Buddhist prayer beads are a traditional tool used to count time while meditating using mantras. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions and to Christianity's Rosary; thus this tool has also been known as the Buddhist rosary.
A Japa mala' or mala (Sanskrit:माला; mālā, meaning garland) (Tib. threngwa) is a set of beads commonly used by Hindus and Buddhists, usually made from 108 beads, though other numbers, usually divisible by 9, are also used. Malas are used for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally repeating a mantra or the name or names of a deity. This practice is known in Sanskrit as japa. Malas are typically made with 19, 21, 27, 54 or 108 beads.
Malas are mainly used to count mantras. These mantras can be recited for different purposes linked to working with mind. Material can vary according to the purpose of the mantras used. Some beads can be used for all purposes and all kinds of mantras. These Beads made of Bodhi seed or wood.
Appeasing mantras should be recited using white-colored Malas. Materials such as crystal, pearl or mother of pearl are preferable. These can serve to purify mind and clear away obstacles like illness. There are 100 beads on this Mala.
Increasing mantras should be recited using Malas of gold, silver, copper or lotus seeds and with 108 beads. The mantras counted on these can “serve to increase life span, knowledge and merit.”
Mantras for overcoming should be recited using malas made of saffron, sandal wood, or other forms of wood including elm wood, peach wood, and rose wood.
mantras to tame by forceful means should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads or bone.
There are 25 beads on this Mala, used to tame others, but with the motivation unselfish to help other sentient beings.
To Tame by forceful means, means to subdue harmful energies, such as “extremely malicious spirits, or general afflictions”. Malas for these mantras are made from raksha seeds or even human bones, with 60 beads on the string. in a string of sixty. Only a person who are motivated by great compassion for all being, including those they try to tame, can do this.
The string should consist of nine threads, symbolizing Buddha Vajradhara and eight Bodhisattvas. The large bead symbolizes Wisdom, and the cylindrical bead symbolizes emptiness, that all obstacles are overcome. 
Mantras are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. The mala is used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions. One repetition is usually said for each bead while turning the thumb clockwise around each bead, though some traditions or practices may call for counterclockwise motion or specific finger usage. When arriving at the head bead, one turns the mala around and then goes back in the opposing direction. This makes using the mala easier as the beads will not be so tight on the string when you use them.
If more than 108 repetitions are to be done, then sometimes in Tibetan traditions grains of rice are counted out before the chanting begins and one grain is placed in a bowl for each 108 repetitions. Each time a full mala of repetitions has been completed, one grain of rice is removed from the bowl. Often, practitioners add extra counters to their malas, usually in strings of ten. These may be positioned differently depending on the tradition; for example some traditions place these strings after every 10th bead. This is an alternative way to keep track of large numbers, sometimes going into the hundreds of thousands, and even millions.
In Japanese Buddhism, they are known as "juzu" (数珠, counting beads) or "nenju" (念珠, thought beads), and both words are usually preceded by the honorific 'o-' (as in "o-juzu" (御数珠)). Female speakers make use of the honorific o- more often than male speakers.
In Chinese culture such beads are named shu zhu 数珠 ("counting beads"), Fo zhu 佛珠 ("Buddha beads"), or nian zhu 念珠 ("prayer beads"). Chinese court beads (Chinese: 朝珠; ||pinyin]]: cháozhū) also derive from Buddhist prayer beads.
Theravada Buddhists in Burma also use prayer beads, called ba-di [bədí]). Such beads are typically made of fragrant wood, with a series of brightly-coloured strings at the end of the beads.
Numbers and Symbolism
Ananda Coomaraswamy holds that the numerology of the decimal numeric system was key to its inception. 108 is therefore founded in Dharmic metaphysical numerology. One for bindu; zero for shunyata and eight for ananta.
In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions or klesas. There are six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by three reactions (positive, negative, or indifference) making 18 "feelings." Each of these feelings can be either "attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure" making 36 "passions", each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future. All the combinations of all these things makes a total of 108, which are represented by the beads in the ojuzu. This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times.
In addition, practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism, use the number 108 for a different purpose. After reciting 100 mantras, eight extra mantras are done to compensate for any errors.
- Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965), written at Delhi, The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary (Fourth revised and enlarged ed.), Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, ISBN 81-208-0567-4
- DiamondWay-Buddhism.org - Glossary Retrieved 2009-02-05
- Buddha Dharma Education Association and Buddhanet.com Buddhist studies: Malas (beads) Retrieved 2009-02-05
- Bishop Shinsho Hanayama, “Story of the Juzu”
- How to use a mala
- Mala beads: What are they and what do they represent?
- All Ways to use the prayer beads mala
br:Juzu ja:数珠 ru:Буддийские чётки th:ประคำ vi:Chuỗi tràng hạt (Phật giáo)