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:
- the origin of rosary
- the enumeration
- the rosary string
- the mode to string the rosary
- the counter beads of rosary
- the blessing
- the counting method
- the samaya
I. The origin of rosary
The origin of rosary can be divided into four categories:
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.
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.
- The rosary string
From the same text: The strings of rosary are
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
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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
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
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
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