A mala, a string of prayer or mantra-counting beads, tangibly expresses our desire to align with the principles of peace, love and oneness. Whether we use it as originally intended by various world cultures, or we see it as a beautiful talisman reminding us to keep our thoughts in the present moment and live to our fullest potential, a mala resonates with tradition and meaning.
A mala consists of 108 beads, or a fraction of that number, and a larger bead–called a guru, meru or capstone bead and not tied in the sequence of the other beads–that marks the beginning and end of the mala.
The number 108 has deep significance in many faiths and fields, beginning with the numerals themselves. Adding the numerals, 1+0+8=9. The number 9 represents the power to influence our circumstances, among other powerful positive meanings, while 12 has deep meaning ranging from the zodiac to the tribes of Israel and the Christian apostles. Multiplied together, 9 times 12 equals 108. Looking at powers, 11=1; 22=4; 33=27; and then 1x4x27=108. An integer divisible by the sum of its digits is a Harshad number, a name from the Sanskrit meaning “great joy.”
In astronomy, the distance between the sun and the earth is 108 times the diameter of the sun: the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the earth; and the distance between the earth and the moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon.
Bringing it down to a more human level, many traditions emphasize the energy of 108. Buddhists believe mortals have 108 earthly desires; other traditions say mankind has 108 delusions and tells 108 types of lies. In Hindu metaphysics, 108 energy lines converge at the heart chakra, including sushumna, the path of self-realization. Genesis 5:2, the 108th verse of some Christian bibles, focuses on the yinyang creation of male and female.
In other realms, 108 has meaning, too. There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 x 2 =108. Pranayama yogic practice explains that if we can be so calm in meditation that we only take 108 breaths in a day, we will find enlightenment. There are 108 Upanishads, the wisdom texts of the ancient Hindu sages, and 108 points define the Sri Yantra, Tantrism’s sacred diagram representing the universe.
And there’s more. The angle formed by two adjacent lines in a pentagon equals 108 degrees. Some say there are 108 feelings, that there are 108 paths to God, and 108 Hindu deities–each having 108 names. In Islam, the number 108 refers to God. In the Jain religion, the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones equal 108. Once you begin to explore, the sacred and symbolic references to 108 seem to be an endless, uniting concept. Strands of beads or knots and the number 108 are part of many traditions, including Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Taoist and Sikh. Whatever significance you find in the 108 beads of your mala, remember that across the globe and across time, people of all races, religions and creeds have shared the practice of using a continuous circle of beads as a tool for finding peace, connection and meaning in their life.
Master Miao Tsan’s new book, Zen Moments, is inspired by the concept of 108, symbolizing the journey of the seeker of Truth through the path of inner contemplation. The book contains 108 original quotes referenced from Master Miao Tsan’s published books, including The Living Truth, Just Use This Mind, The Origin is Pure, and Intrinsic Awakened Nature. Each quote is accompanied by an illustration of a blossoming lotus. The 108 illustrations of a lotus flower come together into an animated sequence, and if a reader flips quickly through the pages, the lotus opens from bud to blossom. Opening the book to an individual page, each illustration in the sequence symbolizes a frozen moment in time–a moment where one can stop, be free from all worrying, and contemplate the Zen quote in the stillness of that moment. Zen Moments can be read in any order, at any pace. Read it straight through, read one quote per day, or flip through the pages as if counting each bead on a mala.
May each round of your mala and each contemplation of Zen Moments bring you a step closer to real joy.
by Lucy Chambers