What is a Mala?

by Thea Cowsky

Sandalwood Tassel Mala with Lapis

Sandalwood Tassel Mala with Lapis

The mala, more commonly known as prayer beads, is a simple and ancient tool that joins two seemingly separate parts of our humanity:

–our minds, which are often busy, worried, or distracted,


–our hearts, or innermost natures, which naturally seek spiritual focus and awareness.

Malas contain 108 beads or a division of three thereof, such as 27. The single larger “Mother” or “Guru” bead, representing The Divine, Eternal, Spirit, or Mind, is additional and is not included in the mala count. So are the contrasting interval (resting/meditation) beads, which allow the mind and heart’s outflowing focus to become still, inflowing and receptive.

108 bead malas can be used for practice, or can be worn about the neck as a “reminder” or refocusing aid throughout the day. Bracelet malas can be worn or kept in one’s pocket, purse or car to help one focus spiritual awareness when one is engaged in one’s busy daily activities and work.

Repetition of a mantra on each bead becomes an active, direct meditation:

-A personal prayer

-The sending of love or spiritual assistance to someone who is ill or in difficulty

-A calling on the Name or attribute of That whose assistance one seeks

-The nurturing of a specific spiritual quality within oneself

-An asking for help

Held in one’s hands, a mala can help create a peaceful focus as one falls asleep.

Malas have been used for countless centuries by many great spiritual traditions.

In the end, they are as universal as the yearning heart.


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