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How to Use and Choose a Tibetan Mala

Malas are Tibetan Buddhist prayer beads used in spiritual and meditation practice. We hope this blog post will answer some common questions such as how to use a mala, the meaning and power of the different stones, and how to choose a mala for your own practice.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the complex Mandala Offering Mudra with her Tibetan mala. This sacred hand gesture acts as a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The Tibetan Nuns Project sells both long malas and wrist malas through our online store. The malas come in a wide range of semiprecious stones and other materials and they are made and blessed by Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The sale of these malas helps support nuns at seven nunneries in northern India.

What is a Tibetan Mala?

Malas are similar to other prayer beads used in various world religions. Some people call the mala a Buddhist rosary, but in Tibetan a mala is called a threngwa (Tibetan  ཕྲེང་བ). Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning “garland”.

You use a mala to keep track while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating 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 usually repeated many times.

How do you use a Tibetan mala?

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

How to Use a Tibetan mala

A Tibetan Buddhist nun recites mantras with her mala. She holds it in her left hand and uses her thumb to move each bead over her index finger. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Hold your mala with gentleness and respect. 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. The summit or head bead is called the guru bead or a sumeru. Count one bead for each recitation of the mantra such as Om Mani Padme Hum. 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

How to Choose a Mala

People often ask if it is OK to wear mala beads. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to wear or use a mala. Malas are powerful tools for meditation and you can wear a mala to remind yourself of your intention to have a calm mind, body, and spirit and to benefit others.

The Tibetan Nuns Project has many different kinds of long malas, each hand strung, knotted, and blessed by nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala in northern India. The nuns make malas from semiprecious stones, wood, and bone beads. Long malas range in price from $10 to $45.

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Assorted wood and seed malas from the Tibetan Nuns Project. Sandalwood and rosewood have been over-harvested so to conserve these species the malas we sell are a symbolic representation of these woods.

You can wear your long mala around your neck as a necklace or wrapped around your wrist. By purchasing these malas, you help provide the nuns with food, shelter, education, and health care. This is something you can feel great about every time you use your mala!

Our online store also has many types of wrist malas, ranging in price from $14 to $26, and also blessed by the Dolma Ling nuns. The wrist malas are approximately 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and strung on elastic to fit most wrists.

Different 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 of the types of malas and their special properties. You can see the full range here.:

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”.

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.

You can support the Tibetan Buddhist nuns by purchasing a mala here. Thank you!