Religion Behind the Scenes spotlights the less discussed, but no less crucial, tasks that keep religious communities running, and the people who make it all happen.
Numerous faith traditions use beads as a means of keeping track of prayers offered or mantras recited. This practice can be seen in Baháʼí, Buddhism, Catholicism, Episcopalianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Shinto—among other religious traditions. The use of prayer or meditation beads is a centuries old tradition.
Japa, or the meditative repetition of a mantra, is commonly done utilizing “mala beads”—which are traditionally a string of 108 beads plus one “guru” bead (where the two ends of the strand connect). Yasir Einaudi (of merubeads.com) has been designing beautiful and unique mala beads for several years now. In this installment of Religion Behind the Scenes, we talk to Yasir about mala beads, what they’re for, why they are important, and what got him into the business of designing mala beads for the prayerful and meditative souls who use them.
How would you explain the purpose of these beads to someone who doesn’t know what a mala is?
Mala beads are a tool that anyone can use to help them in their meditation practice. They help you to keep track of how many mantras you’ve said, kind of like how a rosary helps you to keep track of how many prayers you’ve said.
A mantra is a word, a sound or a phrase that you repeat during meditation, as a way to keep your concentration, but also as a means of purging yourself of negative thoughts, ideas or bad energy.
Are you actually the one that makes all of the malas you sell on your site? Or do you have help?
So, each of the malas I sell are handmade by artisans in Southeast Asia. I've traveled to China, Bali, Indonesia, and Thailand, and I have worked with various artisans there. I customize my designs, and then they make them for me. So, for example, I have artisans in Bali, and they make my rudrasksha seed malas—which are made out of 100% sustainable Indonesia seeds. They make them by hand, one by one. This is the case with the gemstone malas as well.
Malas all seem to have a very specific design. Is there any symbolism associated with the consistent design of these?
Oh, definitely. For example, there are 108 beads in a traditional mala. Of course, there are a few different interpretations as to why that number, dependent upon what religion you are from. One common interpretation is Buddhist, and another one is Hindu. According to Buddhism, the number 108 represents the sum total of human desires the practitioner must overcome in order to achieve Nirvana. Hinduism, on the other hand, focuses more on the cosmic meaning, where the number 108 symbolizes the wholeness of existence, and that number is believed to connect everything in the universe—the earth, moon and sun—together.
In a more general sense, there are 108 beads because you are to recite your personal mantra 100 times. As you say each mantra, you hold a bead. Once that mantra is completed, you move onto the next bead. The eight extra beads are to cover any mantras that you might have missed.
As I said, you use the mala to keep track of how many mantras you’ve said. I believe that a mantra is the most important part of meditation because it's personal, and you need to have your own mantra that you use when meditating. At the end of the day, meditation is very personal, and it should be customized to each person. So, your mantra has to come from within—it has to come from what you need at that moment or during that week, depending on your situation.
Each mala usually also has a tassel. The tassel at the bottom of the mala represents your connection with the spirit. The spirit—of God, of the Universe—is what you’re trying to get in harmony with when you meditate.
On top of that, the beads (of our malas) are made of gemstones, which are believed by many to have power. So, that’s the material that we use for our malas—gemstones, instead of something like plastic or polymer.
Could you tell us a bit more about the power of gemstones?
So, for many, many centuries, people have believed that gemstones have a certain energy—and it is believed that certain quartz and gemstones can help align the chakras (or centers of spiritual power in your body). When I found that I could incorporate a mala into my daily meditation, and I could repeat a mantra that I set for myself (based on what I was going through or what I wanted to achieve), it helped me realign my life to what I wanted it to be.
When you repeat something day after day after day, your brain begins to identify with what you repeat or visualize—whether that be negative or positive. We program our brains to think and believe a certain way. So, for example, a lot of news is fear-based news. So, what happens is when you start putting that programming in your brain? You're going to derail yourself from your personal path. So that's why it's very, very important to have a personal mantra. A mantra could be a word, or it could be a statement, that can provide you strength during a tough time in your life so that you’re able to carry on. A mantra, like “I am Strong,” might help—and Obsidian is the gemstone associated with strength. The Nephrite mantra is “I am Fearless.” Fearlessness is associated with that gemstone. The Rose Quartz mantra is “I am Enough.” Each of the gemstones has a meaning like this.
What I love about my malas is that I've gotten so many emails from customers that have found a connection with the mala they purchased. How you pick a mala is very special, because you have to be drawn to the mala. So, when you're looking at the malas, you will know when you have found “the right one” for you. And, at MeruBeads.com, we give a mantra to each and every one of our malas. So, for example, African turquoise is the gemstone associated with divinity, and therefore the mantra is “I am divine.” The mantra reflects one of the strengths of the gemstone. Each gemstone has a specific strength or power. Of course, the mantra can be changed according to your needs.
You call them “Meru beads.” There's a Mount Meru (in Tanzania), and I noticed that there is a mountain in your logo. Is there any connection there?
Yeah. Mount Meru is known as the sacred mountain of Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. It is considered to be the center of all physical, metaphysical, and spiritual universes. So, it has an obvious connection to Meru beads and malas.
The word “Meru” can also mean “guru”—which is the name of the larger bead on the strand of a mala. (When you're meditating, or course, you're not looking. So, when you arrive to that bigger bead, the “guru” bead, you know you've completed the end of the cycle. So, that specific bead gives you a sense of where you are in your meditation.)
So how did you get into the work of designing meditation malas?
The story is too long to tell here, but the short version is that—in my 20s, after months of trying—I landed what had long been my “dream job.” I worked in England for McLaren, the company that produces some of the world’s best and most coveted sportscars. I was so proud of myself for landing the job. I got to travel the world for wok. I wore the nicest suits. I was riding in McLaren sportscars. I was welcoming the directors of prestigious companies, and I saw helicopters land with millionaires dropping money like it was nothing. I talked with Formula One drivers like they were my best friends. I worked there for five years, and I “had it all,” as they say, and then I woke up one day and I realized this is not my dream. I thought it was my dream but, now that I had it, I realized it was all meaningless. It's hard to describe.
As a result, I knew I had to make a change. I discovered meditation; not in a “let's meditate so that you're gonna get better” kind of way. No, I studied meditation and what it causes to happen in your brain. I'm an engineer. I need to think logically. What does this practice do to your brain? So, I got into it. And I remember my first meditation was a guided five-step meditation, and the first step is realizing that there's a bigger energy, call it God, call it Allah, call it Buddha, or whatever. That “bigger energy” gives you the light, the spiritual energy. This five-step meditation also taught me the place and importance of gratitude, forgiveness, goal setting, and visualization. I had gotten to a point that life at McLaren wasn’t good anymore, and so I started meditating. I started detaching from my belief that I have to go somewhere to feel better. I don't have to find another job to feel better. I don’t have to live in another place of feel better. These were all misunderstandings or false ways of thinking. So, I started working on myself and on my thinking. I was detaching myself more and more from worldly things. And I told myself, whatever I do next, I'm going to do it with a purpose. I'm going to find something that helps me that I can use to help others. And then I discovered malas and started designing them to assist people with meditation. Malas were really the meaning of what I actually wanted to do, even though I wasn't focusing on a specific religion when I decide to stare making them.
Was it this crisis of conscience—where you had a well-paying but meaningless job that was not spiritually or emotionally satisfying—that ultimately led you to start this work?
When I was at the top of my “game,” I traveled the world and explored cultures that were new and foreign to me. I had everything but was so unfulfilled. And I realized through all of that that the real purpose of life is to give value to people in a way that's meaningful. As a sportscar manufacturer, I was giving value to a really tiny percentage of the world by making high-end expensive cars that only a few human beings could ever afford to own or drive. But, in what I do now, I have sold thousands and thousands of malas, and, through that, I’ve had a direct impact on the lives of so many people who need that sense of spirituality in their lives. There are a lot of people who have no idea what meditation is and have no idea what a mala is. I’m trying to change that.
I remember, when I was a kid, everything wrong was happening to our family. I was committed to my religion, but then we had our house broken into a few times, and we were on the brink of foreclosure at one point. And I remember thinking, there must be something more than just asking God for help. I've always believed in God. And I always go back to God. But I think some of this has to come from within. I think there's something that I can change as well. I have to do my part.
I guess my personal mantra is that, no matter how down you get or how far you fall, the good thing is that you've learned a lesson so, next time, you will know how to prevent that same hard or negative experience. I think that's very powerful, and I think that we each need to constantly grow, evolve and develop. And part of doing that is not just learning from your mistakes, but also detaching from spiritual distractions, like mass media, social media and worldliness. Don’t focus on those things. Focus on developing the self.
How has this work impacted you spiritually and personal?
So, I get a lot of emails and online reviews where people describe how they're connecting with a mala, how they are using one in their daily meditation, and how they're finding help through that practice. I remember, in my old days, I was building sports cars for ultra-rich people, you know. I wasn't doing it for the sake of helping people. I was just doing it for my own selfishness. I wasn’t really contributing to society or the world in a way that enhanced their spirituality or personal wellbeing. But, when I started doing something so simple as introducing to the non-religious market something that could really help them, I felt like I had a career that was meaningful or impactful. And that really did change my life for the good.
What about your work are you most proud of?
It's not about me, and I don't have a photo of me on the website. I don't have my story posted on there. It's more about what I'm doing with each mala. And my focus is to make the mala better every time; to continue to improve them, to make them better, to come up with new designs and styles. Of course, we have different presentations of the Mala. So, the traditional one has the tassel attached; but we also have malas that have a toggle, which are a little bit more fashionable. You can wear them around your neck as a single strand, or as a double strand—or you can wrap them around your wrist. I try hard to listen to the customer and learn about what they need. Of course, at the end of the day, they get to choose whether they take advantage of this spiritual tool. I can give you this as a tool, but it is up to you to use it. You have to decide whether you want to become a more spiritual being.
I'm also grateful that I'm making this tool more available to people by presenting it in a premium way, but without the premium cost. Gemstone malas can cost $200-300. So, I use grade-A beads, silk tassels, and hand-knotted string, but I sale them for a fraction of the typical cost. The most expensive mala that I sell is $50.
I am far from being an “enlightened” being. I think of monks who go on retreats for 40 or 50 days, and they mediate every day, and get into this Zen state. I’m far from that, but I feel that I’m doing something that’s helping people who seek that kind of spirituality.
Is there anything about mala beads that you think there are misconceptions about?
I think the important part, which we tell our customers, is that these are handmade by Buddhist artisans that really believe in what they do. And so please take care of the beads. Don't throw your mala around. I mean, this was blessed by someone when it was made. There are some words that are recited in the maker’s local language, once the mala is assembled. It's basically a way of saying, you know, this mala was made with intension. We hope that it serves the sacred purpose for which it was made.
What I tell those who use a mala is this that is yours. You have to activate it. It isn’t the work of the person who made it or blessed it to activate its power. How do you activate it? You set your intention. You have faith in this little thing that was invented centuries ago; faith that it can make an impact on you spiritually. So, I feel that a common misconception is that a mala is simply a toy or a piece of jewelry—bought to make a fashion statement. When purchased for that purpose, it comes to misuse. You know? So, I guess that's the misconception. It’s not just a fashionable necklace. Use it with respect. There has to be a little bit of love, using it in a respectful way, not just like a necklace or some fashion statement. When bought for that reason, it's just a necklace. It offers you no spiritual power or improvement that way.
Is there any anything else you can think of that a person who doesn't know about mala beads ought to know?
I feel that malas can be important as a tool to change your life. But it depends on your daily practice. It depends on how much energy you put into receiving that life-changing experience. I mean, it’s like anything else in your life. You really need to put a thing into use to get the actual benefits from it.
And, you know, these gemstones come from the earth; this was created millions of years ago. So, the person who possesses the mala actually has something that was created by nature, which has given it to us to use, and it does have benefits. So, it is remarkable that we can carry in our pocket or around our necks something like that, something ancient, something made by the earth millions of years ago, offering us power and a means to personal spirituality.
Interview conducted by Alonzo L. Gaskill.
7/9/2021 3:58:16 PM