Posts Tagged ‘” mala’

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:

rod-mala-1or a bone mala, similar to the one in this picture: rod-mala-21

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!

2) Om mani padme hum!

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.

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Woke up this morning to this wonderful story on National Public Radio about a day in the life of a Hindu monk living in New York City. Take a listen to the story, which includes a good five seconds of the monk, 35-year-old Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, chanting while using his mala prayer beads, pictured at left. It sent a thrill down my spine – he is chanting so fast and so intently! He is a Hare Krishna, a member of the International Society for Kirshna Consciousness (ISKCON), and the first Hindu chaplain to students at Columbia University, where I went to graduate school.

You can also read the story in transcript form on the website, but then you don’t get to hear the chanting. But do scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can read more about the Hare Krishnas and, even better, about the chant and the mantra. And if you’re really ambitious, you can make one Dasa’s vegetarian recipes.

The story is the work of Barbara Bradley Haggerty, a colleague of mine in Religion Newswriters Association, and for my money one of the best religion reporters around.

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eatpraylove.jpgMaybe I should start a blog called “Behind the Curve” because I am always the last one to read the book everyone else is reading. Partly this is because I have to do a lot of work-related reading (latest requirement: Jim Wallis‘s “Great Awakening”) and partly because I am a terrible book snob. I mean, if everyone is reading it, it can’t be that good, right? I came to this snobbishness after being burned – I read “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown only because I couldn’t, as a responsible religion reporter, hold out any longer, and I do not have the words to describe how foul I found it. What trash! Read like a screenplay – a bad screnplay. And I waited quite a while before reading “The Historian” (in a book about Dracula, shouldn’t he appear before the book is three-fourths gone?) by Elizabeth Kostova. I’ll never get back those hours wasted on rural Romanian folk customs that had NOTHING to do with the story. Sigh. Still, Brown and Kostova don’t need my endorsement. They and their bank accounts are doing just fine without me, thank you very much.

egilbert.jpgDitto Elizabeth Gilbert, whose spiritual memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” has topped the NY Times besteller list for more weeks than I have teeth. I’ve heard she was also on a little daytime talkshow called “Oprah.” But this time, I am happy to report, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not the least because of what she says about contemplative prayer, one of the subjects of this blog. It is also just a damn good read by a very fine writer. I have been thinking about it a lot since I finished reading it earlier this week. (For a summary of the book, click here.)

hindu-mala.jpgFirst, I was bound to like this book because its cover image includes a Hindu mala curled into the word “pray.” A mala is the Hindu form of prayer beads, consisting of 108 beads. In the introduction, Gilbert describes some of the symbolism of the mala – how its 108 beads have all sorts of hidden three’s – a very symbolic number in many religions. The number 108 can represent perfection because it is not only divisible by three, but its individual numbers add up to 9, which can be divided into three 3’s. I discuss the meaning and symbolism of the Hindu mala in the first chapter of “Bead One, Pray Too. “

The numbers are important to Gilbert, too. She describes her travels through the three countries of the subtitle in 108 sections, almost like dateless diary entries, charting her spiritual progress from a sobbing, depressed blob to a wiser woman who has learned perspective. Each section is marked by a black-and-white image of a mala bead. My favorite was number 58 for this depiction of the nature of prayer:

“Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. If I want transformation, but can’t even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I am aiming for, how will it ever occur? Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. If you don’t have this, all your pleas and desires are boneless, floppy, inert; they swirl at your feet in a cold fog and never lift . . . Prayers can become stale and drone into the boring and familiar if you let your attention stagnate. In staying alert, I am assuming custodial responsibility for the maintenance of my soul.” (page 177)

This sent shivers down my back. In my own prayer practice, the biggest thing I battle is boredom. “It’s time to pray, so what do I pray? That again? Oy. ” But Gilbert reminded me that it isn’t enough to say the words, or even to sit in prayer. I have to be present in what I am asking for. If I don’t take it seriously, how can I expect God to?

Since I finished this book I have been trying to bring a new freshness and immediacy to my daily prayer bead session. I am not always successful, sometimes getting fidgety, sometimes finding my mind has wandered halfway around the world before I remember to call it back. And Gilbert tells us that is okay, too. Her own daily meditation is filled with frustration. But she sticks with it and comes out at the end a much more peaceful person. This was a GREAT read.

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