Mala beads, also known as the Buddhist Rosary are a string of usually 108 beads used to aid recitation of mantras during meditation. Some mala have less, 21 or 28 are used for prostrations.
They are used in meditation to help focus the mind. Meditation can be quite difficult: you can either feel too relaxed and drift off into sleep or your mind is all over the place, jumping from thought to thought and finding it difficult to concentrate. Mala beads help anchor the mind to the task in hand and provide a focus for your mantra. They can also help you regulate the rythm of your mantra and your breathing.
There are many different kinds of mala, most are made from wood: rosewood, tulasi, sandalwood, all of which have different properties. For example sandalwood promotes tranquillity during meditation, rosewood strengthens the aura and tulasi is an extremely sacred wood used in the worship of Shri Krishna.
You can also buy gemstone crystal mala which again can be chosen to enhance the spiritual, emotional and physical, as different crystals have properties which heal and enhance all of these. For example appeasing mantras should be recited using white beads, such as crystal or mother of pearl and increasing mantras should be recited using gold, copper, silver or lotus seed malas. Rose Quartz is known to stimulate the heart chakra and to promote gentleness, patience and compassion, so would be a good choice for meditations focusing on affairs of the heart or in order to develop more of these traits. Malachite helps release negativity and restore balance and peace of mind, so would be a good choice of mala for meditations to enhance positive thoughts and self belief.
Recitation of the mantra is started at the bead adjoining the sumuru or summit bead and then at each recitation you move on a bead. When you reach the sumeru again, continue round in the opposite direction this time. Your mala should be held in your right hand, never let your index finger come into contact with the beads and don’t touch the sumeru or summit bead, this is just a guide. Use your thumb to lightly touch each bead as you recite. Don’t count the sumeru either, just continue until you have recited 108 time
When deciding on a mantra, make the intent as clear as possible and don’t spend too long thinking about it, be guided by your intuition or gut feeling. If possible it is better to choose a fresh mala when you change mantras, as it becomes infused with the energy of the old mantra.
With regular use, your mala absorbs the vibrations of your mantra and becomes charged with your energy. It eventually becomes your own portable sacred space, imbued with your intent to change. You should store your mala in a bag or pouch and never let them fall onto the floor. They are not traditionally worn around the neck or wrist, but kept purely for meditation purposes. Although some people like to wear them or allow others to, once they have become charged with energy from the meditations.
To sum up, it is not vital to meditation to use mala beads, but for many people, especially novices, it is a useful tool to help the mind stay focused on the repetition of the mantras. It also helps you keep count of the number of repetitions you have made. An extra benefit of using mala beads is that you can choose a material that balances and enhances the intentions of your mantra.