A MALA DECONSTRUCTED: each part matters!
Each part of a mala is significant and when combined, create a powerful tool for meditation. Prayer or meditation beads originate from the Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions as an aide to count breaths or mantra recitations. Fast forward a few thousand years later and malas are now available for anyone that wishes to integrate a meditation practice into their life.
Mala beads are most commonly but not exclusively made of wood, rudraksha seeds, amber, crystals or semi-precious gemstone beads. In the design of my malas, I favour semi-precious gemstones for their exceptional beauty, healing properties and the cool, reassuring feel to the touch. The traditional components of a mala are 108 beads, marker beads, hand-knotting, guru bead and tassel and each component contains its own unique symbolism.
Mala beads are made of 108 beads or a division thereof, such as 18, 27, 36 or 54. The number of 108 beads is significant in many cultures, disciplines, mathematics and astrology. To name just a few, 108 is a holy number used in Hindu devotional practices and has meaning for healers and practitioners of the holistic healing system of Ayurvedic medicine. There are 108 Upanishads which are central to the Sacred Texts of Eastern Philosophy and Yogic practices. In yoga, 108 Sun Salutations are often practiced in honour of inevitable life changes. In Buddhism, the number 108 represents the number of afflictions or worldly sins we work to conquer through contemplation, meditation and daily practice.
Marker or counter beads are used indicate the bead count or positioning in the mala. Marker beads are not always used, and the placement may vary by designer. In the design specific to Touchstone Mala, I place markers at 4 strategic spots:
- Beads 1-2: placed at the start to harness focus and begin the mantra or breath count practice;
- Beads 21-24: a gentle reminder to re-focus if our mind has wandered;
- Beads 85-88: a gentle indication that the end or turn-around point is coming;
- Beads 107-108: indicates the end of the mala at which point one can end the practice or turn the mala around(do not skip over the Guru bead) and commence counting in the opposite direction.
Traditional malas are hand-knotted between each bead and I am proud to continue this practice in my designs as each knot signifies challenges that we meet in life, both large and small. The knots make the mala stronger and more resilient and serve as a reminder that all aspects of life are inter-connected.
Personally, I see the guru bead is the heart of any mala as it represents a significant teacher that we wish to honour whether it be Buddha, a Deity, God, or any spiritual teacher that has personal significance. It marks both the beginning and the end of a mala. I design my malas with a secondary or companion Guru bead to represent anyone in our life that has had an impact on our personal and spiritual growth. I believe that everyone comes into our life for a reason. Whether temporary or long-term, negative or positive, every encounter and everyone we know has something to teach us.
The final component of a mala is the tassel. Malas can also be finished with an amulet that contains specific healing properties, but I personally favour the tassel. There are many meanings attributed to the tassel, but three reasons have special significance that I keep in mind when designing each mala:
- The tassel symbolizes the lotus flower which is significant in Yogic and Buddhist traditions. The lotus grows in muddy water, rising and blooming above the murk to flourish. This underlines our human potential and ability to meet, overcome and grow in the face of life’s challenges and ultimately achieve enlightenment;
- Each strand of the tassel is an extension of the cord used to create the mala which binds not only the beads but binds us to the divine and to one another;
- Lastly, with use the mala becomes infused with our intention and that positive energy is radiated out to the world through each strand of tassel and positive energy is received back through the tassel and into the mala.
Combined, these components provide a powerful companion and tool for your meditation practice. Each one carefully designed and hand-crafted for maximum potential and guidance throughout your spiritual journey.