by Kara-Leah Grant
A beautiful set of mala beads made their way into my hands a year or so ago.
They are gorgeous. I’ve put them on so many times, tried them with this outfit and that. Yet every time… I end up taking them straight back off.
They look amazing. But there’s something about it that doesn’t feel right.
Maybe it’s the colour of the beads. Maybe it’s the way they hang slightly off centre. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to wearing something with 108 beads. Or something that long.
A year or so later, sitting in front of my altar, praying, one Friday night, as I consecrate a new journal, I spy my mala beards, coiled behind a small green statue of Ganesh.
They twinkle at me, all shy blue and iridescent light.
I pick them up, still sitting on my knees, still in a reverent mood. As I hold them with one hand, I ponder. Maybe they’re not meant to be used as jewellery at all. Maybe I could just use them for counting a yoga practice. I don’t currently do anything that requires 108 rounds, but maybe I could start.
Something simple even.
And so, right there and then, I begin to do the simplest practice of all. I count the beads. Slipping one and then the other along the thread that binds – which, as I look more closely while moving the beads – seems precariously thin for a thread which is going to hold 108 jostling beads in constant motion.
It’s harder than I thought as I realise that in some 20 years of yoga practice, I’ve never, ever done a practice with mala beads.
This is interesting. I have to really tune in to what’s happening with my hands. And the count. Oh, and don’t forget the breath! Ok, I can do this! It’s just slipping beads along a string!
It takes all my focus to stay on count, keep slipping beads from one side to the other without accidentally slipping it back again and then keep the movement of my hands in time with the count.
Wow – this could take my practice to an entirely different place and new level. There’s a level of embodiment required here that sometimes one can avoid in a chanting or counting practice.
I’m getting close to 100 beads now and I glance down at my hands, anticipating that I must almost be back at the centre bead.
But I’m not.
There’s a suspiciously large number of beads standing between me and that centre, well marked with a silver tree of life pendant. 106, 107, 108…. 109! 110! 110!… All the way up to 123.
Yes, my mala beads have 123 beads. So I count again, just to make sure. Yep, 122 beads. Ballpack at least 13 or 14 more beads than 108.
Two things race through my mind.
- It’s taken me this long to get around to COUNTING THE BEADS on my mala.
- Who is selling MALA beads that don’t have 108 beads on them!!!!!!
Welcome to Yoga:2016 where the form of yoga remains but all truth has well and truly been sucked out.
Am I the ONLY person who has noticed this about this particular brand of Mala Beads.
I go back to the website where I got the beads, which, helpfully define Mala Beads as:
“Mala is a Sanskrit word, meaning garland. They are traditional prayer beads which have been worn for thousands of years in Buddhism, Hinduism and Yoga.”
But wait, what is this?
Most of our Malas are made with 108 rudraksha seeds and/or semi precious stones along with an additional bead called a Guru Bead, this is the 109th bead of the string.
What does this mean? Does this mean I have a rogue set of mala beads? Why are some with 108 and some not? Is it because the looks of the beads would be ruined with slightly less beads?
Or is that my own assumption and bias?
Oh yes, Yoga:2016, she’s a fascinating place alright. Where you’ll find Mala beads that you can’t use to count your practice.
Unless you do 123 rounds.
But, this from the home page of the website:
108 is a sacred and spiritual number.
- The ancient Upanishads text has 108 chapters.
- 27 constellations by 4 parts which is 108.
- The 12 zodiac signs by 9 planets is 108. • The Ganges river also is known to have 108 names.
- It is said there are 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. In Buddhism 108 is said to represent the following formula : 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108
- 6 senses of a human being: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought
- 3 times : past, present, future
- 2 conditions of the heart, mind or intention: pure or impure
- 3 emotional states (kleshas): like, dislike, indifference
In Yoga Practice, 108 means something. And Mala beads are defined by their function, not their look.
I email the website. She directs me to the jewellery maker. I contact them through their website. They come back to me and offer to fix the mala. I come back to this article and prepare to publish.
First though I pick up the mala beads to count them again. And again. And again. This time… the count is around 108-ish. Every time. It’s still different, every time. But it’s no-where near the 123 I got the first few times I counted.
What. The. F?
Two things spring to mind, instantly:
- I suck at counting mala beads
- How fast the mind leaps on anything which proves its underlying beliefs
Oh I was so sure that there were 123 beads, and that this then highlighted and underscored my belief about the way Yoga: 2016 is…
I was almost gleeful. Holding up the beads, waving them about.
Nobody really cares about the essence of Yoga. It’s all style and fashion and commercial.
I was wrong though. Instead of revealing the corrupt heart of Yoga, my own prejudices and biases were laid bare.
Our mind is a tricksy thing. It can not be relied on. Learn to watch it. Learn to question it.
And always… always… always… Get someone else to verify your results. Especially before you publish.
How fast we leap to requisition anything that validates our version of reality…
No… How fast I leapt.
You may not.
Now, I’m going to enjoy these beautiful mala beads from Salt Spring Malas.