Buddhist prayer beads or malas (Sanskrit: mālā "garland") are a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited, breaths while meditating, counting prostrations, or the repetitions of a buddha's name.
A mala is a string of 108 beads with one bead as the summit or head bead called a 'sumeru.' Malas are used as a tool to help the mind focus on meditation, or count mantras in sets of 108 repetitions.
Meditation can be challenging to sit still and quiet your mind for a period of time. The mala provides a much-needed anchor in these situations. It also allows the user to keep easy count during mantra repetitions.
The mala is traditionally held in the right hand and used in two ways; in one method, the mala is hanging between the thumb and the ring finger. The second finger is used to rotate the mala by one bead toward oneself with each repetition of breath or mantra. In the other method, the mala is hanging on the middle finger, with the thumb used to rotate the mala just as explained; one bead at a time. Either way, the index finger is never used to touch the mala. (The index finger represents ego, seen as the greatest impediment to self-realization in ancient Hinduism). The practice begins at the summit or head bead and continues around the loop until the head bead is reached again.
In Hinduism, the head bead is never passed over, so if more than one round is planned, the mala is turned around to proceed again in the reverse direction.
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