Tag Archives: wrist malas

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 malas made and blessed by Buddhist nuns

Some of our most popular items in the Tibetan Nuns Project online store are our malas or Buddhist prayer beads. The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, India make our long malas and bless both the long and wrist malas.

hanging Tibetan malas or prayer beads

A selection of the Tibetan malas made and blessed by Buddhist nuns and available through our online store.

Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning “garland”; in Tibetan, a mala is called threngwa. 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 similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions and they are sometimes called the Buddhist rosary. They are employed to focus one’s awareness and concentration during spiritual practice.

Mantras are spiritual syllables or prayers and are usually repeated many times. In Tibetan Buddhism, one mala constitutes 100 recitations of a mantra. There are 8 additional recitations done to ensure proper concentration. One holds the mala with the left hand and begins to recite from the guru bead, clockwise around the mala.

In Tibetan Buddhism, people traditionally use malas with 108 counting beads and a formal, 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 a sum of 108 counting beads. Continue reading

Tibetan Handicrafts Help Build Self-Sufficiency for the Nuns

A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to help the nuns achieve more self-sufficiency through skill building and income-generating projects.

The range of projects varies for each nunnery of the 7 nunneries that we support. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, located near Dharamsala, India and home to over 230 nuns, has the widest scope of projects including making and selling Tibetan handicrafts.

Buddhist nun in Dolma Ling Nunnery shop

Products made by the nuns are available for sale at the nunnery and through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. Photo of the shop at Dolma Ling Nunnery courtesy of Brian Harris.

The tailoring program at Dolma Ling Nunnery had a modest start with a plan to make nuns robes so that the nuns wouldn’t have to go to the market and pay for the service.

Now the tailoring program has expanded greatly and is quite successful. There are two lay staff and a few nuns with good tailoring and sewing skills working in this section. All of the products are overseen by a Nuns’ Committee.

Here is an overview of some of the self-sufficiency projects that the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, with the help of the Tibetan Nuns Project, have developed to generate income for the nunnery. All of the Tibetan handicraft products shown below are made by the nuns and specially blessed by them. They can be purchased through the nunnery’s shop and through our online store at tnp.org/products.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making prayer flags

The Tibetan Nuns Project sells a variety of types of prayer flags and four sizes – mini, small, medium and large. All the flags are handmade by the nuns in India and blessed by them.

 

Tibetan Prayer Flags

All prayer flags sold at the nunnery shop and through the TNP online store are made and blessed  by the nuns. The nuns do all the sewing of the different flags including Tara, Buddha, Guru and Wind Horse, ironing the creases and packaging personally. The flags come in small, medium and large sizes, as well as a set of mini prayer flags that have one syllable of the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra per flag.

Each set of prayer flags has five colors representing the different elements: blue for sky, white for clouds, red for space, green for water, and yellow for earth. People buy prayer flags and tie them at high mountains and trees at holy places. It is believed that when the wind blows the prayers are released thereby creating a peaceful atmosphere, warding off obstacles, and increasing luck.

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Tibetan Nun and Monk Dolls

Doll making has been very successful for the nuns. The nuns have become expert in hand sewing all the intricate details to make beautiful monk and nun dolls. Visitors to the nunnery show a lot of interest in buying them for household décor.

Tibetan door curtains

Tibetan Door Curtains

The nuns make beautiful traditional Tibetan door curtains using the sacred Tibetan Buddhist symbol of the endless knot. The endless knot design is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols in Tibetan Buddhism and represents the endless nature of Buddha’s wisdom and the Dharma. The nuns make two types of curtains: the simpler design has an endless knot in the center and the more elaborate design has applique decoration on all four corners.

Tibetan malas

Tibetan Malas or Prayer Beads

The nuns make a wide range of long malas and wrist malas. Each mala is hand strung, knotted and blessed by the nuns. The Tibetan Nuns Project sells 14 different types of long malas and wrist malas made from natural materials such as stone, wood and bone. The wrist malas are a variation of the standard 108-bead long malas and are very popular with visitors to the nunnery.

Tibetan mala bag

Tibetan Mala Bags

Mala bags made by the nuns are the perfect way to carry and protect your mala and to maintain its purity and potency. Each bag is handmade with a drawstring closure and is patterned on one side. The nuns make them in a range of colors and patterns and in two types of fabric: satin brocade and 100% woven cotton.

Assorted Bags

Another product introduced by the nuns are different types of bags including nun/monk bags, shopping bags and silk applique bags.

Buddhist nun making tofu at nunnery

Making tofu at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Making Tofu

Dolma Ling nuns make tofu once a week to supply the nunnery kitchen for meals since the nunnery follows a vegetarian diet. The nuns also sell extra tofu for special orders. We are currently looking for a bigger tofu machine so that tofu can be made and sold on a larger scale to the general public and to raise more funds for the nunnery.

Garbage Enzymes

Several years ago a Malaysian group visited the nunnery and taught the nuns how to make a garbage enzyme made from water, vegetable and fruit scraps and jaggery (brown sugar). This has been very beneficial for the nuns because it is cheap, easy to make and can be used for a wide variety of purposes. The nuns use it for cleaning the kitchen and dining room floors, cleaning the toilets, for laundry and bath water, and for skin care. The enzymes are also bottled and sold to staff and the public through the nunnery shop.

Nunnery Guesthouse

A fully furnished four-room guesthouse is also run by the nuns at Dolma Ling. The nuns take care of the booking, cleanliness and comfort of the guests during their stay. No food is provided, as each room has an attached kitchen area that can be used by the guests to cook their own meals. With all the serenity of the environment guests enjoy a peaceful stay.

Nuns’ Café

Thanks to the generosity of one committed donor, we are now completing the kitchen for nuns’ café.

If you would like to learn more about how the nuns are moving towards greater self-sufficiency, or if you would like to help fund these efforts, please contact us at info@tnp.org