Tibetan prayer beads are called malas (also called japa malas), which translates in Sanskrit as garland. Most Tibetan prayer beads have 108 beads, but some have 21 or 28 beads, which are used when doing prostrations. In 108 bead malas, 100 of the beads are counted as the practitioner recites 100 mantras, with the extra 8 recitations completed to account for any mistakes made during the repetition. As each mantra is recited, each bead is held in the fingers in sequence until one comes to the end of the prayer bead circle.

Tibetan malas are made from a variety of materials, including wood from the Bodhi tree, lotus root, various seeds, pearls, gemstones and crystals. ‘Moon and Stars’ malas are made with a variety of seeds and roots, including lotus root, lotus seeds and linden nuts. These malas begin as ivory colored, but change to brown with use. They are flecked with small holes and dots that resemble the moon and stars, which is where they derived their name.

Different bead materials that are used in malas are said to promote certain types of prayers and healing. Calming mantras or prayers that dispel disturbances and purify the mind should be made with light colored beads from crystal, shell, or pearl. Mantras that promote a long life, wisdom and merit should be recited with gold, silver, copper and amber beads. Mantras which attract certain properties should be recited with malas made of sandalwood, rosewood, lotus seeds, elm and peach wood. Mantras that are used to dispel harmful energies are best recited on malas made with bone or rudraksha.

The string which hangs from the prayer bead circle is called the mala string. It is usually composed of three threads, which symbolize the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which are the three jewels of Buddhism representing the originator of Buddhism, the teachings of Buddhism and the spiritual family of Buddhists. The guru bead is the large bead on the string, which represents the guru, or the teacher of the person reciting the mantras. There are usually three additional beads of decreasing size. These beads are white, red and blue, representing the body, speech and mind, which are attaining enlightenment through the recitation of the mantras.

Author's Bio: 

Buddhist Malas and Prayer Beads are topics of interest to Sylvia Smelcer, who is the owner of Buddhist e-commerce websites.