Buddhist prayer beads

Buddhist prayer beads or malas (Sanskrit: mālā "garland"[1]) are a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited, breaths while meditating, counting prostrations, or the repetitions of a buddha's name. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions and therefore the term "Buddhist rosary" also appears.

Conventional Buddhist tradition counts the beads at 108, signifying the mortal desires of mankind. The number is attributed to the Mokugenji (soapberry seed) Sutra wherein Shakyamuni Buddha instructed King Virudhaka to make such beads and recite the Three Jewels of Buddhism. In later years, various Buddhist sects would either retain the number of beads, or divide them into consecutive twos, fours, for brevity or informality. A decorative tassel is sometimes attached to the beads, flanked by talismans or amulets depending on one's local tradition. Because prayer beads are often painted in pigment, various traditional schools attribute a consecration ritual by the Sangha to the beads, to "open the eyes" for the purpose of achieving Enlightenment unique to the Karma of each believer.

Buddhist prayer beads
Buddhist mala beads in nun's hand
Buddhist mala beads in nun's hand.
Chinese name
Literal meaning"Buddha pearls"
Japanese name
Sanskrit name


Buddhist prayer beads 07
Buddhist prayer beads in its normative, informal secular style.
Buddhist prayer beads(Chinese tradition)
Buddhist prayer beads for sale
Buddhist prayer beads at a Jodo Shin shop.

Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This sādhanā (practice) is known in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with 18, 27, 54 or 108 beads.

In Tibetan Buddhism, malas of 108 beads are used. Some practitioners use malas of 21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations. In Tibetan Buddhism, malas are mainly used to count mantras. These mantras can be recited for different purposes linked to working with mind. The material used to make the beads can vary according to the purpose of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for all purposes and all kinds of mantras. These beads can be made from the wood of Ficus religiosa (bo or bodhi tree), or from "bodhi seeds", which come from rudraksha.

Another general-purpose mala is made from rattan seeds;[2] the beads themselves called "moon and stars" by Tibetans, and variously called "lotus root", "lotus seed" and "linden nut" by various retailers. The bead itself is very hard and dense, ivory-coloured (which gradually turns a deep golden brown with long use), and has small holes (moons) and tiny black dots (stars) covering its surface.

Pacifying mantras are often recited using white colored malas. Materials such as crystal, pearl, shell/conch or nacre are preferable. These are said to purify the mind and clear away obstacles like illness, bad karma and mental disturbances. Using pearls is not practical however, as repeated use will destroy their iridescent layer. Most often, pearl malas are used for jewelry.

Increasing mantras should be recited using malas of gold, silver, copper and amber. The mantras counted on these can "serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit."[3]

Mantras for magnetizing should be recited using malas made of saffron, lotus seed, sandalwood, or other forms of wood including elm, peach, and rosewood. However, it is said the most effective is made of precious coral, which, due to a ban on harvesting, is now very rare and expensive.

Mantras to tame by forceful means should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads or bone. Reciting mantras with this kind of mala is said to tame others, but with the motivation to unselfishly help other sentient beings.[3] Malas to tame by forceful means or subdue harmful energies, such as "extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions", are made from rudraksha seeds, or even human bones, with 108 beads on the string. It is said that only a person that is motivated by great compassion for all beings, including those they try to tame, can do this.[3]


Ladakh (1057678232)
A man praying with prayer beads, Ladakh

Mantras and chants are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb clockwise around each bead, though some traditions or practices may call for counterclockwise motion or specific hand and finger usage. When arriving at the Guru bead, some assert that both Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists traditionally turn the mala around and then go back in the opposing direction. However, some teachers in the Tibetan traditions and beyond emphasize that this is superstitious and therefore not so important.

Within the Buddhist tradition, this repetition of the beads serves to remind practitioners of the teaching that it is possible to break the cycle of birth and death.

In case it is necessary to recite a very large number of mantras, Tibetan Buddhist malas have bell and dorje counters (a short string of ten beads, usually silver, with a bell or dorje at the bottom). The dorje counter is used to count each round around the mala, and the bell counter to count each time the dorje counter runs out of beads. After that, the dorje counter is reset. These counters are placed at different points on the mala depending on tradition, sometimes at the 10th, 21st or 25th bead from the Guru bead. Traditionally, one begins the mala in the direction of the dorje (skillful means) proceeding on to the bell (wisdom) with each round.

A 'bhum' counter, often a small brass or silver clasp in the shape of a jewel or wheel, is used to count 1000 repetitions, and is moved forward between the main beads of the mala, starting at the Guru bead, with each accumulation of 1000.

Japanese Beads

Jodo Shu Buddhist prayer beads
This is an example of the double-ring onenju or nikka juzu used by the Jōdo-shū.

In Buddhism in Japan, Buddhist prayer beads are known as ojuzu (数珠, counting beads) or onenju (念珠, thought beads), where the "o" is the honorific o-. Different Buddhist sects in Japan have different shaped juzus, and use them differently. For example, Shingon Buddhism, Tendai and Nichiren Buddhism may use longer prayer beads with strands on both ends similar to those used in mainland Asia. During devotional services, these beads may be rubbed together with both hands to create a soft grinding noise, which is considered to have a purifying effect. However, in Jōdo Shinshū, prayer beads are typically shorter and held draped over both hands and are not ground together.

Jōdo-shū is somewhat unusual because of the use of a double-ringed prayer beads, called nikka juzu (日課数珠), which are used for counting nenbutsu recitations (i.e. recitation of the name of Amitabha Buddha): one ring contains single beads used to count a single recitation while the other ring is used to count full revolutions of the first ring. Additionally, other beads hang from the strings, which can count full revolutions of the second ring (flat beads), or full revolutions of the first string of beads. In all, it is possible to count up to 120,000 recitations using these beads. The design is credited to a follower of Hōnen named Awanosuke.[4]

Shingon Buddhist prayer beads, inside
This is a Japanese Buddhist prayer bead that has a picture of Kūkai inside the main bead. The text on the left and right is a common mantra devoted to Kūkai.

Regardless of Buddhist sect, prayer beads used by lay followers are frequently smaller, featuring a factor of 108 beads. Some beads are made using plastic, while others may contain wood, or seeds from trees in India, such as Ficus religiosa, the same species as the Bodhi Tree.

It is common to find prayer beads in Japan that contain a small image inside the largest bead, usually something associated with the particular temple or sect. When held up to the light the image is clearly visible.

Seik badi

Theravada Buddhists in Myanmar use prayer beads called seik badi (စိပ်ပုတီး [seɪʔ bədí]), shortened to badi. 108 beads are strung on a garland, with the beads typically made of fragrant wood like sandalwood, and series of brightly coloured strings at the end of the garland.[5] It is commonly used in samatha meditation, to keep track of the number of mantras chanted during meditation.[5]

Numbers and symbolism

There are numerous explanations why there are 108 beads, with the number 108 bearing special religious significance in a number of Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions or kleshas.[6] This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times.

Modern usage

In recent years, it has become common for non-religious individuals to wear such beads as a fashion accessory, with the beads having no religious connotation whatsoever. [7]

See also


  1. ^ Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965), written at Delhi, The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary (Fourth revised and enlarged ed.), Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, ISBN 81-208-0567-4
  2. ^ http://www.botanicalbeads.com/BBB_page_99.html
  3. ^ a b c Buddha Dharma Education Association and Buddhanet.com Buddhist studies: Malas (beads) Retrieved 2009-02-05
  4. ^ Watts, Jonathan; Tomatsu, Yoshiharu (2005). Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Honen Shonin. Jodo Shu Press. ISBN 488363342X.
  5. ^ a b http://www.usamyanmar.net/Buddha/Article/Praying%20beads1.pdf
  6. ^ Buswell, Robert Jr; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2013). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 520. ISBN 9780691157863.
  7. ^ "Baidupedia article".

Additional references

  • Dubin, L.S. (2009). Prayer Beads. In C. Kenney (Ed.), The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present (Revised and Expanded Edition) (pp. 79–92). New York: Abrams Publishing.
  • Henry, G., & Marriott, S. (2008). Beads of Faith: Pathways to Meditation and Spirituality Using Rosaries, Prayer Beads and Sacred Words. Fons Vitae Publishing.
  • Untracht, O. (2008). Rosaries of India. In H. Whelchel (Ed.), Traditional Jewelry of India (pp. 69–73). New York: Thames & Hudson, Inc.
  • Wiley, E., & Shannon, M.O. (2002). A String and a Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.

A bead is a small, decorative object that is formed in a variety of shapes and sizes of a material such as stone, bone, shell, glass, plastic, wood or pearl and with a small hole for threading or stringing. Beads range in size from under 1 millimetre (0.039 in) to over 1 centimetre (0.39 in) in diameter. A pair of beads made from Nassarius sea snail shells, approximately 100,000 years old, are thought to be the earliest known examples of jewellery. Beadwork is the art or craft of making things with beads. Beads can be woven together with specialized thread, strung onto thread or soft, flexible wire, or adhered to a surface (e.g. fabric, clay).

Bonze Adventure

Bonze Adventure, known in Japan as Jigoku Meguri (地獄めぐり, lit. "Hell Tour"), is a 1988 platform arcade game that was later ported for the PC Engine by Taito. The player controls a Buddhist monk, Bonze Kackremboh. His weapons are Buddhist prayer beads, called "mala" beads, which can be powered up until they become almost as large as the player. The monk battles snakes, giant eyeballs, ghosts and other enemy creatures.

Buddhism in Buryatia

Buddhism in Buryatia—a regional form of Buddhism.


Daemonorops is a genus of rattan palms in the family Arecaceae found primarily in the tropics and subtropics of southeastern Asia with a few species extending into southern China and the Himalayas.The stems of the Daemonorops are harvested for their cores, which are used for everything from canes to furniture. The fruits of certain species, in particular Daemonorops draco, produce a red resin known as "Dragon's blood". The seeds of species such as Daemonorops margaritae (Chinese: 星月菩提) are harvested for the production of Buddhist prayer beads.

Polysaccharides found in some Daemonorops species are known for their medicinal anticoagulant properties.


Daochuo (Chinese: 道綽; pinyin: Dàochuò; Wade–Giles: Tao-ch'o, 562–645), was a Chinese Buddhist scholar of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra who later became an eminent scholar of Pure Land Buddhism. In Chinese Buddhist tradition, he is considered the second patriarch of Pure Land Buddhism while In Jōdo Shinshū, he is considered the Fourth Patriarch.


Dhupa (धुप) is, in Indian religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc.), the ritual offering of incense during puja to an image of a deity, or other object of veneration. It is also the Sanskrit word for incense or perfume itself.

The Thai language also borrows this word from Sanskrit to call joss sticks or incense sticks, by omitting "a" in the word Dhupa. So, the word retains the Sanskrit form when it is written in the Thai alphabet as "Dhup" (ธูป). However, Sanskrit's ⟨dh⟩ ([dʱ]) is pronounced as an aspirated [tʰ] in Thai so that the word is normally pronounced or transliterated as "Thup" ( [tʰûːp]). Incense burning before images, in temples and during prayer practice is also found in many parts of Asia, among followers of Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Taoism.

The very idea of offering dhupa is personified in the dakini Dhupa, who is said in the Bardo Thödol to appear on the third day.


Jōdo-shū (浄土宗, "The Pure Land School"), also known as Jōdo Buddhism, is a branch of Pure Land Buddhism derived from the teachings of the Japanese ex-Tendai monk Hōnen. It was established in 1175 and is the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan, along with Jōdo Shinshū.

Lei (garland)

Lei () is a garland or wreath. More loosely defined, a lei is any series of objects strung together with the intent to be worn. The most popular concept of a lei in Hawaiian culture is a wreath of flowers presented upon arriving or leaving as a symbol of affection. This concept was popularized through tourism between the Hawaiian Islands and the continental United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Children and sweethearts are poetically referred to as "lei" and many ancient and modern songs and chants refer to this imagery.

Loving Annabelle

Loving Annabelle is a 2006 American romantic drama film directed by Katherine Brooks. In the tradition of Mädchen in Uniform, it tells the story of a boarding school student who falls in love with her teacher. It was filmed at Marymount High School in Los Angeles.

Mie (pose)

The mie (見え or 見得, pronounced 'mee-eh'), a powerful and emotional pose struck by an actor, who then freezes for a moment, is a distinctive element of aragoto Kabuki performance. Mie means 'appearance' or 'visible' in Japanese, and one of the primary purposes of this convention is to draw attention to a particularly important or powerful portion of the performance. It is meant to show a character's emotions at their peak, and can often be a very powerful pose. The actor's eyes are opened as wide as possible; if the character is meant to seem agitated or angry, the actor will cross his eyes. In Japanese, the mie pose is said to be "cut" by the actor (見得を切る, mie wo kiru). Audience members will shout out (kakegoe) words of praise and the actor's name at specific times before and after the pose is struck.

The practice of mie is said to have originated with Ichikawa Danjūrō I in the Genroku era, along with the aragoto style itself. There are a great many mie, each of which has a name describing it, and many of which are associated with particular lines of actors.

In the Genroku mie, one of the most famous or well-known, the actor's right hand is held flat, perpendicular to the ground, while his left hand is pointed upwards, elbow bent. At the same time, the actor stamps the floor powerfully with his left foot. This mie is most strongly associated with the character Kamakura Gongorō Kagemasa, the hero of the play Shibaraku, and is said to have been invented by Ichikawa Danjūrō I.

Two mie cut by the priest Narukami, in Narukami Fudō Kitayama Zakura, are the "post-wrapping pose" (柱巻きの見得, Hashimaki no mie), in which the actor wraps his arms and legs around a post, column, or long weapon such as a naginata, and the Fudō no mie (不動の見得), which is meant to resemble the Buddhist figure Fudō Myoō, is a very strong pose, meant to evoke anger and power.

In Kanjinchō, the monk Benkei cuts the Fudō no mie while holding a scroll (the play's titular "subscription list" or kanjinchō) in one hand and Buddhist prayer beads in the other. Another pose taken by Benkei in this play is the so-called "rock-throwing pose" (石投げの見得, Ishinage no mie), which is meant to look like its namesake.

The term tenchi no mie (天地の見得), or "heaven and earth pose," is used when two actors, one low on the stage and one high above, on a rooftop or other set-piece, strike a pose simultaneously.

Phuang malai

Phuang malai (Thai: พวงมาลัย, pronounced [pʰūa̯ŋ māːlāj]) or malai (มาลัย, [māːlāj]) are a Thai form of floral garland. They are often given as offerings or kept for good luck.

Prayer beads

Prayer beads are used by members of various religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and the Bahá'í Faith to mark the repetitions of prayers, chants or devotions, such as the rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholicism, and dhikr (remembrance of God) in Islam.

Prayer flag

A Tibetan prayer flag is a colorful rectangular cloth, often found strung along trails and peaks high in the Himalayas. They are used to bless the surrounding countryside and for other purposes. Prayer flags are believed to have originated with Bon. In Bon, shamanistic Bonpo used primary-colored plain flags in Tibet. Traditional prayer flags include woodblock-printed text and images.

Prayer wheel

A prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel (Tibetan: འཁོར་ལོ།, Wylie: khor lo) on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Newari language of Nepal, on the outside of the wheel. Also sometimes depicted are Dakinis, Protectors and very often the 8 auspicious symbols Ashtamangala. At the core of the cylinder is a "Life Tree" often made of wood or metal with certain mantras written on or wrapped around it. Many thousands (or in the case of larger prayer wheels, millions) of mantras are then wrapped around this life tree. The Mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is most commonly used, but other mantras may be used as well. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.


Pādodaka (Sanskrit: पादोदक, lit. foot-water) is holy water. Its prepared from bathing the Linga or guru's feet. It is one of the Ashtavarana or the 'eight protections' of Lingayatism.

This holy water is used in many sacred occasions to call upon good fortune and celestial blessing. It is sprinkled across while entering into a new house, on the newly bought vehicle etc.


Rudraksha (IAST:Rudrākṣa) is a seed that is used as a prayer bead in Hinduism, especially in Shaivism. When they are ripe, Rudraksha seeds are covered by a blue outer shell and are sometimes called blueberry beads. The seeds are produced by several species of large, evergreen, broad-leaved tree in the genus Elaeocarpus, the principle of which is Elaeocarpus ganitrus roxb. The seeds are associated with the Hindu deity Shiva and are commonly worn for protection and for chanting mantras such as Om Namah Shivaya. The seeds are primarily used n India, Indonesia and Nepal as beads for organic jewellery and malas; they are valued similarly to semi-precious stones. Various meanings and <> are attributed to beads with different numbers of segments (mukh), and rare or unique beads are highly prized and valuable.


Sīvali (Pali: Sīvali; Burmese: ရှင်သီဝလိ pronounced [ʃɪ̀ɴ θìwəlḭ]; Thai: พระสีวลี; Chinese: 尸婆羅) is an arhat widely venerated among Theravada Buddhists. He is the patron saint of travel and is believed to ward off misfortunes at home such as fire or theft. His veneration predates the introduction of Theravada Buddhism into Burma.

Sīvali is typically depicted standing upright and carrying a walking staff, an alms bowl and Buddhist prayer beads. Born to Queen Suppavasa, Sīvali is believed to have remained in his mother's womb for seven years because of past karma. After a week in labor, Sīvali's mother gave birth to a precocious boy who could immediately speak. Thereafter, Gautama Buddha's chief disciple, Sariputta, admitted Sīvali into the sangha. The Burmese believe that he is still living, that he can be invoked to come by a special incantation and that his mere invisible presence will bring them prosperity and good fortune.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinFózhū
Gwoyeu RomatzyhForju
Yue: Cantonese
Yale RomanizationBaht-jyū
Southern Min
Romanizationnenju, juzu
Topics in Buddhism
The Buddha
Key concepts
Major figures


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