Last week, after my post about how blue I was feeling around Thanksgiving, I received the following delightful comment from a reader named Rod who lives in Alabama:
Firstly, may your blues rise unto the sky and provide the landscape for the clouds to live. Secondly, thanks for sharing such a wonderful prayer. Thirdly, Thank you for such an exquisite book. I have no doubt that your treatment of this subject, the making and using of prayer beads, will enhance the spiritual lives of many folks from different denominational and religious backgrounds.
My wife and I are making the commitment to return to the Episcopal Church after a hiatus of ten years. Your discussion of the Anglican Rosary has already enhanced our path. I’m looking forward to using the Anglican Rosary in my daily life.
This will involve making a small change in the beads in my pocket. You see, I’ve carried malas with me for over 20 years as I’ve practiced and lived a bi-religious path: Buddhist-Christian. Not being Catholic, my experience with the Catholic Rosary has been rather superficial. However, having been a practicing Buddhist for over 27 years, and discovering malas 7 years into the journey, I thought that I’d only carry malas with me for the rest of my life.
My wife and I were confirmed in the Episcopal church 26 years ago this month. Yet, “way back then”, I had never heard of an Anglican Rosary so all of my beads were Buddhist. My Buddhist path moved from the study and practice of Zen, to the borders of Tibetan Buddhism in 1989. The first of a number of initiations followed shortly thereafter. It was a little over 10 years ago that I took refuge vows and became a “card carrying Buddhist”.
Living as a Christian and a Buddhist simultaneously has been an interesting experience. In fact, much of my academic training ( I received a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion from Western Kentucky University in 1980) led me to believe that this was an impossibility. However, I was able to walk within both paradigms at the same time…..never far from my malas.
As you may know, within Tibetan Buddhism, various initiations (wongkur) require the repetition of various mantras. Some of the required mantra repetitions are in the hundreds of thousands. For my guru yoga practice I had one mantra to repeat 250,000 times. I had one mala that was only used for this practice. It had two strings of counter beads attached to the 108 bead mala. Using the counters I could keep track of up to 10,000 repetitions. At that point I had to fall back on some small stones, each one representing 10,000 mantra representations. Then I could start my 10,000 count again up to 20,000, and so on and so forth.
I look forward to reading more of your book and delving further into the use of the Anglican Rosary. Blessings – Peace – Happiness,
Rod’s message chased all the blues away, and I was captivated by what he wrote about his own faith journey – so many different stops! – and how he uses his mala. 250,000 repetitions of a single mantra????? WOW! I wrote him back and asked him a few more questions about his prayer bead use. Here is what he had to say:
Over the years I’ve settled into carrying two types of malas. One, with all wooden beads on a string with a single tassel like the one in this picture:
or a bone mala, similar to the one in this picture:
The mala that “stays at home” is the one with counters on it, similar (but not exactly like) the one in this picture:
I had practiced Buddhist meditation methods ( a dozen or more different types of meditation) for more than a decade before agreeing to take refuge vows. However, the process takes some time. I attended 6 one-day long retreats held at one month intervals going through the Foundation Series. This series acquaints you with the basics of Buddhist thought and practice. The Series ends with the opportunity to “take refuge”. This link shows you the new (5 part) series taught in Atlanta at Drepung Loseling….by the same teacher who taught our class in 1998.
On February 1, 1998 I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. This formalized my Buddhist commitment and identity. What I like about the Geluk school’s Refuge ceremony is that it is rather straight forward and easy to understand. This link will fill in a lot of details about what it means to take refuge.
What do I do with a mala in my pocket? I do several things: first, I’ll finger them one at a time while matching my breath. This I do off and on all during the day. Just touching the beads while breathing reminds me of the time I’ve sat meditating and brings me closer to a relaxed open minded and open hearted response to life. Secondly I’ll run though some of the mantras I’ve used over the years:
1.) Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!
3) Om Vajrapani hum!
4) Om muni muni maha muniye soha!
5) Tayatha Om bekanze bekanze maha bekanze radze samung gate soha!
What I’ve done over the years is do a round of 108 repetitions of any one of these mantras, while in my pocket, while walking down a sidewalk, through a mall, etc. The repetition brings my mind back to a calm and alert state and sweeps aside the usual self centered commenting going on in my mind.
My two favorite mantras are # 2 and #5 in the list above. The #5 mantra is the mantra of the Medicine Buddha. My first Tibetan Buddhist initiation ( wongkur ) was in the practice of the Medicine Buddha.
To be accurate in answering your question about the 250,000 mantra repetitions I had to pull out my booklet received when undertaking the training for the Guru Yoga of Lama Tsong Khapa. This entire sadhana [spiritual practice], which takes between 25 and 40 minutes to complete was supposed to be done 100,000 times. Contained within this sadhana were a number of mantras that were to be performed 3 times, 7 times, 21 times or 108 times.
Many of us students would usually practice with the 3 times or 7 times repetitions of the mantras. Thus, if we did the entire sadhana 100,000 times we might repeat certain mantras 300,000 – 700,000 times! This takes years to accomplish and becomes a significant base of ones Buddhist practice within the Tibetan Buddhist ( Geluk School ) tradition.
Thanks, Rod, for sharing this intense practice! I wish you and your wife all the best in your return to the Episcopal Church.