Japa mala beads are Hindu prayer beads. As with any religious practice, you do not have to subscribe to that religion to carry out a simple practice or custom. In my opinion, most religions promote love and bringing goodness to your fellow man. For example, I have found the Christian tradition of lent helpful (we practice abstinence and self-control, building on our will power). Both Buddhism and Hinduism traditionally practice meditation as well as mantra (chanting) for improved mental health. Yoga, sprung out of Hinduism, is undeniably helpful to the bond of mind, body, and soul. The Ten Commandments, integral to Christianity and Judaism are a set of rules or guidelines and most would be helpful for any human being on earth to follow (i.e. "thou shalt not kill"). In fact, japa mala beads are similar to the rosary used in a Catholic rituals (side note: Hindu prayer beads were in existence LONG before rosaries, around the 8th century BC — one cannot rule out the influence japa mala may have played on the emergence of the rosary).
In Hinduism, japa mala beads are used to count Sanskrit prayers or chants (known as mantras). There are 108 beads on each band, a significant number in Eastern religions. The japa mala, when broken down by Sanskrit translation, is a ‘garland of repetitions’ (‘japa’ means repeating sounds to build energy and create inner fire and ‘mala’ means garland). Before you begin to use your beads, you will need to choose or create a mantra. It doesn’t need to be a stereotypical Sanskrit word like ‘Aum’ or ‘Namaste’. I typically choose something that would be similar to an intention I set before yoga practice. I do not ask a higher power for a material object or for a situation to work out the way that I want it to as a prayer might; I choose a mantra that is a declarative, affirmative statement. I like for my chosen mantra to be relevant to something I am currently experiencing in my life. Hindus often believe affirmations are the source and force of creation. Here are some of my favorites:
I am a spiritual being having a human experience.
Everything that is happening is only for the highest good of me.
My mind and body are in complete alignment with the Universe and I am always in the flow.
When I love people more, I receive even more love from them in return.
I am responsible for my own spiritual growth.
I let go of fear. I let go of pain. I live in love.
Japa mala beads have one larger bead, known as the guru bead: this is where you begin you mantras. Repeat your mantra as you touch and hold each successive bead until you come back to the guru bead. This signifies the end of your practice. Traditionally, japa mala beads are made from rudraksha beads, but are made from other materials like gemstones which some believe carry their own metaphysical powers and benefits.
Do you own a japa mala? If so, what are some of your favorite mantras to accompany this ritual?