Mala Shop

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stones Into Schools-Promoting Peace Through Education

As I drove my teenage son home from school and we talked about his day, I felt momentarily sad that kids in the U.S. aren't as excited about learning as the kids Greg Mortensen talks about in Stones Into Schools. For years, Greg and his group CAI have been building schools for kids in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the middle of the war and up against Taliban members and heroin smugglers, they negotiate with community and tribal elders and build sturdy but primitive places to hold classes. To many families in these countries, educating their youth is a high but unattainable priority. The kids are dying for walls, books, safety. Literacy is the highest good. The communities are desperate and eager for these schools.

This book blew me away. By the end of it I was crying to hear how a school was successfully built before winter came in the high Hindu Kush mountains, materials carried by yaks, walls erected by villagers during 14 hour days.

I explained it to my son and he completely understood. It's just not quite as exciting to many American 16-year-olds to study high school subjects like algebra 2 and chemistry.

Wonder how they'd feel if all they'd known was war and poverty and a school was their first and best means of escape and rebuilding what their towns needed.

It's just not the same here.

I highly recommend this book and the one before it, Three Cups of Tea. They show a peaceful way of establishing rapport between cultures.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring is Blooming and I got to see Devo Again

Writing is funny. It's a process of recording events as they're lived, taking "mental snapshots" as we go along so that we can share them or put them down for posterity.

How do I translate the vividness of this pot of cymbidium orchids I snapped at Self Realization Fellowship Gardens recently? I saw it as I walked down the shady brick stairs; it sat on the north side of the walkway, a large ceramic pot of spike after spike of pale lavender pink orchids. A joy to see.

My garden is full of blooming nasturtiums, ranunculus, geraniums, freesias, and a mexican rose—all waving to say hello. Pots full of epyphillum cacti form flower buds on my garden table, waiting a couple of months to bloom. (You can't write about plants without talking about how they "want" to do this and that. Flowers easily take on the characteristics of people and animals.)

Another Spring occasion: I got to go see Devo last weekend! Here's a photo my husband took:

They rocked so hard. No matter how middle-aged they get to be physically, they just get better and better. Excellent musicians and show. I got my dancing in—dancing lifts the heart so much! "We're through being cool", "It's a beautiful world we live in"

It's been a good week. Quiet, a bit homey, but very peaceful. Certainly it's been a welcome respite after days of fixating on the turmoil going on in the world lately. I care so much, but I just can't watch CNN much right now. It's just too disturbing.
Instead, I pray and donate what I can to Save the Children. I believe in activism and public service, but right now this is all I can do—nurture what's in my family and my own backyard.

Peace to you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Countering Stress and Depression | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Countering Stress and Depression | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama

This article is so good, about the fundamental way of looking at suffering that Buddhism teaches.
I thought some of you would really like it.

I'm looking forward to His Holiness' public talk in Long Beach on May first. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, if you want to go.
If anyone embodies sensibility, compassion, and deep humanity, it's Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. May he live long and teach often in perfect health.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pleasant Memories of Trip to Japan

The Daibatsu, Giant Buddha in Kamakura, Japan

Memories of happy days in Japan. In 1989 I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo and Kamakura for a week. It was a work trip for my husband, but since the work was for the skateboard magazine he worked for, it was all casual, youth-oriented, and fun. He's a photographer and I love taking photos. We shot many photos of Buddha statues and shrines in Tokyo. Tokyo was the most different-to-where-I-live place that I'd ever been to. You didn't eat or drink on the street. It really felt completely different culturally than Southern California. I loved it. From a bar at the top of our hotel, we looked out across nighttime Tokyo stretching endlessly all around. It was limitless.

For a side trip, we took the train with our friend Nisi to Kamakura. We visited the giant Buddha statue in the photo above. You entered through a door at the base on the side, walked down a few stairs, and you were inside the giant metal Buddha. I tried to remember while I was inside that we're always inside the Buddha, especially if we practice that idea. If you're not Buddhist, that's not meant to sound preachy, but it's a little bit like the idea of God being everywhere. So since then I've carried the image of myself, small and relatively young, in the interior of a large, enveloping Buddha. It's a reminder of how I want to feel now—protected, loved, able to send that feeling out to others.

On the train, as we passed giant heads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas built into the Japanese hills, I thought how wonderful it was to create massive religious art. In the U.S. it relates mainly to the giant memorial crosses on hills in this area. I just wish we could have images from all religions erected as reminders of our inner lives.

So right now, I have a vision of prayers going from all those praying throughout the world, radiating like light to all the statues and shrines in Japan, sending them even more power and strength than they already represent. And they in turn, radiate power, love and strength throughout the country. They come alive with rainbow light.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

How To Use A Mala—One Meditator's Views

How To Use a Mala—This Meditator’s Views

Many people haven’t heard of malas, and many are just starting to hear the term. A mala is a set of Buddhist or Hindu prayer beads with a set number that’s symbolic in many ways.

A person who practices meditation with a mala will usually use it to count prayers, mantras, or breaths. That’s the traditional use, but of course, in these eclectic days when we’re all inspired by each other and trying new things, many people use them as spiritual jewelry and sometimes combine this with crystal energy work. This is can lead people into a deep spiritual practice.

Prayer and mantra practice brings us face to face with the divine. Just by contemplating Buddhas and other deities, we awaken their energy in ourselves, receiving blessing and overcoming negative karma. Mantras bring their energy deep into our psyches.

Another way I think of malas and mantra recitation is as a way to focus, come back to center, and recharge. I set an intention (that all beings may be happy and free from suffering), and then say the mantra I’m trying to “accumulate” a certain number of. While I repeat the mantra, I hold the prayer beads in my left hand, usually by my heart to bring the energy of the mantra into my heart—but often I hold my hand in my lap, which is fine, too. I try to rest my mind and not get “caught up” in how many mantras I say—the mala will keep track and I can relax fully. At the end, I dedicate my practice to the well being of all sentient beings. All of them, big and little, seen and unseen, easy and not easy to get along with—it doesn’t matter.

Many people visualize a particular holy image as they say the matching mantra.

One of the most loved and well known is Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion embodied in human form by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In Buddhist images, Avalokiteshvara is shown with many hands, sometimes even 1000, which shows that he has many ways to help beings.

While contemplating him, the mantra is Om Mani Padme Hung, pronounced Ohm Mahnee Paymay Hoom.

Other mantras you can search and enjoy are the 100-syllable mantra for purification and healing, the Tara mantras, and the Vajra Guru mantra of Guru Rinpoche. There’s also a mantra of the Medicine Buddha! Many of these mantras are recorded and available on the web, and they’re beautiful! The Vajra Guru mantra is available from ZamAmerica’s bookstore online ( on a beautifully chanted CD.

Prayer and mantra repetition with or without a mala is a great way to relax, come closer to our “true nature”, and feel the presence of benevolent, holy beings. You don’t have to sign up or be an expert, although learning from a teacher or attending a teaching, seminar, or retreat is a really good idea.

Many malas have special beads at certain places like 7, 9, 21, 27, and 56 to let the user know when to stop repeating if they’ve decided to only say that many mantras. A full mala is 108 beads, but many will have 3, 5, or 7 marker beads to make 111 beads total. These numbers differ according to what discipline or tradition you follow. There are also 21-bead wrist malas, 27-bead pocket malas, and half malas with 54 beads. Malas can be used to count the many prostrations which many Tibetan Buddhists practitice.

Wearing a mala isn’t acceptable in some Buddhist traditions, yet in many others it is fine.

It’s more common to wear malas in yoga traditions. The main thing, I think, is to treat it like an object with a sacred use—gently and with respect.

Whether you choose to wear it or not, keeping it close in a mala bag throughout the day is a great way to remember your practice. Padmasambhava, or Guru Rinpoche, the Tibetan “second Buddha”, said to keep it close and warm at all times! Wearing a wrist mala is another way. And finally, tucked away in your pocket, a 27 or 54-bead mala can help you stay calm, peaceful, and positive when things get rough at work or in daily life. Just remember your positive intentions whenever you touch it.

For more information about using a mantra, I recommend The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. This easy-to-find, wonderful book talks about mantras in the chapter on meditation (chapter 5) and also in the Appendix.

I hope this helps inspire you to use a mala. It is truly a wonderful spiritual tool that becomes a close friend during practice.