How to use a Mala



About Malas

The meaning of the Sanskrit word “Mala” is “garland.”  The word for Mala in Tibetan is Akshamala.  For Buddhist practitioners a mala is considered an essential tool.  Below is a brief explanation about Malas, their purpose, meaning, and use.

What is a Mala?

From a practical and outer point of view, a mala can simply be understood as a method for counting Mantra recitation.  There are typically 108 beads on a Mala string.  Traditionally, when counting mantras, only 100 of the 108 are recorded in the accumulation.  The extra 8 are not counted because of errors that may have occurred during the recitation.  However, a Mala can be a great deal more than just a counting device.

Symbology of a Mala

On a deeper level, the Mala represents the Form and Speech of the Deity.  It can be viewed as the Root Deity and the entire assembly or mandala of that Deity.  For example, if you are doing a Chenrezig practice, the large bead on the Mala represents Chenrezig and the other beads represent the entourage of the Deity.  In this view, the Mala is a support for one’s practice and can become an object of refuge for the practitioner.

Before using a Mala, it is essential to ask a Lama to bless it.  After that, it must be treated with reverence and not touched by other people or animals.

How to Use a Mala

Traditionally one holds the mala in one’s left hand.  With each recitation a bead is pulled forward. Symbolically, this represents the “Vajra Hook” which brings forth blessings and virtue.  The basic instruction is to use the thumb to move the bead forward.

While reciting mantra, it is auspicious to hold the mala to one’s heart.  This is symbolic of “protecting one’s heart” with meritorious and virtuous activity.

The large bead on the Mala is called the Guru Bead or Mother Bead. One never crosses over this bead, just as one would never step over something precious and rare.  Out of respect and gratitude, one reverses direction after 108 recitations.

Types of Malas

A variety of materials may be used to make a mala:  wood or metal beads, seeds, raksha beads (the dried fruit of the raksha tree), as well as precious gemstones or jewels.

Guru Rinpoche gave specific instructions on various types of malas and their use.  For example, he said that a mala made of iron or steel multiplies the virtue of accumulating mantra recitations in a general way. With a copper mala, the virtue increases four times.  A Raksha mala increases it 20 million times.  A pearl or ruby mala increases it 100 million times.  The virtue is multiplied by 100,000 if one uses a silver mala.  The potential benefit from using a Bodhi seed mala is limitless for any form of practice.

Mantra Recitation

To understand the meaning and purpose of Malas, one should also understand Mantra recitation.  The Sanskrit word “Mantra” literally means “protection of the mind.”  For each practice that is dedicated to a Meditational Deity, there is a mantra specific to that Deity.  A Mantra is a collection of precious seed syllables representing the condensed essence of all the pure qualities and attributes of a Deity.  Reciting a Mantra in this profound, virtuous way helps our own pure qualities to come forth.  These qualities are ultimately non-dual with the Deity’s.  For example, Chenrezig’s mantra is “Om Mani Padme Hung.”  If a practitioner recites this mantra with a pure heart and proper motivation, seeking to be of benefit to sentient beings, with faith, devotion, and proper understanding of the method, then only benefit will arise in the mind.  One’s natural compassionate nature will be cultivated and nurtured.  Over time, transformation of one’s negative qualities will be replaced by virtuous, pure qualities that are inherent within us all.  This method of recitation helps us to awaken to our true nature.


Jetsunma's Stupa
Jetsunma's Stupa

“The visual impact of the stupa on the observer brings a direct experience of inherent wakefulness and dignity. Stupas continue to be built because of their ability to liberate one simply upon seeing their structure” – Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

To find out more about Stupas and see other stupas in the United States, visit:

Miracle of the Butter Lamps

MiraclesThere are accounts of many miracles that took place around the event of His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s parinirvana (final release from suffering of someone who has achieved complete awakening).  Here is an account of one of those miracles.

Flower Butter Lamps

The monks at Byalakuppe Monastery prepared butter lamps for the 49th day ceremonies after His Holiness Penor Rinpoche’s parinirvana.  The monks poured about 1000 butter lamps.  Of those, 50 were set aside to be placed inside the Zangdokpelri. All of the butter lamps were left overnight to set.  Once set, a butterlamp has a flat surface, but when the monks returned the following morning, they foundseven that looked like lotus flowers. Here are some images taken by Paljor, an eyewitness, with his cellphone:

7 Miraculous butterlamps--butter set in the form of lotuses
7 Miraculous butterlamps--butter set in the form of lotuses

Butterlamps3 copy

Close up of miraculous butterlamp
Close up of miraculous butterlamp

New Gallery Feature Added!

We have added a new gallery feature to this site (we moved specifically so we could improve the media offerings!)

Please enjoy these images from Jetsunma’s Prayer room. Please offer us your feedback!

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Images from Jetsunma’s Prayer Room

Cyber Prayer Room

Dear Dharma Friends,
I am delighted to introduce this new site, Tibetan Buddhist Altar. It is my hope that it will offer those who are traveling, those who are home bound, those in hospital or ill a way to stay connected to the Buddhist Sangha.

One can always establish a sacred space, anywhere. In fact, one can practice meditation anywhere- inside, outside, on a bus, in a plane- everywhere.

The way to begin is to familiarize oneself with images that work as a support for one’s practice.

For example, we have all seen images of Buddha. There are many styles according to different cultures- but the image is universally recognizable. So here we are all ready familiar with an image of support for meditation. The idea is to become comfortable with and strong in visualization.

On this site we will offer enlightened images for your use and consideration. And for contemplation and prayer. Happily, as one studies, these images become more and more familiar and easier to visualize.

We will also learn to build one’s own altar. How to pack a small box altar for traveling.  How to respect and care for holy objects. And learn simple meditation.

If one wishes to recite mantra, we will learn how to string a proper mala, or set of prayer beads. So we will be taking some big first steps on the path of Holy Dharma.

We will also create sacred space by learning how to cleanse, purify, and bless one’s home.

Not everyone lives near a Buddhist Temple or knows a Buddhist Master.  But one can always do some kind of meditation practice.  We on this site are hoping to help.

We will begin with offering these precious and extroadinary images so that one can now begin to study, contemplate, and remember. Then we will build a “cyber altar”. We will show the very simple, and the very elaborate so one will have many choices and a large, inspirational library.

Please feel free to download these images, enjoy, and learn.  Learn the Buddhas, the Stupas, the enlightened Lamas- so precious to our hearts and practice.

It is so necessary to receive the blessing of a truly qualified Master to ripen the potential of one’s mind. To receive that blessing from a living Master is a treasure- and so necessary for real practice. I am fortunate to have studied with HH the third Drubwang Pema Norbu Rinpoche. He has sadly recently passed- but was considered a true living Buddha. His image, and that of other highly realized Lamas will be shared for the benefit.

I will regularly offer teachings, guidance and advise.  Although this site is just now being developed we will eventually have an “ask the Lama” section. And a section where one can meet long-time practitioners and dialogue with them. Their experiences are invaluable.

Until next time, then. I very much look forward to this new avenue to learn, and to connect. May all the blessings of the Holy Dharma be yours!

In Faith and Friendship,
Ahkon Norbu Lhamo
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

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