Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Malas (Buddhist Prayer Beads)- by Cindy Wong- terrific information and easy to compehend

The following is my own research, there are many different beliefs that use Malas, I have looked up information in regards to my own beliefs and the use of Malas. The following may conflict with other beliefs including other Buddhist beliefs. This is only for my own personal search for understanding.
WHAT NOT TO DO WITH A MALA
Wearing a mala without knowing its significance is similar to when a woman adorns herself with a necklace, according to the Tibetan Bön sutra. The sutra specifies that one should hold the mala above the waist when praying, and that one should avoid:
  • stepping on a mala
  • passing one's mala to others while one is engaged in recitation
  • mixing different types of beads together in one mala
  • decorating one's mala to make it look more beautiful
  • using a mala that might have been used by impious person
  • using a mala that is not consecrated
  • hanging one's mala from one's belt
  • placing one's mala under contaminated things
  • throwing one's mala in a playful way
  • carrying one's mala while going to the toilet.
From information compiled by His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, spiritual head of the Tibetan Bön Buddhist tradition.
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BONE MALAS:  
Using bone Malas, Is this ethical? Are the animals killed for their bones? It is against buddhist teachings to take a life, any life but when a animal or human dies the body is but a empty shell and the pieces can be used - but if the animal is being killed for the making of a mala this is against the teachings of buddha.
Typically the bone from your average bone mala comes from Yak, Ox, and Water Buffalo.Many coming out of Napal or India is made from the bone is left over from the killing of the Yak for food. And since they do not believe in being wasteful they use every part of the animal that they can. It is also quite possible to obtain bone malas that are made from the human skull, though these are quite rare and I have only seen these coming from Nepal. The bone from these is supplied by monks that live up in the Himalayas that still perform sky burials. When they die they are cut up and fed to the Vultures and their bones are typically ground up and mixed with the meat so that there is nothing left. However there are a few monasteries that save the skulls to cut little disk from it to make malas.

One may also encounter (in some Tibetan temple shrines) human skulls. They are to remind the meditator of their mortality .No humans or animals are killed to obtain these items. In Tibet and parts of India there are things called charnel grounds where the dead are disposed of in one way or another (long story). Bones can be subsequently collected for use.
 Bone malas are generally used when doing wrathful practices, such as Mahakala or Vajrakilaya. That's because these deities wear bone ornaments as a reminder of our mortality and the shortness of life.
It is best to avoid bone malas unless one is in a temple or has a teacher for guidance in these matters.
If you don't have a teacher, you shouldn't be doing a practice that requires a bone mala.

A wrathful practice is a practice where the deity is visualized in wrathful form. This should be pretty obvious from the image: fangs, aura of flames, bone ornaments, tiger skin around the waist, trampling on a corpse, and so on. The wrathfulness indicates power to overcome obstacles and ego.
Specifically a bone mala. I don't want to sound scary or alarmist, but a bone mala can cause certain problems if it was not properly made or is not properly used. So you should ask a teacher for permission and help in selecting a bone mala.

Typically a mala is used to count mantra repetitions during a sadhana practice. You shouldn't do a sadhana practice without three things: an empowerment, reading transmission, and explanation. Sometimes this rule is relaxed, but it's necessary to get permission. If you want to use a mala for some other purpose, that's fine, it's tantric sadhanas that have the restriction, not malas. And it's okay to do meditation practices such as meditating on the breath or loving kindness, even without teacher or instruction. Though it's better to have a teacher.I also would recommend not buying or using a bone mala unless you have an empowerment to do a practice suited to a bone mala.

When speakin of a  "wrathful" practice, it is important not to confuse "wrathful" with "angry". Not the same thing. Anger implies ego involvement - you are angry because you are trying to protect yourself, you ego. Wrath is quite different. It comes from a place of love and compassion, like a loving parent spanking a young child so that he/she doesn't put their hands on a hot stove and injure themselves. A peaceful practice, on the other hand, would include such deities as Avalokiteshvara or Tara, who embody compassion.
 there is no danger in reciting the OM MANI PEPE HUNG mantra with whatever type of mala you have. It's a matter of being aware that, if the beads were of bones (human or animal), these were once sentient beings and must be treated with respect. I would NOT recommend idly procure a HUMAN mala.  
There is, however, the danger of doing wrathful practices if one is NOT empowered (needless to say, by a qualified lama) and not well-informed of the background of the practice involved. More danger still is reciting wrathful mantras by the non-initiate who would use beads carved from human bone. 
To me, using a human mala for wrathful practice is not the point. It's more of the symbolism of the bone beads for the wrathful deity tantra practitioner. 
Empowerment, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is a ritual performed only by a QUALIFIED lama from an UNBROKEN lineage to give one permission, blessing, or power (hence, empowerment) to practice of a particular Tantric path (such as Deity Yoga or Guru Yoga). Depending on the level of the tantra, the initiate takes vows of bodhichitta and life-long commitment to practice the empowered tantric practice. One is given permission to recite secret mantras (again, depending on the practice), prayers, rituals, and sadhanas that must be performed everyday for the rest of the initiate's life. The practice may also include certain visualizations, breathing techniques, deities and mandalas to meditate upon, and are permitted to go on retreats to enhance the tantric practitioner's commitments. It's a sacred bond between the student, the teacher and the tantric deity.Tantra practice is esoteric in nature. The initiate also takes a vow of secrecy. 
Empowerments aren't taken lightly. It isn't given to just anyone. These are serious practices and aren't exploited for selfish reasons. Empowerment are rare and are considered a blessing to receive one. They are cherished and treasured. Following a certain tantric path is practiced for the benefit not only for the initiate but for the benefit of ALL sentient beings.To break vows invalidates the empowerment.
**To sum it up, It is often advised that malas of bone- whether human or animal bone- should only be used by accomplished yogins, since ritual objects crafted of bone are believed to harbor karmic influences. 
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Japa mala or mala (Sanskrit:माला; mālā, meaning garland[1]) (Tib. threngwa[2]) is a set of beads commonly used by Hindus and Buddhists, usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers, usually divisible by 9, are also used. Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This practice is known in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with 19, 21, 27, 54 or 108 beads.
THE SNOW LION NEWSLETTER
CHOOSING AND USING YOUR MALA
by Polly Turner

Recite one mantra;
move your thumb and forefinger
along the next bead
of the strand; then repeat.
The Tibetan Buddhist mala, or beaded rosary, aids the practitioner in counting mantra recitations while also helping one to focus concentration and awareness. As one works the mala's beads with one's fingers, recites the mantra and visualizes the deity, one is at once involving the body, speech and mind.
The basic instructions for using a mala are quite simple. As with nearly any other form of ritual in Tibetan Buddhism and Bön, however, many specifics may vary from tradition to tradition, even within a given school of Buddhism. Always consult with a knowledgeable person in your tradition about matters of ritual.

Some Mala Basics
The mala is held with gentleness and respect, generally in the left hand. One bead is counted for each recitation of the mantra, beginning with the first bead after the "guru" bead- the larger, more decorative bead at the mala's end. The first bead is held between the index finger and thumb, and with each count the thumb pulls another bead in place over the index finger.
After completing a full circuit of the mala, the practitioner flips the mala around 180 degrees (this takes practice to accomplish) and continues as before, in reverse order. One aims to avoid passing over the "guru" bead, as doing so is symbolically like stepping over one's teacher.
According to the Office of Tibet, the official agency of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London, the guru bead signifies the wisdom that cognizes emptiness. Surmounting it is another, cylindrical bead that symbolizes emptiness itself; together, these two beads symbolize having vanquished all opponents.
To aid in mantra counting, on many Tibetan malas there are divider beads of a different color, spaced equally along the mala's length. One also may attach a pair of counter strings to the mala as an additional counting aid- each string of the pair is a double-plaited cord threaded with 10 small ring beads, generally made of silver, gold or bronze, which are used to count the tens and hundreds of completed mala cycles.
A third counter also may be attached to the mala to keep track of the thousands of cycles completed. Often featuring the symbol of a wheel or jewel, this counter is attached to the thread between two beads, and then repositioned from bead to bead.

Choosing a Mala
A mala of 108 beads is used for general purposes by most practicing Tibetan Buddhists. Beads of bodhi seed generally are considered auspicious for any practice or mantra, and red sandalwood or lotus seeds also are widely recommended for universal use.
A variation of the standard 108-bead mala is the wrist mala of 27 beads- four circuits total 108 mantra repetitions. This number 108 is abundant in significance, according to Robert Beer:*
"The sacred number of 108 predates Buddhism, being the classical number of the Hindu names assigned to a deity or god. As a multiple of 12 and 9, it represents the nine planets in the 12 zodiac houses. As a multiple of 27 and 4, it also represents the four quarters of the moon in each of the 27 lunar mansions or constellations. Nine is also a 'magic' number. A number multiplied by 9 results in a number the sum of whose digits is also a multiple of 9. In Pranayana Yoga it is calculated that a human being takes 21,600 breaths in a 24-hour cycle consisting of 60 periods of 360 breaths; a 12-hour 'day' cycle therefore equals 10,800 breaths. The 108 beads also ensure that at least a hundred mantra recitations have been completed in a full rosary turning."
Besides the multi-purpose malas described above, there are other types of malas that are deemed auspicious for various purposes.
Mantras can be recited for four different purposes: to appease, to increase, to overcome, or to tame by forceful means, according to the Office of Tibet in London, which offers these additional guidelines for choosing the right malas for the purpose:
The beads used to count mantras intended to appease should be of crystal, pearl or mother of pearl, and should at least be clear or white in color. A rosary for this purpose should have 100 such beads. Mantras counted on these beads serve to clear away obstacles, such as illness and other calamities, and purify one of unwholesomeness.
The beads used with mantras intended to increase should be of gold, silver, copper or lotus seeds, and a rosary is made of 108 of them. The mantras counted on these serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit.
The beads used with mantras which are intended to overcome are made from a compound of ground sandal wood, saffron and other fragrant substances. There are 25 beads on this rosary. The mantras counted on them are meant to tame others, but the motivation for doing so should be a pure wish to help other sentient beings and not to benefit oneself.
The beads used to recite mantras aiming at subduing beings through forceful means should be made from raksha seeds or human bones in a string of 60. Again, as the purpose should be absolutely altruistic, the only person capable of performing such a feat is a Bodhisattva motivated by great compassion for a being who can be tamed through no other means, for example extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions, visualized as a dense black ball.
Beads made of Bodhi seed or wood can be used for many purposes, for counting all kinds of mantras, as well as other prayers, prostrations, circumambulations and so forth.**
Different Tibetan spiritual traditions may offer variations on the above guidelines. For example, in the Bön tradition, a Bodhi seed mala is recommended for all four activities; and for pacifying activity, a mala with 100 beads of crystal, conch or lapis lazuli is recommended. For increasing activity, a mala of 108 beads of gold or silver is recommended; for power activity, a mala of 50 beads of coral, copper or red sandalwood is recommended; and for wrathful activity, a mala of 10 rudraksha seeds is recommended.*** Rudraksha seeds are the dried berries of the rudraksha tree, which grows in Indonesia, Nepal and India; they are round and pitted, with granular protuberances, and are sized between a quarter of an inch to more than an inch in diameter.
It is often advised that malas of bone- whether human or animal bone- should only be used by accomplished yogins, since ritual objects crafted of bone are believed to harbor karmic influences.
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In Tibetan Buddhism, traditionally malas of 108 beads are used. Some practitioners use malas of 21 or 28 beads for doing prostrations. Doing one 108-bead mala counts as 100 mantra recitations {5}, the extra repetitions done to amend any mistakes in pronunciation or other faults of recitation.
Malas are mainly used to count mantras. These mantras can be recited for different purposes linked to working with mind. The material used to make the beads can vary according to the purpose of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for all purposes and all kinds of mantras. These beads can be made from the wood of the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa), or from 'Bodhi' seeds, which is a misnomer as the seeds are from a tree related to the Rudraksha (Elaeocarpus ganitrus) and not the Bodhi tree (being a fig tree, its seeds are inside a tiny fig, and are minuscule). The scientific name of this tree, native to Nepal, is yet to be determined.[3] Another general-purpose mala is made from another unknown seed, the beads themselves called 'Moon and Stars' by Tibetans, and variously called 'lotus root', 'lotus seed' and 'linden nut' by various retailers. The bead itself is very hard and dense, ivory coloured (which gradually turns a deep golden brown with long use), and has small holes (moons) and tiny black dots (stars) covering its surface.
Pacifying mantras should be recited using white colored malas. Materials such as crystal, pearl, shell/conch or mother of pearl are preferable. These can serve to purify the mind and clear away obstacles like illness, bad karma and mental disturbances. Using pearls is not practical however, as repeated use will destroy their iridescent layer. Most often pearl malas are used for showing off or 'Dharma jewelry'.
Increasing mantras should be recited using malas of gold, silver, copper and amber. The mantras counted on these can "serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit."[3]
Mantras for magnetizing should be recited using malas made of saffron, lotus seed, sandalwood, or other forms of wood including elm wood, peach wood, and rosewood. However, it is said the most effective is made of Mediterranean oxblood coral, which, due to a ban on harvesting, is now very rare and expensive.
Mantras to tame by forceful means should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads or bone. Reciting mantras with this kind of mala serves to tame others, but with the motivation to unselfishly to help other sentient beings.[3] To tame by forceful means, means to subdue harmful energies, such as "extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions"[3]. Malas for these mantras are made from Rudraksha seeds, or even human bones, with 108 beads on the string. Only a person that is motivated by great compassion for all beings, including those they try to tame, can do this.[3]
The mala string should be composed of three, five or nine threads, symbolizing the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), the five Dhyani Buddhas (Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi) and their wisdoms or the nine yanas or Buddha Vajradhara and eight Bodhisattvas. The large main bead, called the Guru bead, symbolizes the Guru, from whom one has received the mantra one is reciting. It is usually recommended that there be three vertical beads in decreasing size at this point: one white (Nirmanakaya) one red (Sambhogakaya) and one blue (Dharmakaya), or enlightened body, speech and mind.