Prayer beads, or meditation beads, are common, in some form, to most of the world’s contemplative traditions.
Rosary beads are used by Christians. Buddhists and Hindus typically posses what is called a mala (the Sanskrit word for garland). Muslims beads are called misbaha.
They are usually used as a tool for keeping track of the number of mantras recited during a meditation session. This article will focus on the practices surrounding the japa mala of Buddhism.
A History of Meditation Beads
You might find it interesting that the word bead derives from the Old English bede, which translates as prayer.
The origin of prayer beads likely lies with the worlds oldest religion, Hinduism. Malas are usually made with 108 beads, which coincides with the number of names for Bhrama.
The separate groups of devotees would make their beads with different materials. Those who worshipped Shiva, for example, used the seeds of the rudraksha plant, whilst followers of Vishnu preferred those of the basil plant.
You can buy malas made from a variety of woods and seeds. Those of the “Bodhi tree” (the genus of the tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment) and the Rudraksha tree are common.
Many Buddhist malas are also made from sandalwood, which is believed to alter human desires and aid in maintaining alertness during meditation. You can find many others (including gemstones) that are used for their different intended benefits.
How to Use Meditation Beads
The beads are used to count the number of times a chant or mantra is repeated. The idea behind this practice is that it allows for complete focus on the mantra itself.
You may find that three of your 108 beads are of a different size. These usually represent the three jewels (Sangha, Dharma, and Buddha) of Buddhism.
Your Own Mantra
You can, of course, choose your own mantra. Any word that signifies your intention to be open to the divine or that fosters particular feelings of compassion, equanimity, forgiveness or etcetera is suitable.
I find that two-syllable words tend to work best. Inhaling, I whisper the first part of the word to myself; exhaling, I whisper the second. Examples are peaceful, happy, Jesus, Buddha.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Translated as: the jewel of the heart of the lotus. Pronounced: ohm-mah-nee-peh-may-hung. (The ng is said very softly.)
This mantra is one of the most widely used in Buddhism. It’s perfect for use by anybody who feels inclined to do so in their practice.
It is believed that both recitation of, and simply looking at, this mantra can provide spiritual protection and inspiration. You will find that it is displayed where it will be easily seen.
It is usually engraved on Tibetan prayer wheels, which are meant to compound the effects of chanting. All the teachings of the Buddha are said to be contained in this mantra.
Loving Kindness Mantra
May I be well.
May all beings be well.
Or some variation thereof. You can choose a mantra that cultivates feelings of compassion and well-wishing to both yourself and other people.
If you find that you enjoy “OM meditation” then meditation beads can be a useful tool for keeping track of the number of times you have chanted the sacred syllable.
Understanding the Meaning of Meditation Beads
Mala beads are an excellent tool that can be used for meditation. These beads can be worn as either a bracelet or necklace and each strand usually contains 108 mala bead, although other numbers might be used at times.
They are used for counting how many times a mantra is repeated or for counting breaths by running your fingers across the beads.
Japa male necklaces may be used during meditation, as well as throughout the day. These necklaces can serve as a reminder of a personal mantra or remind you to be mindful.
Although any kind of beads may be used for meditation, certain precious stones and colors have their own specific meanings that might have significance for the meditator and assist with achieving a particular purpose in their life.
Gemstones have various healing and energy properties. Therefore, when you are choosing a specific type of bead to use in your meditation, look for ones with properties that will provide you with the most benefit.
Are you meditating to reduce your level of stress or to increase your creativity? These are only examples, but there are stones available to help you with each of those purposes.
Next, we’ll discuss the meanings of meditation beads by color, and by specific types of wood and stone. Hopefully, this information will help you find the ideal prayer beads to use in your meditation sessions.
Red Jasper: Rejuvenating. Empathetic. Creative. Organized. Grounding. Red Jasper beads encourage focus and mental clarity. These beads help those who are quickly overwhelmed. Healing from illness is promoted.
Red Tiger Eye: Confident. Humbling. Perceptive. Protecting. Motivating. Ideal for those who have commitment issues or are wanting to accomplish their goals.
Garnet: Energizing and cleansing. Inspires devotion and love. Removes taboos and inhibitions. Sharpens perceptions. Self-confident. Courageous. This stone is intense and robust.
Rhodonite: Heals emotional pain, and balances emotions. Encourages self-love and forgiveness. Builds confidence. Stimulates heart chakra. Helps those having to deal with emotional issues and abuse.
Unakite: Balancing. Grounding. The bead inspires the realization of anything that is inhibiting your spiritual growth and rebirthing. Useful for individuals who need to let past events go or who are having to deal with life changes. Helps with releasing anger and pain. The stones are green and pink in color, to create a complimentary, beautiful mala appearance.
Carnelian: Motivates. Stimulates creativity. Encourages positive life choices, courage, and vitality. Concentration is sharpened. Dispels emotional negativity, treats depression, helps to overcome abuse. Stimulates sexuality and boosts fertility. Increases compassion and passion.
Amber: Emotional healing. Stress relief. Vitality. Cleansing. Healing. Attracts happiness, pleasure, and love. May be used for good luck. Excellent for individuals coming out of or dealing with an extended illness.
Goldstone: Promotes calmness and stabilizes emotions. Good for achieving goals. Protects. Generates energy.
Citrine: Energetic and uplifting. Inspires prosperity and success. Promotes success in personal affairs and business. Balances your solar plexus chakra. Helps with bringing stability and combats negative energy.
Yellow Malay Jade: Inspires perspective, moderation, and wisdom. Helps with understanding dreams. Balances emotions. Helps with understanding new information and learning. Promotes empathy and compassion.
Honey Calcite: Energy is amplified. Eases challenges associated with change. Inspires persistence, strength, confidence, and vitality. Helpful for individuals who are dealing with depression. Balances your crown chakra. When you meditate with honey, it helps to change your persistent thoughts.
Moss Agate: The beads may vary in color from blue to green. Balances emotions and strengthens self-esteem. Helps to inspire personal growth and develop strength. Optimistic. Inspiring. Use by midwives to ease delivery and reduce pain.
Green Jade: Stabilizes the personality, releases negativity, soothes the mind. Inspires insightful dreams. Stimulates ideas. Balances your heart chakra. Attracts friendship and good luck.
Malachite: Emotional balance, confidence, creativity. It can provide comfort during changing times and also encourages healing of the heart and emotional stability. It helps to overcome bad behaviors and habits and releases negativity.
Blue Tiger Eye: Useful for relieving stress. Confident. Humbling. Perceptive. Protecting. Motivating. Helpful for those who have commitment issues.
Indian Bloodstone: The stone may vary in color ranging from purple to blue. Revitalizes, detoxifies, and heals. Promotes courage. Protects from negativity and evil.
Lapis Lazuli: Promotes self-expression, self-awareness, and inner truth. Stimulates the mind to ease decisions and clear thoughts. Balances your throat chakra. Reduces depression and releases stress.
Blue Sky Jasper: Balancing. Encourage independence. Eases emotional stresses. Protective.
Amethyst: Tranquilizer. Motivator. Memory Enhancer. Balancing. Protective. Relieves insomnia. Enhances memory. Counteracts and soothes negative emotions such as grief, sadness, anxiety, and stress. Good for individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, and high stress. Also useful for individuals dealing with addictions. Stimulates your third eye chakra. Makes a great gift for soldiers and travelers, as it is said that it protects from attack and harm.
Crazy Lace Agate: Fosters self-confidence and self-acceptance, calming bead. Absorbs emotional pain. Encourages focus and concentration. Brings vitality to your organs and clears energy blockage.
Sugilite: Removes and protects negative attachments. Brings calmness and promotes positive feelings that get rid of stress. Balances your crown chakra. Helps you live the best life possible and also helps with emotional healing.
Black Agarwood Eaglewood: Calms, purifies, invigorates. Good for individuals suffering from hyperactivity or insomnia.
Obsidian: Protects against negative energy and negativity. Promotes clarity and clears confusion. Insightful. Stabilizes. Helps to eliminate emotional blocks stemming from past trauma. Stimulates strength, compassion, and growth.
Black Onyx: Health and vigor, good fortune, strength, protection. Black onyx promotes self-control and banishes grief. The mala encourages increased stamina and healthy bodies in addition to balancing the body’s energies.
White Howlite: Increases desire to learn and memory. Positive. Calm. Patient. Opens the mind up to new knowledge and expands horizons. Facilitates learning and improves memory. Fights insomnia and overactive minds. Balances your third eye chakra. Excellent for individuals who are disappointed and angry.
Mother of Pearl: Creative. Protecting. Healing. Brings balance and harmony and dispels negative energy.
Clear Quartz: Very beneficial for meditation. Cleanses the body and mind. Heals and amplifies other crystals draws off negative energy.
Pearl: Frequently worn as fine jewelry, they are not usually viewed as a healing stone. The pearl’s primary meanings are integrity, compassion, happiness, truth, purity, and grace. Pearls promote emotional balance, self-esteem, healing power, and soothe the nervous system.
Bayong Wood: Grounds spiritually, physically and mentally. Provides stability.
Tiger Eye: Grounding and protecting. Inspires you to achieve your goals. Increases confidence, helps you recognize faults and talents.
Brown Agate: Inspires maturity, composure, self-confidence, and inner stability. Improves analytical abilities, perception, and concentration. Enhances relationships with partners, family, and friends by helping individuals to release bitterness and forgive.
Tulsi: The tulsi plant (also referred to as sacred basil) is not technically wood. It has long been used for various spiritual purposes. These beads are made out of the stem of the tulsi plant. The sacred bead provides the wearer with protection, balances Kapha and Vata Doshas, and clears the aura. Tulsi mala protects against dreams along with protecting you physically from accidents.
Rosewood: Has a deep beautiful reddish tone. Banishes negative energy and offers protection. Helps manifest desires and removes obstacles. Promotes healing in others as well as yourself.
I’d recommend buying a pair of prayer beads. They’re inexpensive and are very useful for meditating, but also recommended for yoga and mindfulness practices. Malas also make excellent gifts.
Resources & References
Bead One, Pray Too by Kimberly Wilson
Image credit: Thimpu by Travis Lupick