Why are there 108 beads on a mala?

Why 108 mala beads? We’ll tell you: um, nobody is exactly sure. Which is ok, especially given that many of the theories as to why are really meaningful and resonant, which allows for you to feel it out and decide what feels like the right explanation for you about why 108 is the customary number of mala beads on a strand.

But first: what are mala beads?

Mala beads are a string of (usually) 108 prayer beads plus a “guru” bead, sometimes used in Hinduism, Janism, Buddhism, Sikhism and in some yoga practices to keep count while reciting a mantra so the practitioner can focus on the mantra completely instead of the mantra and counting. In Sanskrit, the practice of reciting on repeat is known as japa, which is similar to the rosary in Catholicism. In Tibetan Buddhism, prayer wheels are often used in place or in addition to mala beads recitations.

As for theories about why there are 108 beads on a mala, here’s where we think it gets very exciting, as reasons range from:

  • 108 stages on the journey of the human soul
  • 108 energy lines to the heart…
  • the 54 letters in the Sanskrit alaphabet, each with a masculine and feminine version, so 108 covers them all…
  • the idea that a mantra is complete after reciting it 100 times, then allowing for eight additional mantras for error and to dedicate a few extra to your guru…
  • 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad means “great joy” in Sanskrit)…
  • In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets… (hashtag math)
  • Some traditions suggest 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness-thus-completeness, and 8 is for infinity…
  • According to yogic tradition, there are 108 sacred sites throughout India

Aa far as the right mala for you, it’s largely a matter of finding a connection, being drawn to a certain one, and, sometimes, in finding a mala with a specific stone to help manifest a certain intention during a sadhana, such a bodhiseed for compassion, and choosing malas for practical preferences, such as malas especially made for wearing on the wrist, chosen by favorite colors, or chakra correspondence.

Sat nam and namaste!

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