Photo taken at Green Valley Falls, San Diego County.
When a person you love first dies you are full of adrenaline, half way between normal life and death. Then later, you begin to just feel that they are missing, and that the amount of time you spent with them before is filled now by all your own activities—not by anything dealing with them.
I practiced for Mom intensely during the 49 days after her death on March 5th, and I felt I was done. Now I am just practicing to get Ngondro done, which really aggravates me. I want to keep remembering all the people who need prayers.
I’m also realizing how much I was driven to create my mala business last year and the year before by Mom’s illness. Every mala I made came with the additional prayers I said daily for her. All the prayers I say daily go into the malas I make, not just the ones said while I make them, which is when I’m focusing on getting them arranged right. Now that she’s gone, I feel lax, listless, and sort of dull about making. It’s not urgent anymore. Making them was a practice for me.
I even made malas by Mom's bedside in September and August when she was very sick.
She was part of why I made malas. Now how do I reconnect with my creativity? Such sorrow, such loss. Sometimes you feel like a boulder is resting on top of you.
Why do we practice? Why accumulate mantra? Why work on approaching a deity through visualization and mantra practice? To me the answer is because they are the face of the divine. They are part of the universal, loving ground of everything that is. Because if we sit and open slowly in mantra practice, even if sometimes it’s boring, even if it's about as much fun sometimes as having a wood-grating tool scraped against our teeth, it brings us closer. Tibetan tradition says that to repeat a mantra over and over again, 10,000 or 100,000 times or more, develops us by calming and relieving our negative karma. We strip away layers of unnecessary habit and “stuff”, bringing us closer and closer to our true nature. By combining this type of practice with meditation (alternately), we can learn to rest in the nature of our own mind. The nature of our mind is not separate from the nature of the Buddhas’ minds. It is open and clear, vibrant and loving. There is nothing more powerful or beautiful. (The Tibetan Buddhist preliminary practices are called Ngondro. That's what I'm "working on" daily in my meditations. It's not easy, but it's wonderful.)
To come closer to this true nature is why we practice, because in difficult situations, there’s nothing that can help us more than being in touch with the Buddhas and our divine nature. And at the moment of death, it is what will guide us safely through the bardos, or states between our death and our next birth.
It feels nearly impossible to make mantra practice a priority at times in this culture, where emphasis isn't usually put on long-term spiritual practice. Still, for those of us trying to do it, it is a worthwhile activity. The rewards come slowly and aren’t even to be expected. We just do it.
So that’s the answer to why to accumulate mantras. I don’t have an answer to why to make malas. The only thing I know is that I use one every time I meditate. I just want to keep making them for others to use during their sacred moments. That's my primary motivation.
Getting to play with semi-precious stones, nice woods, and special seeds is just a side benefit of the work.