Prayer beads, or Japa Malas, are used in many forms of Mahayana Buddhism to count mantras (Sanskrit prayers) and for meditation purposes, often with a number
of beads, usually a divisor of 108. Pure Land Buddhism uses 27 bead malas. These shorter malas are easier to hold when enumerating repeated prostrations. In
Tibetan Buddhism malas are also 108 beads: one mala counts as 100 mantras, and the 8 extra are meant to be dedicated to all sentient beings. In Tibetan Buddhism,
often larger malas are used such as 111 beads: one mala as 100 mantras, and the 11 additional beads for errors.
Various type of materials are used to make mala beads such as seeds of the rudraksha tree, beads made from the wood of the tulasi plant, animal bone, wood or
seeds from the Bodhi tree or seeds of the Lotus plant. Semi-precious stones like carnelian and amethyst is also used. The most common and least expensive
material is sandalwood.
A mantra is a word or series of words chanted aloud or silently to invoke spiritual qualities. Chanting is used as a spiritual tool in virtually every cultural and religious
tradition. In the yogic tradition a mantra is a Sanskrit word that has special powers to transform consciousness, promote healing or fulfill desires.