Aug 30, 2012