Friday, November 2, 2012

Buddhist Prayer Beads

Japa Mala Thiksey Ladakh
Photo Copyright Poras Chaudhary.
All rights reserved.

It is widely believed that the Buddhist practice of praying with prayer beads was inherited from Hinduism. While this may be the case, it’s also possible that using pebbles, fingers, beads, or notches on a stick to keep track of many things, including counting prayers, is a fairly universal custom. For those who recite many prayers or mantras on a regular basis, devising some way to keep track of these prayers makes sense.

Even so, Buddhism and Hinduism share many common elements in their use of prayer beads. For instance, Buddhists call their sets of beads malas (“chaplets”), and Hindus call them japa-malas (“muttering chaplets”). Both malas and japa-malas traditionally have 108 beads, and both are used to count mantras, sacred sounds, syllables, or words.

Buddhism was first established in India, and it eventually spread throughout Asia, becoming the main religion of Tibet, Korea, Japan, and China. Each country uses malas in a slightly different way. Tibetan Buddhists use strands of 108 beads, 100 of which are used to count mantras and eight of which are dedicated to all sentient beings.

Korean Buddhists used malas with 110 beads. Two of the beads were larger than the rest, one with a swastika and one plain one in the middle. In Japan, different Buddhist sects adopted different styles of malas, with the most common being the shozoiki jiduzu. Not only were these strands of 112 beads used for prayer and invocation, they also provided a sense of safety. {4} Though the use of prayer beads by Chinese Buddhists was few and far between, during Manchu rule (1644-1912 AD), “court chains,” fashioned after Tibetan malas, were worn as a symbol of status among the nobility.

Coming soon: More about Tibetan Malas, Korean Malas, and Japanese Malas.

Read More about prayer beads - Christian, Muslim, Hindu.


1. Dubin, Lois Sherr. The History of Beads: From 100,000 B.C. to the Present. New York: Abrams Publishers, Inc., 2009.
2. Museum of Anthropology. University of Missouri. “Prayer Beads: A Cultural Experience.” Copyright 2011. Last updated October 22, 2012.
3. Prayer Beads World (website). “Prayer Beads in Islam.” Copyright 2008. Accessed October 22, 2012.
4. Schumacher, Mark. “A to Z Photo Dictionary Japanese Buddhist Statuary.” OnMarkProductions (website). Accessed October 29, 2012.
5. Winston, Kimberly. Bead One, Pray Too. New York: Moorehouse Publishing, 2008.

*Clip-art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy


  1. my father always prays with this kind of beads in his hands, he's Buddhist, you see. thankyou so much for your sweet comment on my blog, yes people often tell me that i'm easy to read, even in photos. thankyou so much for noticing that :) i am now trying to strengthen myself to pick one boat, hoping you're doing well to. let's us life our chosen life to the fullest :)

    1. Febrina, thank you for stopping by. I have a great respect for those of the Buddhist faith. A life lived to the fullest is the only kind of life I ever want to have. I'm glad you're on the quest for that so early in your life!