The use of the mala is to count mantra recitations and also to help one focus concentration and awareness. Each time one counts a bead a mantra is recited and a deity is visualized. Reciting mantra with mala beads involves body, speech and mind. A genuine mala should have 108 beads with a bigger bead at the beginning and end. This bead is called the Buddha or the Guru Bead. The use of a mala made of genuine sandalwood, a fragrant material is intended to overcome all obstacles in the path to Enlightenment and to know the true nature of the mind. It helps to overcome emotions, greed, anger, hate, desire, lust and evil. Sandalwood has the ability to strengthen and purify the mind. The tail of this mala comes with a wheel of life and a jade symbol of buddhism.
Do’s and Don’ts in using Malas (Contributed by Andre Hanssens from Metta Foundation, Netherlands)
One should hold a mala with gentleness and respect. The mala is usually held in the left hand and each time the thumb and the middle finger takes a bead one at a time.
If one ends a counting session of 108 mantras one should never jump over the Guru bead, but turn the mala 180 degrees to start again. So, do not forget. Never jump over the Guru bead.
A long mala always has 108 beads. No matter what the sizes of the beads are, it is possible that in the long mala after every 27 beads a smaller bead is placed so one is able to know with the eyes closed that one has counted 54 beads, half way. Sometimes halfway a bigger bead or bead made from other material is placed to serve the same purpose.
The number of 108 has a meaning; in Hinduism is that that a deity or god has 108 names. If you multiply 12 with 9 it represents 12 planets in the zodiac houses. If the number 27 is multiplied by 4, it represents the 4 quarters of the moon in each of the 27 of the lunar mansions or constellations. Nine is also magic. A number multiplied by 9 is the sum of those digits is also a multiple of nine. Example: 8 x 9 = 72. 7 + 2 = 9. In Pranayana or Chi Kung breathing it is calculated that a human being takes 21,600 breaths in a 24 hour cycle consisting of 60 periods of 360 breaths. In 12 hours this is 10,800 breaths. (Number 108).
One should never let others use his/her own mala.