Anatomy of a Mala: Why Each Part Matters May 02, 2017 11:41

I recently had a friend of mine ask if she should include a tassel on a mala that she had created.  I explained to her that the tassel is an incredibly important component of a mala, and that I have never designed a mala without one.

Each aspect of a mala has a specific, significant role. Together, these parts create a holistic system and tool for generating awareness, bliss, and peace. Understanding the role that each part plays can add more meaning to your personal japa, chanting, or meditation practice.

A mala is much more than beads on a string. It’s a garland that doubles as a metaphor for life in our universe. Every bead represents a truth or principle, and over time, the beads absorb the energy of our focus and attention.  Just as we infuse each bead with our intentions with each recitation, we create the life we live by infusing each moment with our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

The Thread:  "Sutra" is the Sanskrit word for thread or line that holds everything together.  The thread or cord running through the mala holds and supports the beads. Consequently, it represents the Cosmic Creative Force that supports or sustains every part and every being in the universe.

The Beads: The 108 beads collectively represent the universe itself, but individually, they represent the beautiful aspects of life--the good times--beautiful sunsets, grandchildren, hot chai on a rainy day, loyal and supportive friends. These beads are arranged on a never-ending circle, creating a circuit of positive energy that drives life forward into hope and gratitude.

The Knots: The knots between the beads make the mala stronger. They prevent the beads from rubbing together and cracking over time; however, they also represent life's challenges—a flat tire, an uncertain medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or a loved one. These knots fall between the smoother, more beautiful aspects of life.  They also signify the Divine link present among all beings in the universe. Though challenging, these knots remind us that all aspects of life are connected and supported in the universal sutra of life.

The Guru (or Meru) Bead: "Guru" means teacher, and "Meru" means mountain in Sanskrit.  The guru or meru bead is often the 109th bead that is connected to the tassel, and it represents the state of transcendental consciousness or awareness, the central goal of meditation practice. In order to reach this supreme state of understanding, one must be brave and courageous enough to stay the course--perhaps completing many cycles, many repetitions along the sutra of life--encountering both blessings and challenges along the way. These blessings and challenges lead us to find our ultimate teacher and climb that intimidating peak of awareness one step, one bead at a time.

The Tassel: On a mala, the tassel is an extension of the string or sutra that binds the garland together.  It represents our connection to the Divine (whatever that means to you) and the interconnectedness of all beings.  It is a reminder of oneness and unity--that we are all connected--and regardless of the challenges that we face or the rewards that we reap, we're all really traveling together, and we have something beautiful to look forward to at the end of our journey.

 Consequently, a mala is much more than a collection of beads strung together. It represents the compass on your journey as a meditator or practitioner, and it connects you to all other beings who are finding their path, in their own way, one moment, one circumstance, one bead at a time.