Malas are a meditative tool, made up of 108 beads strung together, plus one guru bead. The person mediating would move the beads through his or her hands, one by one, and repeat their prayer or intention for each bead on the necklace, akin to a Catholic Rosary.
There are so many ideas about how the number 108 became so significant. Below are some other ways this number proves to be so full of meaning, as explained by Elephant Journal:
- Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number of the wholeness of existence
- This number also connects the Sun, Moon and Earth – the average distance of the sun and the moon to the Earth 108x their respective diameters – such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance
- The diameter of the sun is roughly 108x the diameter of the Earth
- According to yogic tradition there are 108 pithas, or sacred sites, around India
- There are 108 Upanishads, a part of the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit texts that contain some of the central philosophical concepts and ideas of Hinduism, some of which are shared with religious traditions like Buddhism and Jainism.
- There are also said to be 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body
- The chakras are the intersections of energy lines and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path of Self-realization
- Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future
- There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has a masculine and a feminine, shiva and shakit, 54+2=108
- 9×12=108; 9 + 12 are considered to have spiritual significance in many traditions, it also works as (1+0+8) x 12 = 108
- In astrology there are 12 houses and 9 planets, 12×9=108
- In Pythagorean, the nine is the limit of all numbers. 0 to 9 is all you need to make up an infinite amount of numbers
But wait. There’s more:
- There are 108 stitches on a baseball.
- The sum of “The Numbers” in the TV show Lost (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42). It is also the number of minutes within which these numbers must be entered into the computer and the button must be pushed. 108 is also the number of days the Oceanic 6 spent on the island.
- There are 108 cards in an Uno deck.
Okay, so there’s nothing actually sacred about those last 3, but tuck those in your back pocket for trivia night or something.
As Christians, there doesn’t appear to be anything about the number 108 that speaks to us, but according to RidingtheBeast.com, there are a few things we could consider.
The epistle of Saint James, whose central message is that there is no authentic faith without chariatble works, contains on the whole 108 verses. It is also in the epistle of James that the Catholic Church has recognized the sacramental anointing of the sick (Jm 5,14-15).
It is written in some exoteric texts that Jesus-Christ would have had 108 disciples, not including the apostles. Nicodemus would have been a part of these disciples.
According to the information furnished in the narration of Maria Valtorta, Lazarus would have remained 4 days and half in his grave, that is to say 108 hours, before to be resuscitated by Jesus-Christ.
During his passion, Our-Lord received a total of 6666 blows on his body, including 108 to his stomach.
Take what you like, leave what you don’t, I only intend to illustrate that even our own sacred text, the Bible, does not shy away from this number. It’s not a “scary, new agey” thing.
Why Use a Mala?
Malas can be made of any number of materials, and some believe certain materials embody specific healing powers. But it’s important to know that you do not need to ascribe to such beliefs in order to meditate successfully with malas.
Personally, I do not hold any beliefs in the healing properties of certain stones, but I do believe in the power of the senses. I have chosen my own mala based on aesthetics and feel. I wanted it to be pleasing for me to look at, enjoyable to wear, and feel good in my hand when I use it.
Using Mala beads to meditate on a scripture, prayer, intention, or mantra allows you focus your mind and heart intentionally and with some degree of accountability.
How to Use a Mala?
Holding your mala in your right hand, with beads placed between your thumb and middle finger.
(Traditionally, the index finger is associated with the ego, which is why it’s not recommended for use. As Christians, I think we can agree on the idea of needing to be rid of our egos, and to get out of God’s way in our hearts and minds, as we practice surrendering to His will. I don’t necessarily think that my index finger touching my mala has much to do with growing my ego, however, knowing this has brought awareness to me in this regard, and encourages me to consciously lay down my will before God during my meditation in order to make clear the path to my heart for the Holy Spirit to move and breathe and have His way in me. I encourage the same to anyone curious about practicing with malas!)
While meditating on a mala, most people will use a mantra – a word or phrase which is repeated to assist in concentration. This can be something as simple as the word “love” or “om.” As Christians, we can choose scriptures or words or phrases that point us back to God. A favorite of mine is “shalom” which is Hebrew for “peace.” So for example, I might pass through my mala meditating, “shalom. You are my Prince or Peace.”
Practically speaking, counting our mantras or breaths is difficult without a guide because it would be so distracting. Malas assist us to do this as we gently turn each bead between the thumb and middle finger while repeating our mantra out loud or in our heads.
Once we’ve made our way through the 108 beads, we come to the guru bead. This bead signifies that it is time for reflection, gratitude, and praise.
This can be a time to pray to God, offering thanks and praise, or even just singing whatever song is in your heart. I know, for me, when I’m spending time with God, Worship songs come to mind, and I’ll allow those to just reverberate around in my heart and mind, or I’ll queue it up on my playlist and sing along.
Give Yourself Grace.
Meditation and mindfulness is difficult. It requires so much practice and patience, and so we should also practice being compassionate and forgiving with ourselves as we learn how to do this effectively.
Give yourself grace when your mind wanders or you are distracted by something externally, and allow yourself the permission to simply return to your meditation and your mala beads.
God certainly is.