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I did not realize eat.pray.love was written based on the structure of a Japa Mala. In this post I would simply like to share the first few paragraphs of this amazing book (adapted into a feature film) by Elizabeth Gilbert, because it lead me gain a deeper understanding of the highly fashionable Mala bead necklaces.

“When you’re traveling in India — especially through holy sites and Ashrams — you see a lot
of people wearing beads around their necks. You also see a lot of old photographs of naked,
skinny and intimidating Yogis (or sometimes even plump, kindly and radiant Yogis) wearing
beads, too. These strings of beads are called japa malas. They have been used in India for
centuries to assist devout Hindus and Buddhists in staying focused during prayerful medita-
tion. The necklace is held in one hand and fingered in a circle — one bead touched for every
repetition of mantra. When the medieval Crusaders drove East for the holy wars, they wit-
nessed worshippers praying with these japa malas, admired the technique, and brought the
idea home to Europe as rosary.

The traditional japa mala is strung with 108 beads. Amid the more esoteric circles of
Eastern philosophers, the number 108 is held to be most auspicious, a perfect three-digit multiple
of three, its components adding up to nine, which is three threes. And three, of course, is the
number representing supreme balance, as anyone who has ever studied either the Holy Trinity
or a simple barstool can plainly see. Being as this whole book is about my efforts to find
balance, I have decided to structure it like a japa mala, dividing my story into 108 tales, or
beads. This string of 108 tales is further divided into three sections about Italy, India and
Indonesia — the three countries I visited during this year of self-inquiry. This division means that
there are 36 tales in each section, which appeals to me on a personal level because I am writing
all this during my thirty-sixth year.

Now before I get too Louis Farrakhan here with this numerology business, let me conclude
by saying that I also like the idea of stringing these stories along the structure of a japa mala
because it is so . . . structured. Sincere spiritual investigation is, and always has been, an en-
deavor of methodical discipline. Looking for Truth is not some kind of spazzy free-for-all, not
even during this, the great age of the spazzy free-for-all. As both a seeker and a writer, I find
it helpful to hang on to the beads as much as possible, the better to keep my attention fo-
cused on what it is I’m trying to accomplish.

In any case, every japa mala has a special, extra bead — the 109th bead — which dangles
outside that balanced circle of 108 like a pendant. I used to think the 109th bead was an
emergency spare, like the extra button on a fancy sweater, or the youngest son in a royal
family. But apparently there is an even higher purpose. When your fingers reach this marker
during prayer, you are meant to pause from your absorption in meditation and thank your
teachers. So here, at my own 109th bead, I pause before I even begin. I offer thanks to all my
teachers, who have appeared before me this year in so many curious forms.”

If you think you might want to try and make one…

beads

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