Across various religions, cultures, yoga studios to fashion runways, lots of people are wearing prayer beads, spiritually known as malas, as fashionable necklaces around the world. Yet these little beaded necklaces have a deep, powerful history and significant meaning steeped in tradition and symbolism. Every mala necklace traditionally have 108 beads along with what is usually called a guru bead, and each bead evokes an energetic frequency based on its material, whether stone or seed.
So what is the Significance of 108?
The number 108 has a range of significance across many different cultures and disciplines. For example, this number informs the architecture of sacred texts that are central to yoga and eastern philosophy. There are 108 recognized chapters of the Rig Veda, 108 Upanishads and 108 primary Tantras. These texts are written in Sanskrit, a language comprising 54 letters, each with a masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) form, 54 x 2 = 108. Listed below are just a few of the many relationships that carry this number.
According to traditional Buddhism, 108 represents the number of mortal desires of mankind which one must overcome to achieve Nirvana. - Mala Beads are often used as a meditation tool. For this purpose, there are 108 beads so that a mantra can be recited 100 times as you move your fingers along the beads.
Ayurveda, Sanatana Dharma and Other Religions
In in the field of Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred places, or marmas, in the body, identifying intersections of matter and consciousness. When manipulated, these points can awaken and align the vital energy. Members of the Vedic tradition see this number as denoting the wholeness of the universe: one represents the solar masculine, zero represents the lunar feminine and eight represents the infinite nature of all things. In the classic japa mala, used in Buddhism and Hinduism, there are 108 beads used for prayer and mantra.
Mathematics, Astronomy, Sacred Geometry & Vedic Astrology
Mathematicians favor the number 108 for its countless patterns and potential divisions. For example, it is divisible by the sum of its parts and most of its proper divisors, making it a semi-perfect number. Through the lens of astronomy, the diameter of the sun is approximately 108 times that of earth and the distance from our planet to its solar star is, on average, 108 times the diameter of the sun. A similar parallel relationship also exists between the earth and the moon.
According to Vedic cosmology, 108 is the basis of creation, represents the universe and all our existence. In Hinduism, we believe that outer cosmology should mirror our inner spirituality because our ultimate realization is that we are one in the same.
So what exactly is a Mala?
A mala, meaning garland in Sanskrit, evokes a circular, continuous form. In practice, a mala is the devoted offering of repeated cycles (typically in divisors of 108) of mantra japa or yoga asana. Within a mala, there is always a sense of beginning, continuing and completion. Both inside each individual cycle and in the practice as a whole. This three-form (trimurti) quality allows us to embody, in practice, the rhythmic cycles ever-present in the natural universe: creation (srishti), sustaining (sthiti) and destruction (samhara). Many people also use wrist malas, bead bracelets, crystals and gemstones because of their beneficial effects on the wearer.
How to Meditate using your Mala
You can use your malas to meditate anytime, anywhere. First, select a mantra, intention or prayer that you would like to repeat.
Choosing & Reciting Your Mantra
You can focus your mantra on yourself or on others. There are many to choose from, in English or Sanskrit. Choose the right one for you and go with it. Through your practice, your malas will become infused with the energy of your mantra and prayer. Keep in mind that some practitioners believe each mala has one unique mantra or dedicated prayer. Here are a few ideas:
- May all beings be happy, peaceful and free from suffering
- I am loved, I am loving, I am love
- Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
- Om mani padme hum
Counting the Beads During Pranayama
Find a comfortable seat and hold your malas in one hand. Start with the guru bead, the large bead at the bottom. Hold it between your thumb and middle finger, then start moving your fingers along each bead and repeating your mantra aloud or silently. The index finger represents ego, so try not to use your index finger as you count. Try closing your eyes, repeating your mantra, and feeling for the guru bead, which signifies you have reached 108.
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