Buddhist prayer beads are a traditional meditation or chanting tool used to count time. They are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions.
Buddhist prayer beads are used so that one can focus on the meaning or sound of the mantra rather than counting its repetitions.
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Mantras are typically repeated hundreds or even thousands of times. Buddhists usually pass over the Guru bead and continuing in the same direction. If more than 108 repetitions are to be done, then sometimes in Tibetan traditions grains of rice are counted out before the chanting begins and one grain is placed in a bowl for each 108 repetitions.
In traditional Buddhist thought, the reason why 108 beads are found on the Buddhist Prayer Beads, its that's people are said to have 108 afflictions. There are six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by three reactions (positive, negative, or indifference) making 18 "feelings." Each of these feelings can be either "attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure" making 36 "passions", each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future. All the combinations of all these things makes a total of 108.
In addition, practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism, the number 108 is used for a different purpose. After reciting 100 mantras, eight extra mantras are done to compensate for any errors. This same number is also used in Japanese New Year services where a bell is rung 108 times.
Buddhist Prayer and by extension chanting, as chanting is nothing more than rhythmic vocalization of prayer, are guided meditations used to remind us of the internal knowledge that prayer can render. They are also affirmations, by reciting them with heartfelt devotion the spiritual aspirant is reaffirming their commitment, not to some deity or another person, but to the development of ideal inherent in the prayer.
For instance, the purpose of this prayer "Om Pra Ma Ni Da Ni So Ha" is for Eradicating Fixed Karma.
By praying to Buddhas or Bodhisattvas for help and inspiration or chanting their names and prayers with our Buddhist prayer beads we are opening ourselves to their influence, even more than if we do not pray and chant, we are also implicitly saying, I think the qualities of the enlightened beings is useful. I would like to have these qualities myself. Therefore I will practice the methods that are the causes of these qualities.
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