I was into Ottawa last week to see some old friends and I had some opportunity to go back to 3 Trees, the Nepali and Tibetan gift store ( http://www.3treesottawa.com/ ). Its been one of the main destinations for me to pick up authentic Asian items. I have found Buddha-rupas , gongs,(see below) incense, cushions and altar items there. While there I picked up an assortment of reasonably priced 27-bead malas which are now available at the Centre.
Some people like malas (also called rosaries or nenju) because they are attractive fashion accessories. Meditation practitioners know them primarily for their use in practice. The two most common uses are presence and counting. They provide a tactile presence for our hands while we practice. You don’t have to do anything special with them. Their weight and texture keep attention in the belly region. For those who want to perform any repetitive practice, be that counting breaths or reciting mantras, the mala allows for simple counting.
The ones we have are quite simple, in that they are a circle of 27 beads with a larger one to mark the pivot point. More elaborate ones have side strings which allow for counting multiples and intermediate count markers. The Tendai tradition uses a flat bead instead of a round one. There are 108 bead and enlarged bead versions used in extended chanting situations.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu