Making Buddhist prayer beads, or malas, is something people are starting to enjoy doing themselves as a hobby, or to sell. The word mala is a Sanskrit word meaning garland or necklace.
There are some basic rules to making Buddhist malas. The main rule is that a long set of prayer beads should have 108 beads. 108 is an important number in Buddhism and in Hinduism. In Hinduism, there are 108 deities. Another reason is because 9 is a sacred number in Buddhism and 12 is an important number in Buddhism, and 9 x 12 is 108. There are also 108 earthly desires, 108 lies told by mankind, and 108 forms of ignorance. It is also said that a complete rotation is 100 mantras, and the extra 8 are there to make up for mistakes or errors in saying the mantras. In Buddhism there are 108 virtues and 108 things to avoid. In Sanskrit there are 54 letters in the alphabet and 54 x 2 is 108. Anyway, in Tibetan Buddhism, a mala should have 108 beads.
The guru bead and spacer beads (if you choose to have them) are not counted in the 108 total. A guru bead is a must have for a Buddhist mala. You can use a traditional guru bead or you could even use a charm, but once you have gone around the mala you need to find where you started, and that is the practical reason for having a guru bead. The guru bead is also called the Seva bead or mother bead. It is also known as the Sumeru bead or the Meru bead. When you use a mala, the guru bead should never be crossed to show respect to the Guru. The Guru bead is not counted because it is separate from the rest of the mala, and representative of the Universal Self.
We have some great new options for gemstone guru beads.
Our guru beads include onyx, yellow jade, lapis lazuli, jade, shell, tiger eye, turquoise, agate, and malachite. The guru beads are sold in sets of 5. These look really beautiful with wood or seed beads like lotus seeds, bodhi seeds, or rudraksha seed beads.
For information on malas, please see our article on Buddhist prayer beads.