Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Introduction to Budhhichitta Mala Beads

Among the Tibetan or Himalayan Buddhist followers, one of 
Buddhichita Beads with center bead indicating Om 
the common ways of keeping up their practice is to possess a set of prayer bead which they use counting and praying during special occasions.  Prayer beads are called Japa Mala in Sanskrit.  Based on places, teachers and practitioners themselves, Japa Mala can be metal, stone, fruits, wood and so forth. 

According to Himalayan Buddhist tradition and belief, malas made from fruits of Boddhichitta plant is the best.  And a little known place of Timal (or Temal) in Central Nepal is the only place from where beads of Boddhichitta comes from. Timal is home of native Tamang people who refer Boddhichita Mala as Thenga or Frengba in their own dialect.  Interesting enough is that, why would a religious sect that emerged in Tibet, that now continuously flourish as one of the strongest spiritual belief systems in the world, be connected with virtually unknown Nepal's hilly remote village?  This piece is aiming to illustrate background about it.   

To begin with, we need to trace back the origin of Tibetan Buddhism.  It was king Thri Song Dechhen (756 – 804AD) who had invited Indian teacher Guru Padma Sambhava (Guru Rimpoche) to Tibet in order to establish proper Dharma Center or monastery and form Sangha or monastic system.  Guru Rimpoche in the other hand had done more practice and contemplation before heading to Tibet.  It was here in Nepal, he had advanced his achievements towards enlightenment and spiritual power to skillfully transform Tibet to new religion.  He had spent years meditating in various places such as Pharping, Halesi, Helambu and so forth in Nepal.  In the course of his travel to those places, it's said that, he also had meditated in one of the caves in Timal. It is believed that, he had sown a plant of Buddhichitta fruit there as a gift (Ter) to the local Tamangs.  Back in Tibet, due to the nature of Pre Buddhist religion, bon which comprised rather wrathful practices, Guru Rimpoche introduced compassionate aspect of practice in order to balance with wrathfulness.  This is where he introduced god of compassion as center deity and his practice as daily routine for the Tibetan people.  It's said that in response to King Thri Song Dechhen's series of questions related rightful and simple practice of Dharma, Guru Rimpoche instructed to have Japa Mala  containing 108 beads and recite the chanting of lord of compassion(Chenrezi). Furthermore, he had also specified the different Japa Malas having different qualities in achieving spiritual benefits.  He had said that, ordinary benefits can be gained by reciting with iron made mala whereas copper made mala would multiply twice the benefit. Similarly Japa Mala made of precious stones such as pearl would multiply the benefit hundred thousand times and benefit of reciting Boddhichita Mala is said incomparably more than any other malas. At the same occasion of giving the teaching about Mala Beads, Guru Rimpoche had said seed of such precious plant is sown by himself in Timal of Nepal.

Buddhichitta Plant and Fruit, Photo By Lapsang Lama (Timal) 

Since then, an unattractive barren reddish looking hill village of Timal some 50 miles east from Kathmandu has been visited by many Tibetans mainly to collect the holy beads.  Locals had known its use for making mala but only few knew its deeper meaning.  People who reached to collect malas in the past, could either get it free of cost or would pay only nominal.  In recent years, however, the holy bead has turned to an expensive object for both tourists and spiritual practitioners.

The ancient legend that stated its availability only in Timal turned out true as the national herborioum and plant laboratory experts KR Bhattarai and M L Pathak, confirmed  that the plant of Bodhichitta that falls in Jijifus family is not found anywhere else.  Their thorough research related to Bodhichitta plant was not limited to Nepal alone but it covered the areas of China, India, Bhutan and other parts of Asia. Their research paper published in 2015 April- June edition of Indian Journal of Plant and Science. Apparently, the plant wasn't recorded in plant encyclopedia, so as per the researchers have said, it has been recorded as 'Jijifus Buddensis KR Bhattrai and Pathak' a rightful name in honor to Buddha and the pioneer researchers. 

The number 108 in a mala is somewhat unique.  A Hindu scholar mentioned that, 108 is the total of male and female phonetic sound of 54 Sanskrit alphabets.  So the set of 108 means completeness of entire alphabets and sounds for a perfect prayer or mantra.  Buddhichitta mala is not of Hindus but the concept of mantra, sanskrit language and various spiritual aspects are shared by both religions. Thus this logic of why Japa Mala should contain 108 beads is quite convincing.  From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, the mala is mostly associated to god Chenrejig who ichnographically appears in forms for different purposes. Even though he may have numerous different forms, most believe that he has 108 different forms.  So the mala of 108 beads could have been put to represent all different forms of god of compassion as to fulfill the complete prayer to him.

These days we can find mala of different kinds and qualities including with customized colors and sizes.  However, Buddhichitta mala has been considered special among them.  Also the reality of Buddhichitta plant being native of Timal area has added yet another phenomenon to Nepal being home of spiritual and cultural heritages.