Japa Mala as a form of meditation
Meditation gurus and sages can often be seen wearing or holding a garland of beads. Mala (or Sanskrit:माला; mālā, meaning 'garland') is a simple yet effective chanting tool used to count mantras, prayers, or intentions. The mala is effective since it lets users focus on the meaning or sound of the mantras, freeing the minds of unwanted thoughts.
What is a Japa Mala?
Japa Mala refers to a garland of 108 beads and an additional larger bead or a tassel which indicates the start and end of the mala. The mala assists the practitioners in focusing attention by counting the repetitions of the mantra.
History of the Japa Mala:
The earliest usage of a mala probably dates back to the 8th century when the ancient Indian seers started using this for seeking higher knowledge, self-awareness through meditation. Hindu and Buddhist traditions were amongst the earliest users of the Japa Malas before it spread across the world.
Several religious traditions use a string of beads within their spiritual practices.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism, and Islam are the prominent religions that use some form of malas or prayer beads.
Hindu and Buddhist Malas are made of Tulsi, Rudraksha, or Bodhi (Lotus) plant seeds and usually contain 108 beads as it signifies an auspicious number.
Christians adopted the practice of prayer beads, called a rosary, in the 9th century. The rosary contains 59 beads and is used to recite in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Malas in the Sikh religion is used for mentally repeating the name of the Lord (Waheguru or Satnam), keeping count of the number of repetitions of Shabads, and helping build concentration.
Prayer beads have been at the core of Islam, for centuries. Scholars believe the Islam faith borrowed the practice of prayer beads from the Buddhists. The mala, called a misbaha, Subhash, or Tespih, contains 99 beads and 1 elongated terminal bead. The misbaha is often made from wood or date pits from the Islamic Holy City, The Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Usage beyond religious traditions:
The mala, apart from being used for reciting mantras and other meditation techniques, was also used for various other purposes, like:
Mala as a talisman- native Americans, have traditionally believed in the spiritual powers of the mala and believed it could guard them against bad luck and talisman.
Mala for relaxation- Greece, Turkey, and Middle easter regions have been using malas for a long for relaxation. Worry beads (also called a kompoloi) do not hold religious significance and are used to pass time in Greek and Cypriot cultures.
Mala as a message- African cultures have long used beads to communicate. Zulu tribe in ancient times sent messages, that could be decoded using the colors and patterns of beaded offerings.
Significance of Japa mala and its benefits:
The Japa mala meditation technique is quite popular across the world. This form of meditation has gained prominence lately as it has proved to be very useful for people who are mentally very busy and often struggle to refine their thoughts and attention to a single point.
Japa Mala has been an integral part of meditation and its benefits can be experienced emotionally, physically, and psychologically. Japa involves a meditative rhythmic chanting of a mantra that helps you focus inwards, calms the mind, and pacifies the negative train of thoughts. The chanting of mantras deepens your meditation, bringing a higher level of consciousness, and achieving mental wellness.
Apart from the emotional and psychological upliftment, Japa meditation has proved to aid in the physical wellbeing (biological/medical/therapy tool) of the practitioners. Meditating with mala beads has shown to lower the heart rate and normalize blood pressure. Studies claim increased brain activity due to enhanced concentration. Japa meditation is known to help practitioners sleep better by removing the negative and anxiety-inducing thoughts resulting in a relaxed, happy, enthusiastic individual.
How to practice Japa mala meditation?
A Japa mala is much more than a conventional counting device. It is considered as a sacred power object to increase the soul power bringing protection from negativity and a sense of fulfillment. You do not need any prior experience to practice Japa mala meditation.
Follow the easy steps to get started:
1. Sit in a quiet place in a comfortable position.
2. Hold the mala in your palm between your thumb and the middle finger. Avoid using the index finger since it signifies ego.
3. Choose a mantra you believe in and move the beads through your fingertips, slowly reciting the mantra with each bead.
4. Focus your attention on your breathing and the mantras.
5. You can chant the mantra either aloud or silently in your mind.
6. Once done with a set, you could repeat, or place the mala back neatly in your home temple or prayer room.
Meditation requires persistence and perseverance. Don’t worry if your thoughts wander during the practice. Try to refocus and bring back your attention to the mantra and the flow of the beads. Do it slowly and mindfully to maintain interest, reduce fatigue, and boredom. Meditation is a slow process that has the highest healing power, practice consistently with faith.