Is Wearing Mala Beads Cultural Appropriation? Here’s What You Want To Know

Is Wearing Mala Beads Cultural Appropriation Here's What You Want To Know

Buddhist prayer beads have been worn for a very long time, but are they appropriate to continue wearing in a fashionable way? Many people currently wear the beads for aesthetic and fashion reasons.

Furthermore, wearing the Mala beads across the bridge has been regarded as disrespectful because Buddhists are known to perform more than a single round of prayers on them.

Others counter that there may be some gray areas and that wearing the Mala beads without appropriating them is possible because the issue is not clearly black and white.

But what exactly would this mean? Was the meaning of the beads? And when do the beads become culturally appropriate? Is Wearing Mala Beads Cultural Appropriation? 

Continue reading to learn more about Mala beads. So let’s begin right away!

What Are Mala Beads?

WebMD defines mala beads—also known as yoga beads or Japa Malas—as 108-bead necklaces.

The string of beads known as a mala is traditionally used to count mantras or prayers while meditating. They are frequently worn as bracelets or necklaces to promote spiritual development and meditation.

A mala, or garland, is a tool used to support spiritual practice in Sanskrit. Mala beads are thought to be important for one’s mental health and well-being in addition to enhancing spirituality.

They have a long history—thousands of years—and are thought to have their origins in India, dating back more than three thousand years.

The use of mala beads in meditation is thought to have its roots in Buddhism and Hinduism, where they were used to aid and enhance one’s mental focus and clarity. Catholicism also frequently uses these prayer beads.

The 108 beads that make up a Mala are, as was already mentioned, arranged in a specific pattern with the largest bead—known as the guru—being placed in the middle.

Importantly, it is believed that the energy one produces during meditation is held in the Guru at the center. They also have a tassel.

The 108 beads are all numerically described as being the same as the spiritual sound “Om,” which is the most significant sound during meditation.

The relationship between one’s inner and outer environments is frequently described with the use of the 108 beads, but that is not all that the number 108 means.

Furthermore, each number has a distinct meaning. 1 represents God, one’s own highest truth, or the universe; the number 0 stands for the emptiness and humility experienced during spiritual practices; the number 8 denotes eternity and infinity.

The overhead knot is always much stronger when making traditional mala beads, a technique that makes room for Japa meditation. Keep in mind that the term “Japa meditation” refers to the style of meditation in which the mantra is repeated while counting each bead.

The mala beads are crucial for both yoga and mindful meditation because they have a spiritual significance.

The use of the mala beads has been shown to have a significant impact on one’s approach to mental health, helping to improve that person’s health and focus while also assisting that person in discovering themselves and their true inner selves.

Do Mala Beads Work?

As long as you use them with intention, the mala beads do work. Mala beads may also assist you in being more deliberate, particularly when it comes to your meditation and yoga routines. They also offer you a number of advantages when they do their jobs. The listed benefits are as follows:

A number of studies on mala beads and meditation have found that wearing them not only facilitates regular meditation but also lessens symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

In exchange, yoga and meditation have shown to be effective in easing pain and lowering the risk of developing additional psychological issues.

The beads also have significant positive effects on one’s physical health, including lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart rate. Additionally, using mala beads during meditation improves blood flow to the brain, which enhances the ability of the brain to control all bodily functions.

Improved cognitive function and less medication usage are two additional advantages. However, you’d want to make sure that you understand how to use the beads in order to reap all of these advantages.

You need to learn how to control your breath by paying closer attention to it in addition to using the appropriate types of mala beads.

Holding your mala beads in one hand and draping them across your fingers will allow you to easily control your breathing.

Then, with the middle and thumb fingers ideally on the beads next to the guru bead, take a full breath in and out while repeating this motion with all 108 beads.

You should think about saying affirmations like “I am loved,” “I am safe,” “I am calm,” etc. in addition to breathing., and you can repeat the mantras depending on your current needs.

Does Using Mala Beads Violate Cultural Norms? Why?

Using the mala beads and the practice in general is important regardless of whether you identify as a secular/western Buddhist or not and are learning everything about Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.

Would using the mala beads be regarded as cultural appropriation, though, given the prevalence of Buddhist culture and beliefs?

Even though it might appear that way, wearing mala beads as a way to respect Buddhist doctrine and advance your practice won’t be seen as cultural appropriation.

In the end, the instructions of the religious belief system are greatly influenced by the Buddhist teachings and the mala beads.

Is Wearing Mala Beads Cultural Appropriation Here's What You Want To Know
Is Wearing Mala Beads Cultural Appropriation? Here’s What You Want To Know

Tips For Wearing Mala Beads In Modern Times

  • Select the appropriate mala beads first. The best mala beads, though they come in a variety of colors and designs, are created from seeds, wood, precious and semi-precious stones, and other materials. In addition, you should pick beads that feel comfortable to you because the stones are meant to relax and calm you. Check to see if the beads are lovely, comfortable to the touch, and made of special stones or seeds to you.
  • The mala beads can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet.
  • Using incense, crystals, sage, etc., you should also purify your environment as well as the mala beads.
  • Aura protection, energy augmentation, and balance are all benefits of wearing mala beads.

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Signs You’re Culturally Appropriating Buddhism

Your Consumption Of Buddhism Is Self-serving

I won’t disparage mindfulness. Being present and purposeful with your thoughts and actions is a huge part of Buddhism. Actually, maintaining mindfulness is essential to leading a moral and upright life.

But when presence and mindfulness are only employed to make one’s life better physically, we’re missing the point of Buddhism.

These Lesser Evil chips, for example, were once available at Whole Foods. They were marketed as a way to be “mindful of what you put in your body.” Yes, it’s important to prioritize eating real food made with identifiable ingredients, but Buddhism is more than that.

Because they lead to human suffering, oppressive systems are something that Buddhism tries to address.

But the chips, which promote mindfulness and wise decisions, were offered for sale at the same shop that has come under fire in recent months for offering artisanal cheese made by prisoners.

Anti-prison activists have criticized Whole Foods harshly for carrying products made by a company affiliated with Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI), Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy.

And before you think incarcerated men are being given a shot at rehabilitation through this cheese making program, ThinkProgress and Vice report, “[Many of the prisoners who take part in CCI’s prison labor programs receive 74 cents per day for each hour they work. A 60 cent estimate has been made by some. The labor program is created to give inmates hands-on experience, the opportunity to develop their skills, and a strong work ethic, according to the CCI website. But because of the extremely low wages, it is almost impossible to pay for basic necessities and prison services.”

Lesser Evil chips and other products like them are made possible by a limited understanding of Buddhism that focuses only on physical objectives like getting rid of stress at work or pesticides in food. Buddhism, however, focuses more on alleviating the suffering of the prisoners who enable the establishment that sells these chips to be profitable.

Countless socially engaged Buddhist teachers believe “Buddhist teachings are based on an unmistakable understanding of suffering, an ethical commitment to non-harming, and an appreciation of interdependence: We cannot separate our own personal healing and transformation from that of our larger society.”

Which means that while eating better and being more physically healthy are admirable aims for the general wellness of people everywhere, they’re not necessarily Buddhist – because they emphasize you above all else.

And that, well, isn’t really Buddhist at all.

You’re Using Buddhist Principles As Catchphrases

Do you remember when “zen gardens” were cool? They were widely available for purchase.

They came with a tiny box of sand and two tiny rakes. They were widely used in movies during a period in the 1990s when bigwigs joked about them to create a relaxed atmosphere.

Even more recently, one of my favorite movies, Thank You for Smoking, portrayed a A Japanese man is seen raking what appears to be a zen garden in the lobby of a huge Hollywood production company where major tobacco executives are working together to smuggle cigarettes to the general public.

Zen has become a codeword for “unwind,” for “chill.” And it’s still there. The word “zen” is plastered on candles, incense, and even lotion to that same effect.

Just walking around a health foods store, I can find tons of things that will supposedly bring me “zen.”

Using words like zen to entice consumers with a sense of calm and happiness has become woefully commonplace. But only a small portion of these topics actually address zen Buddhist teachings.

Zen Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes personal insight and meditation with an emphasis on helping others, impermanence, not-self, and illness. Zen Buddhism promotes a form of spirituality that is inaccessible by means of things or straightforward language.

These kinds of products frequently just rely on Buddhism to generate revenue.

Another example of using Buddhism to invent catchphrases is Lucky Buddha Enlightened Beer. It’s enlightenment in this instance rather than zen.

The beer bills itself as “something consistently good natured,” complete with a laughing The bottle itself features a Buddha. The website warps Taoist teachings to sell its product by using faux quotes like “If you think that enlightenment is separate from the drinking of beer, you have not yet understood”.

Buddhism is frequently used in this context to imply carefree fun that is actually ethical. And happiness is of course a Buddhist principle. If you’ve ever met one, you know they’re among the friendliest and cheeriest people you’ll ever meet. They are positively enjoyable.

But this beer and the lotion before it are excellent examples of redefining Buddhism to eliminate its dedication to a greater social good and replace that aim with capitalist profit.

Your Sacred Objects Are Purely Decorative

Flags with prayers on them are common. And sometimes I wonder, Why not? They come in a lovely variety of hues, are simple to find (especially in Berkeley), and appear to be a wonderful decorative element.

A short Pinterest search yielded Tibetan prayer flags used for a “Nepal themed” room, a professional photo shoot, and – my favorite – a “boho offbeat wedding.”

Prayer flags are frequently used to adorn barbecues and dinner parties, particularly in Berkeley, in the same way that confetti, lanterns, and twinkle lights are. Tibetan prayer flags are sacred objects that serve a different purpose than simply enlivening a space, one that goes beyond their aesthetic value.

Tibetan prayer flags have a spiritual significance.

Written on them are sutras, or mantras, from the three main Buddhist Bodhisattvas, which convey concepts like strength, peace, and wisdom. They spread blessings and peace as they blow in the wind.

Because they are so holy, they must eventually be burned as they get older and shouldn’t touch the ground.

This makes posts like the one below, which blatantly shows the widespread use of prayer flags, quite startling. The author writes that she owns and loves her prayer flags and knows what they stand for:

“But I’m also not a Buddhist, and I don’t meditate or engage in other Buddhist rituals; I know very little about Buddhism. Although the flags’ symbolic meaning may be fairly straightforward, their historical background is not always straightforward.

I guess my point is that I don’t want to be a jerk, and I think it might be awkward for me to have these displayed, but I also like the symbolism they represent. Any thoughts?”

I love the sentiment behind this blog post because it shows us the bewilderment behind the use of prayer flags: The writer clearly “gets it,” but is reluctant to stop displaying them because—well—racist entitlement.

She feels like she understands cultural appropriation – hell, she even uses that exact phrase to describe what she’s doing – yet she remains hesitant to take them down because she likes them. Perhaps this is the essence of racial entitlement.

And it doesn’t end there.

The widespread appropriation of Asian cultural practices (especially religious ones), which has become so normalized that it isn’t recognized as racism, is what causes confusion about things like prayer flags.

However, when it comes to people wearing bindis, kimonos, or a hijab, we continue to be unaware. There seems to be a growing understanding that white people wearing headdresses at Coachella is obviously cultural appropriation.

I am aware of this because Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga are the culprits in this case.

And while I love these folks (I’m still listening to Lemonade on repeat), the fact that it’s so widely accepted for mainstream artists to don religious objects as costumes for music videos or performances illustrates that Asian spirituality isn’t given the same reverence as Western religious artifacts.

You’re Not Connecting With Cultural Appropriation As A Form Of Suffering

I am aware that many of you may still be reluctant to part with your Tibetan singing bowls, zen body oils, and laughing Buddha statues. Perhaps you believe it to be a stylish addition to the decor of your home. You might even have a passing familiarity with Buddhism.

Because few people are aware of how deeply hollow Buddhist artifacts permeate our daily lives, making it seem acceptable, a lot of the cultural appropriation I’m referring to occurs unintentionally.

However, I urge everyone to — yes — be more conscious of how we can honor and respect Buddhism as a meaningful and valuable spiritual practice.

Because cultural appropriation of Buddhism creates suffering for marginalized communities. It teaches us that the things and ideas we consider to be precious and cherished are merely trinkets or meaningless proclamations that can be turned into cat memes.

But it is precisely this kind of suffering that Buddhism aims to end.

Considering that Buddhism is fundamentally about racial justice. Folks like the Buddhist Peace Fellowship see it as a foundational “cultivate the conditions for peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability within our selves, our communities, and the world.”

If you own Buddhist trinkets that are essentially worthless to you, what should you do? At the very least, put them away until you have a Buddhist practice or can fully comprehend their significance.

Final Words

Mala beads are effective tools that direct and enhance mindfulness because they aid in boosting the wearer’s concentration and fostering the most positive meditational experiences.

Depending on how you use them, mala beads may or may not be considered a form of cultural appropriation.

In general, it is not cultural appropriation if you wear the mala beads to enhance your spirituality, mental health, awareness, and concentration.

Only when you disregard the beads’ symbolic meanings is it considered appropriation.

I appreciate you reading, a lot.