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How to use a Tibetan mala or Tibetan prayer beads

We are often asked how to use a Tibetan mala or Tibetan prayer beads. We hope this blog post will answer some common questions about Tibetan malas.

Through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store, we sell long malas and wrist malas made and blessed by Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery.

What are Buddhist prayer beads?

Malas or Tibetan Buddhsit prayer beads are similar to other prayer beads used in various world religions. Some people have called the mala a Buddhist rosary, but in Tibetan, a mala is called a threngwa (Tibetan  ཕྲེང་བ). Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning “garland”. Malas are used to keep track while one recites, chants, or mentally repeats a mantra or the name or names of a deity. Malas are used as a tool to keep count of mantra repetitions. Mantras are spiritual syllables or prayers and are usually repeated many times.

Mandala Mudra, authentic mala beads, mudra, Olivier Adam, Tibetan mudra, Tibetan Buddhist nun, mala

A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the Mandala Mudra with her mala (Buddhist prayer beads). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

How are malas used?

Malas are used to help focus one’s awareness and concentration during spiritual practice. Long malas, as opposed to the shorter wrist malas, have 108 beads. The summit or head bead is called the guru bead or a sumeru. In Tibetan Buddhism, one mala constitutes 100 recitations of a mantra. There are 8 additional recitations done to ensure proper concentration.

What is the meaning of a guru bead?

In Tibetan Buddhism, people traditionally use malas with 108 counting beads and a special, three-holed, finishing bead called a “guru” bead or “Buddha” bead. Often the 108-bead malas have additional marker beads that may or may not be counted and that divide the mala into quadrants, constituting 108 counting beads all together.

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A long Tibetan mala from the Tibetan Nuns Project collection showing the guru bead. The guru bead has three stringing holes and here also has a smaller tower-shaped bead that holds the ends of the string.

The guru bead represents the relationship between the student and the guru or spiritual teacher. To use the mala, you start counting from the bead next to the guru bead. When you reach the guru bead again, it signifies the end of one round in the cycle of mantras.

Once you have completed a full circuit of the mala and reached the guru bead again, you reverse direction by flipping your mala. Then you continue again in reverse order. Most people believe that you do not cross over the guru bead as a sign of respect towards one’s spiritual teachers.

How do you hold and use a mala or prayer beads?

The mala is held with gentleness and respect, generally in the left hand. To use your mala, hold it with your left hand and begin to recite from the guru bead, clockwise around the mala, using your thumb to move the beads. Count one bead for each recitation of the mantra. The first bead is held between the index finger and thumb, and with each recitation of the mantra move your thumb to pull another bead in place over the index finger.

Why is the number 108 sacred?

The number 108 is sacred in many Eastern religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. In Tibetan Buddhism malas or rosaries are usually 108 beads plus the guru bead, reflecting the words of the Buddha called in Tibetan the Kangyur in 108 volumes.

How to care for your mala

Malas are sacred objects believed to be charged with the energy of the deity. They should be treated with great reverence.

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An elderly nun at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India gently holds her Tibetan mala. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

As with all sacred objects, such as books and other spiritual instruments, one should keep malas off the ground. If your mala accidentally lands on the ground, you should touch it to the crown of your head and recite the sacred syllables Om Ah Hum, three times.

The mala should not be worn while bathing, or allowed to get wet, as this may weaken the cord on which the mala beads are strung. It is best to remove your mala before going to sleep so that you do not accidentally stress the cord and break it.

The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute also make and sell mala bags so that malas can be carefully protected.

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A selection of mala bags made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Our online store has a wide range of bags made from different fabrics and in different colors.

Choosing a Mala

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to wear a mala. The Tibetan Nuns Project has different kinds of long malas, each hand strung, knotted, and blessed by nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala in India. They are made from materials such as semiprecious stones, sandalwood, and bone and they range in price from $15 to $45.

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Assorted Tibetan Buddhist bone malas from the Tibetan Nuns Project

Long malas can be worn as a necklace or wrapped around your wrist. By purchasing these malas, you help provide the nuns with food, shelter, education, and health care – something you can feel great about every time you use your mala.

Our online store also has many types of wrist malas too, ranging in price from $11 to $22, and also made and blessed by the nuns at Dolma Ling. The wrist malas are approximately 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and strung on elastic to fit most wrists.

Types of Malas

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Our online store sells dozens of types of wrist and long malas, made of wood, bone, and semi-precious stones like amethyst, garnet, jade, and lapis.

Here’s a list of some types of malas and their special properties:

Amethyst is the stone of spirituality and contentment. It balances the energy of one’s intellectual, emotional, and physical bodies.

Garnet enhances internal fire and brings about creative power. It is helpful during feelings of abandonment and brings freshness to one’s life.

Granite helps with balance in relationships, fosters cooperative efforts and facilitates diplomacy. It helps increase wealth while allowing the recipient to remain modest.

Jade assists in dream analysis and grants the user a long and fruitful life. It helps with the transition from this body to the spiritual world.

Lapis provides objectivity, clarity, and mental endurance during times of realizing emotions. It also helps with creativity, organization, and with easing depression.

Malachite creates an unobstructed path leading to a desired goal and helps the user accept responsibility for actions and circumstances.

Moonstone fosters balance, introspection, and reflection. It helps deal with emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual changes, and helps in recognizing “ups and downs”.

Pearl signifies faith, charity, and innocence. It enhances personal integrity, provides focus, and is used to increase fertility and ease childbirth.

Quartz amplifies body and thought energy. It also brings the energy of the stars to the body.

Rose quartz creates harmony and self-love during chaotic situations. It is the stone of gentle love and brings peace to relationships.

Sandstone builds and strengthens relationships and/or groups. It provides insight into deceit and encourages truth.

Tiger eye brings about clarity when dealing with scattered intellectual fragments. This stone is practical and grounding.

Turquoise heals the spirit with soothing energy and provides peace-of-mind. It holds both spiritual and protective properties, and balances the male and female aspects of one’s character.

Visit our online store.

Buying Mala Beads

The nuns buy from local Indian or Tibetan vendors for their beads. The beads are then hand strung and knotted into mala form. Once complete, the malas are then blessed by the nuns. We try to keep our prices reasonable so that our prayer beads can be accessed by everyone.

Tibetan Buddhist prayers or pujas by the nuns

Prayers have power. Buddhists believe that prayers can help relieve suffering and overcome obstacles. It is a belief that is shared by many of the world’s religions.

Tibetans recite mantras and prayers to purify the mind, to deal with negative emotions, to increase merit, and to invite help from the Buddha and various enlightened beings or deities.

Buddhist nuns saying prayers

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition and sometimes as many as 10,000 are offered. Butter lamps may be offered for many occasions, such as when someone is starting a new venture, to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or graduation, to say thank you, or when you or someone you know is in trouble. This photo shows nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery offering 1,000 butter lamps and saying prayers as part of a sponsored puja for someone who was ill. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns pray daily. They also perform pujas, which are special ceremonies in which prayers are offered to the Buddha and other deities to request help, to receive blessings, and to purify obstacles due to past karma or actions.

butter lamps, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling, Dharamsala

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery prepare hundreds of butter lamps for a special puja.

How to request a Puja or Prayers

You can ask the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India to perform prayers and pujas on your behalf.

People around the world are able to sponsor pujas or prayers through our Tibetan Nuns Project website. You can sponsor prayers in honor of loved ones, friends, family members, or even pets who may be suffering from obstacles, ill health, or who have passed away.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to request prayers by the Tibetan nuns.

torma, Tibetan Buddhism, Dolma Ling

Tibetan Buddhist nuns prepare tormas for a puja. Tormas are figures made mostly of flour and butter used in tantric rituals or as offerings. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

There are many different types of prayers or pujas to choose from, depending on your wishes and the problems that you wish to overcome. Full descriptions of each puja and its use are available on our website in the Prayers and Pujas section of our online store.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project please provide information about who the prayers are to be directed to and for what purpose. The funds given to the nuns to sponsor pujas are used to purchase supplies and also help to support the nunnery as a whole.

A gift of prayer is something very special. As soon as we receive your request for a puja or for the offering of butter lamps, we will send you a thank you message by email. As soon as possible after that, the nuns will send a confirmation note to you from India to let you know that the puja has been performed. Continue reading

Tribute cards make great gifts for any occasion

Sometimes it’s hard to think of ideas for special gifts for people. If you’re searching for a meaningful gift in honor or in memory of a loved one, a friend, a colleague, or a teacher, then you may want to consider ordering a Tibetan Nuns Project tribute card.

tribute cards

This collage shows our five original tribute card designs. In May, we will be printing 5 new cards with photos by Olivier Adam

How tribute cards and gifts work

Choose one of our five different tribute card designs and we’ll mail the card to you or directly to the person you wish to honor with your gift. This is the perfect gift for any occasion. You can:

  • Celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary;
  • Give a gift for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or a special occasion such as graduation;
  • Send get well wishes;
  • Extend your condolences;
  • Pay tribute to your teacher or a colleague
  • Honor someone special or the memory of a loved one

Tribute cards are the perfect way to help the nuns in India while showing you care.

Tribute card gifts may be made online by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, cheque or cash. Minimum contribution: $15

Tribute card message

We have two options for messages in the tribute cards:

OPTION 1:  A handwritten gift note with the following text will be included with the card:

Dear _______,
A generous gift to the Tibetan Nuns Project has been made in your honor by _________. Warmest wishes and thank you on behalf of the nuns.
Lisa
Lisa Farmer
Executive Director
Tibetan Nuns Project

OPTION 2:  If you prefer to write a short personal note enter it into the “Alternative Card Text” box listed above before clicking “Give Now” to add it to your cart.

To make a tribute gift you can:

  1. Order a tribute card through our online store
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901 (Monday-Friday)
  3. Mail a check a note about your tribute gift to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Pay tribute to someone by sponsoring a nun or by giving to a specific project or fund. If so, make your donation using this button and note the tribute in the “Comments” box.

Make a Donation

If you have questions, please contact us at our Seattle, WA office by calling 1-206-652-8901 or emailing us at info@tnp.org

Tibetan freedom bracelets

Tibetan freedom bracelets have been a popular item in the Tibetan Nuns Project online store for many years.

Tibetan freedom braceletFreedom or rangzen bracelets were first made by Tibetan political prisoners near Lhasa. In prison, they were woven from white and black yak hair or from whatever bits of thread were available. Their pattern of “nine eyes” has a deep historical significance. The design is based on the traditional slingshot used by Tibetan shepherds and nomads to protect their herds from wolves.

traditional Tibetan sling

Traditional Tibetan sling

So the sling came to symbolize the conquering power of good over evil. Over time, the people of Tibet took up the idea so that even city dwellers owned slings as a sort of protective force. They were kept in a yang-gam, a small box that contained precious stones, gold, silver, and blessed objects. It was believed that owning a sling heightened your defensive power and would make you victorious.

Continue reading