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 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.
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.