The string of beads is mainly used to count mantras that are recited. So in fact, it has the same function as a rosary (catholic prayer bead). Beads made of (semi-)precious stones, pearls, bodhi seeds or wood are suitable for many purposes, for counting all kinds of mantras or other prayers, prostrations, circumambulations and the like. The cord is the same for all malas, and should consist of nine threads symbolising the Buddha Vajradhara and the eight bodhisattvas. The large bead at the end stands for the wisdom that realizes the utter emptiness and the cylindrical bead above it represents the emptiness itself. Together they symbolize that all opponents have been defeated.
The mala with 108 beads is used for reciting or chanting mantras. The number 108 is the ideal number for all purposes. It is important that our thoughts are pure while reciting or chanting the mantra. Mantra is the practical use of secret powers that help us move forward. Mantra is a collection of letters from the alphabet. The effect is achieved by repeating the mantra; this becomes deeper the longer one recites. Essential is the sound that is produced while reciting. This sound produces and creates a unique spiritual impression in the person who is reciting. It is said that a mantra is like a human being; one has to go through several stages before the real effect is achieved: ‘purification of mental impressions’. There are several mantras that have their potential power within themselves; these mantras may only be transmitted from Master to initiate. These are the so-called ‘Siddha Mantras’.
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