What Are Meditation Beads?

Mark Wollacott

Meditation beads are round beads threaded on a string. They are used for meditation and prayer and can be made from many materials, but are often made from wood. Meditation beads are passed through the closed hand one bead at a time as the person meditating focuses on reaching a calm or enlightened state through relaxed concentration. They are also called mala beads and rosaries.

The 14th Dalai Lama, wearing mala beads on his wrist.
The 14th Dalai Lama, wearing mala beads on his wrist.

The beads can be made from a number of materials. Meditation beads are traditionally made of wood, and in many religions, such as Zen Buddhism in Japan, are inscribed with prayers and symbolic phrases. Others, such as Catholic rosaries, may be made of ivory, clay or metal. They are called beads because a hole is made from one end of the bead to the other, allowing a cord or string to be threaded through them holding them together. The cord is often the first element of the beads to wear out and break.

Meditation beads may be made from clay, although wood is the traditional material in some religions.
Meditation beads may be made from clay, although wood is the traditional material in some religions.

Various religions, as well as proponents of meditation, use meditation beads. They are used as part of relaxation in some therapies and also to count prayers in religions such as Catholicism. Such beads have also been ascribed healing powers in some religions and faiths.

Naturally, these beads form an important part of meditation. Meditation is important to a number of religions, but especially important to Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, meditation beads are called ‘mala beads.’ Meditation is used to relax the body and to focus the mind. The beads help to balance the mind between too much relaxation, leading to sleep, and too little concentration, leading to wandering thoughts.

Meditation or prayer counting begins with the ‘summit bead.’ The summit bead is usually the largest of the beads. The rest of the beads tend to be the same size as one another. The person meditating then moves the beads one at a time using his or her thumb. This could be done by drawing the summit bead into the closed palm or by pushing it away and over the knuckles.

The rosary differs from the meditation beads in one vital way. The rosary, while having a similar use, has a crucifix attached to it. The Catholic rosary tends to have 59 beads. Instead of using beads, the Eastern Orthodox rosary uses 100 knots.

There are four other main styles of meditation beads in existence. The Islamic beads use either 99 beads for the 99 names of Allah or 33 so it can be rotated three times to recount the same 99 names. The Mala beads used in Hinduism and Buddhism have 108 beads. The Sikh mala also has 108 beads. The Greek ‘komboloi,’ on the other hand, uses an odd number of beads with no exact number.

The meditation sets used in Buddhism have 108 beads.
The meditation sets used in Buddhism have 108 beads.

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Discussion Comments


I use Islamic beads daily. Although the 99 beads could be used to chant the 99 names of God, I actually use them to praise God by repeating each praise 33 times. So I say the Arabic phrases: "glory be to Allah" 33 times, "all praise belongs to Allah" 33 times and "Allah is great" 33 times. I do this after my mandatory prayers. My prayer beads are very beautiful and made of amber. So I feel that they neutralize my energy as well.

In the Middle East, the 99 beaded meditation beads are usually used for prayer and the 33 beaded beads are used by men as a cultural practice. Of course they could pray with it, but most men just pass the beads one by one through their fingers throughout he day. In Greece, the same beads are called "worry beads" for the same reason. Men often hang out together in cafes chatting and passing the beads. Using beads actually prevents too many thoughts from entering the mind. So beads literally prevent worrying.


@donasmrs-- Meditation beads can be used in different ways. Some people only use them for meditation while others wear them for comfort. In India, mala beads are often worn around the neck or the wrist for the spiritual benefits of the beads.

For example, some people believe that meditation beads made of lotus seeds represent wisdom and help the wearer develop awareness and focus. Mala made from sandalwood is known for its cooling and calming effects. Similarly, mala may also be made with natural stones and crystal for various spiritual and physical benefits. So meditation beads may be worn all the time, even when they are not used for meditation.


My Japanese friend always wears mala beads on her wrist. They appear to be made of wood and have something inscribed on them. I asked her about it once and she told me that they are Buddhist prayer beads. I'm not sure if she actually meditates with them or just likes wearing them. I didn't want to be too inquisitive so I didn't ask anything more. I have never seen her without the beads though so I'm sure that they are important for her.

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