How to use a mala

The description of a Tibetan Buddhist rosary as mentioned in the Commentary on the Embodiment of Realization

written by Karma Zangmo, an 8th year student of Ngagyur Nyingma Institue of Namdroling Monastery, as published in the Palyul Times 2013

The descriptions of rosary are divided into the following eight sections:

  1. the origin of rosary
  2. the enumeration
  3. the rosary string
  4. the mode to string the rosary
  5. the counter beads of rosary
  6. the blessing
  7. the counting method
  8. the samaya

I. The origin of rosary

The origin of rosary can be divided into four categories:

  1.  identity
  2. etymology
  3. category
  4. purpose

II. The identity of rosary

The lamp of tantra illuminating the principles

of rosary states thus; Firstly, the identity of a rosary –

It is threaded close and is finite in number. It is used

as adornments and is arranged in successive order to

hold the approximation of mantra recitation.

II. The etymology

The same text states:

Beings possessing faith and belief

Are bonded to their master and so forth.

The etymology of rosary is thus stated accordingly,

like the three root and vajra brothers and sisters

are bonded to each other. Since, it is called threng-wa

in Tibetan, which literally means to be bonded or to

be fond of each other.

III. The category

According to the same text, the categories of

rosary are the rosaries to be adopted and rosaries to

be discarded. The categories of rosary to be adopted

are as follows: Rosaries made of Jewel are supreme,

made of fruits are intermediate and made of wood,

earth; stone and the rosary of medicine dough are of

inferior quality. The rosaries made of conch shell and

bodhi wood are auspicious for peaceful activity. Gold,

apricot and fruits like mulberry accomplish enriching

activity. Coral, tamarisk and medicine rosaries are for

magnetizing activity. Iron, turquoise, black teak and

bone accomplish wrathful activity. Divine agate, bodhichi,

ivory and rosary made of different kinds are

preferable for all activities.

As for the colour, white is praiseworthy for

peaceful, yellow for enriching, red for magnetizing

and black for wrathful activity. Multicoloured rosary

is used for accomplishing every activity.


The rosaries to be discarded are – those classes

of rosaries which are not revealed in the genuine tantra

texts. Since such rosaries are not effective in accomplishing

divine power, they must be discarded. In case

of rosaries of glass and oysters etc, they are explained

and revealed in later translation tantra. In short, those

rosaries not explained in both, the earlier and later

translation tantra must be avoided.

IV. The purpose

The same text says:

Generally, holding a rosary is considered a

vow of tantra because it is the hand-sign of meditation

deity. It is the symbol of upholding the enduring

memory and figuring out the essence in enumeration.

It is also an auspicious coincidence of wisdom mother

and object of wealth. It ripens causal condition and

power, raises the primordial wisdom of samaya and

reveals the distinction between self and deity. Increases

the limitless fruitions and revives the perspective of

recitation mantras. It is an object for accomplishing

entire activities of peaceful, enriching, magnetizing,

wrathful etc. It is also a means for turning the three

spheres of a teacher’s activity (exegesis, attainment and

work). In this way, the general purposes of rosary are

inestimable and specifically, it serves the purpose of

holding the numerical limit of mantras.

The superior purposes of rosary are: it ascertains

maturation and liberation of generation and perfection

phase. As it is a skilful means from the gateway

of secret tantra path, put the interdependence unity

of all phenomena into practice. In this way it is stated

that there are many such distinctive purposes of rosary.

  1. Enumeration

The same text states:

Though one hundred and eight is the commonly

recommended number, it can also be half of

hundred eight that is fifty four or twenty one or eleven.

If you are reciting any mantra for peaceful activities,

repeat eleven enumerations time and again. And

proceed with chanting hundred, thousand, hundred

thousand and so on according to the limits of enumerations

mentioned in the valid scriptures. Similarly,

repeat one hundred and eight enumerations for enriching,

fifty four for magnetizing and twenty one for

wrathful activities. Accordingly, recite all these mantras

matching with numbers mentioned in the texts of

one’s own spiritual tradition.

  1. The rosary string

From the same text: The strings of rosary are

as follows:

Roll white woollen string for peaceful, yellow

cotton for enriching and red silk for magnetizing.

Similarly, roll with the kinds of intestine, skin and

leather cord for wrathful activities. For the rosary of

different activities, roll with five coloured strings. Keep

the thickness of the strings according to the size of the

rosary. While stringing the rosary it should not

be too loose or tight and the string should not

be too long or short. Activities won’t accomplish if it’s

extremely tight. Obstacles will occur, if it’s extremely

loose. Deity accomplishment will delay, if the strings

are extremely long. Life will be painful, if it’s too short.

Misfortune will occur, if it is knotty, possess addendum

and if there is inequality in the thickness

of the strings. Likewise, we must understand such distinction

and alike.

  1. The mode to string the rosary

The tantra text called Sambuti states;

While stringing the rosary visualize the thread

as the principal deity and the beads of rosary as the assembly

of retinue deities surrounding it and chant the

HUNG syllable simultaneously.

  1. Counter bead

The same text states;

Roll the white thread in round shape for

peaceful and yellow thread with knotty enclosure for

enriching. Roll red flower, flat and crescent in shape

for magnetizing. Roll black and triangular in shape for

wrathful. Embellish with white, red and blue beads

as the sign of body, speech and mind for various activities.

Thus it is said that we must make the counter

beads which accords with the respective activities.

In general the counter beads are made with

three beads piled one upon another as the symbol of

three vajras (indestructible body, speech and mind of

Buddha). The colours are blue, red and white symbolizing

mind, speech and the body of Buddha respectively

from top.

  1. Blessing

The same text states;

Before using a new rosary for counting the

mantra recitation we must conduct cleansing, purifying

and consecrating rituals. The root tantra of Manjushree


From the stainless river, purify with pure water,

Then wash it completely with five cattle-products,

And anoint it with pleasing scent,

Then endeavour in reciting mantra with great efforts.

In annotation of the above text, Vidhyadhara

Dharmakriti states: At first, wash mouth and hand

with clear water. After that, wash rosary with five

objects of cattle and apply fragrant scent. Then hold

the rosary in the left hand coiled like a snake with the

counter bead in the middle and visualize one’s left palm

being marked with syllable HUNG, right palm with

syllable AH SA. Purify the perception of taking rosary

as ordinary with the seal of emptiness and visualize the

counter bead as the principal deity on the triple seat

lotus, sun and moon piled one upon another and the

other surrounding beads as the retinue deities. Then

visualize that the lights emanating from the three syllables

of the three places of these deities provoke and

invite wisdom deities and merged inseparable with

the deities visualized by ourselves. Thus if we recite

with this profound concepts with proper consecration

ceremony then whatever mantra one recites with this

particular rosary, its power will be increased 100,000


  1. The counting method

While counting peaceful mantras, count them

by placing the rosary upon the index finger. Likewise,

count enriching mantras by placing it upon the middle

finger, magnetizing upon the ring finger and wrathful

upon the small finger. Count all of them only with the

left hand and not with the right hand. However at several

occasions, counting with both hands is also mentioned.

It means with both hands together and not

only with right hand. Both earlier and later translation

texts commonly explain it as – holding rosary with the

right hand and counting with the left hand.

Recite mantras of peaceful activities by holding

your rosary at the heart, enriching mantras at navel

and magnetizing towards secret part, with great zeal of

invocation. For wrathful mantras hold it on the knee

of cross-legged posture and for manifold activities

hold it wherever one feel convenient.

  1. The Samaya

The samaya for holding qualified and consecrated

rosary are stated in the same text as follows: The

rosary used by one’s master shouldn’t be used but it

should be taken care of as an object of devotion and

respect. One must keep a proper or a genuine rosary

inseparable from our body like its shadow. It is the

root samaya of rosary.

Although many branch samayas are being

mentioned in the texts, it can be summed up in brief

as follows:

Any kind of activities will be accomplished

quickly if one refrains from showing rosary to others

and if it is not separated with the body heat. Likewise,

do not pass it on others hand, specifically to the violator

of samaya. Use it at the time of reciting but do not

pull the beads simply without any work at inappropriate

time. Refrain from using rosary without any regard

and respect.

One must not bear rosary devoid of consecration.

Do not use your rosary for other ordinary

purposes, but keep it in secret. Do not place it on the

ground or neglect it. Avoid mingling your rosary with

defiled rosaries. Avoid rosaries with beads of unequal

size, unpleasant colour and shape. If the string of your

rosary breaks, you must make it again within the same

day without delaying for the next day. Avoid rosaries

made from horns. You must also avoid rosaries like

– those obtained from the hands of those who have

committed heinous crime, butchers, samaya violators,

thieves, widows and so on; rosaries you find on the

way, seized from others, taken from ornaments of statue

etc. If one’s own rosary gets defiled with the above

mentioned defects, it must be either burnt or thrown

in the river or otherwise disposed off.

If you have an expensive rosary you must keep

it in secret to avoid vanity. You must also avoid unattractive

rosaries because others will despise you and

you will lose interest in recitations.



Thus, these are unmistaken

intended meanings mentioned in the Commentary

of Embodiment of Realization as indispensible

specific samayas of secret Vajrayana to be observed by

all Vajrayana practitioners.

Written by Karma Zangmo, an 8th year student of Ngagyur Nyingma Institue of Namdroling Monastery, as published in the Palyul Times 2013

Photo: Pinterest

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