By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 31 January, 2012
Dear Spiritual Explorer: Are bone malas really made of bone? Sylvia R., Jacksonville, FL
Bone Inlay Mala
Hi Sylvia: I have often admired the beauty and starkness of bone malas, but have never asked that question myself. Gazing at the White Bone Inlay Mala we have in the store, which has 108 beads and tassel, I began to research this question.
What I have found is that typically the bone from your average bone mala comes from yak, ox and water buffalo, and this singularly applies to malas coming from Nepal, where incidentally our White Bone Inlay Mala originates. In the case of the yak, it is the bone left over from the killing of the yak for food. Since the villagers do not believe in being wasteful, they use every part of the animal that they can. What I also have understood from my research on bone malas is that no animal is killed just for commercial purposes. Harvesting their bones comes as a natural order of the animal’s demise.
I have heard and have seen bone malas that purportedly derive from the human skull. Some of the bone from these malas is supplied by monks that live in the Himalayas. When these monks die, their bones are salvaged to be used for malas. However, there are a few monasteries that save the monk’s skulls to cut little discs from them to make malas. These are known as “skull malas,” intricately carved in the shape of skulls. In Tibet and parts of India there are places called “charnel grounds” where the dead are disposed of and their bones are used to make malas. In other cases, some might donate their remains to a particular temple so that the temple might earn money for a certain project benefiting the temple.
Some teachers of meditation have recommended that one not use a bone mala unless one has an empowerment suited to doing a “wrathful” practice. These wrathful practices are suited to a particularly wrathful-seeming deity who wears bone malas themselves on their persons. I particularly refer to Kali who is adorned with the skulls of “egos” These wrathful deities remind us of our mortality and the shortness of life. However, a “wrathful practice” is not when one engages in anger to perpetuate an egoic desire. In actuality, a practice of “wrath” gives one the power to remove obstacles and ego, thus ultimately engendering compassion and love.
Personally, I have used both a bone and wooden mala in my spiritual practice. I have to admit that using a bone mala seems to lend a particularly quality of mystery and seriousness to my meditation. Nevertheless, as with the saying, all roads lead to Rome, similarly, it is my feeling that all practice with malas eventually lead to the feeling of unity with the Divine. Thank you for writing, Spiritual Explorer
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