The Anatomy of a Mala Bead

If you’ve read our “What Are Mala Beads?” post, then you probably have a good idea about what mala beads actually are. But you might not know what all the elements of a mala represent. That’s why we put together a quick guide for you—keep reading to find out.

The meaning of…108 beads.

In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, mala beads are often made of 108 beads. Each of these beads helps to keep count of mantra as you recite them 108 times (representing the 108 worldly sins in the Buddhist doctrine). Even outside of Buddhism, the number 108 has significance in many Eastern religious, representing the universe as one thing (1), nothing (0) and everything (8, or infinity).

In addition, the numbers 9 and 12 also have spiritual significance in many Eastern religions, with 9 times 12 equaling 108. The number 3 and 6 are significant in relation to mala beads, too, with Buddhist malas often coming in three forms: 108, 54 and 27 beads. On a traditional Buddhist mala, the three beads above the guru bead (more about that below) represent the Three Refuges: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Classic 108-bead malas are divided into six groups of 18 beads, with a divider bead between each one. For 54-bead malas, these six groups are composed of nine beads, and each of the divider beads represents a point of pause for silent meditation in between mantra repetition.


The meaning of…the guru bead.

Guru beads are found at the bottom of a mala necklace, connecting the beads to the tassel. In Sanskrit, the world “guru” translates to “bringer of light.” Having a guru bead as part of a mala necklace honors the relationship between student and teacher. 

At Mala and Mantra, our guru beads are inscribed with a sacred Sanskrit mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum, which translates to, “O radiant jewel in the lotus of my heart, please shine brightly. May my heart have the strength to feel compassion for all sentient beings.”

The meaning of…the tassel.

In traditional Buddhist culture, tassels are a symbol for lotus blossoms, which represent and promote enlightenment. For centuries, tassels have also served as a talisman that represents power, protection and spiritual connection.


The meaning of…the Om charm.

Om charms are representative of a common mantra—Om—used in meditation and prayer. In Hinduism, Om signifies the essence of the ultimate reality or consciousness. Om charms and symbols are also said to bring luck, harmony and peace to the wearer. 

The meaning of…the Buddha charm.

Buddha charms are meant to symbolize none other than the monk and philosopher known as Buddha, whose teachings founded the Buddhist religion. Many statues, figurines and charms have been made in the image of Buddha for centuries, and each Buddha pose represents something different. At Mala and Mantra, we use a Meditation Buddha charm (also called Serenity Buddha, Calming Buddha or Amithabha Buddha, meaning “Boundless Light”). In this pose, Buddha is depicted with both hands in his lap, legs crossed and eyes closed. This helps the wearer to find peace and calm in their lives, while also easing meditation. The charm is somewhat triangular in shape, which represents stability and aids in concentration.