A mala is a string of beads used as a traditional Buddhist tool to aid prayer and meditation, in a similar way to a Catholic rosary. Beads have been used as a spiritual focus in many cultures and traditions, stretching back at least as far as the Ancient Egyptians.
Malas are especially useful in the practice of mantras, both helping to focus the mind and keep track of the number of repetitions. A mala will also build up power with repeated use & becomes an intensely personal sacred object- this is especially so with crystal malas. For this reason it is advisable to have your own mala beads & not to lend them to others.
Making a mala
A traditional mala has 108 beads, or a division of that number such as 54 or 27. As we are going to be making relatively expensive & heavy malas using crystal beads I suggest you make ‘half malas’ of 54 beads. This means that in use to complete a ‘full mala’ you will chant all the way round the beads one way & then back again. Traditionally you should never cross the end bead, the meru. This bead accumulates & stores power. When you reach the meru if you want to continue to chant you count back the other way.
Although it is possible to buy ready made malas making your own is much more satisfying- you choose your combination of beads and you begin to build the personal relationship with your mala right from its inception. You also have much more control over the nature of the environment your mala is constructed in and this will affect the end result.
Choosing Your Beads and Materials
You’ll need to make some choices about which beads to use and your design- this is fun! Practically the first is based on cost. Some crystal beads are much cheaper than others, so unless money is no object the majority of your mala is probably going to be the more readily available & reasonably priced beads such as rose quartz, rock quartz, hematite or jade. If you want more expensive stones you can use them as accent beads within the mala and if they are spaced carefully they can aid your awareness of how much of the mala you have completed.
Most importantly think about the purpose of your mala. Are you going to use it for healing? For developing your spirituality? For manifestation? The primary purpose of the mala will help determine an appropriate choice of beads. For example my detox mala is made with rock quartz for clarity & purity and bloodstone for its cleansing and detoxification properties.
You will need one distinctive bead as the meru. It may be larger or made of a different stone, but as you may want to chant with your eyes closed or focussed on a candle or similar then it should be distinguishable by touch. I’ve made meru by wrapping small tumble stones in wire.
A note on thread…silk looks nice, but crystal beads can have slightly sharp edges which over time will wear through the silk. A broken mala is rather sad! Best to use tough, purpose made threads for beading- many of which have a stainless steel core. If you want the look of the coloured silk you could thread on both together providing the bead holes are large enough.
Beading boards are useful- especially if you are intending to do quite a bit of beading. They have grooves that keep the beads from rolling all over the place & can help you plan your layout before you begin. Alternatively lay the beads out on a slip resistant surface- I’ve got some material intended to stop things rolling around on the dashboard of cars! You could also try a tray of sand.
Creating Your Mala
Once you’ve assembled your materials it is most powerful to thread your mala in a specially prepared environment. Allow plenty of time and turn the phone off- ideally you want to make the whole mala in one session without rushing or being interrupted. You may wish to light a candle, burn some incense, play meditative music, whatever creates a sacred space for you.
As with all crystal work take time to cleanse the beads, charge them and programme or dedicate them as appropriate.
If you'd like more inspiration and instruction on making prayer beads look at
A String and a Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads This book includes lots of ideas for using your prayer beads too.