Likewise, I keep my own thoughts and revelations generally to myself. I have never wanted to wear my Buddhism on my sleeve. But for the past five years I have been wearing a mala on my wrist.
Mala is Sanskrit for "garland," and my mala is a bracelet of beads. Tibetan and Zen Buddhists will often be seen wearing these bracelets--a Buddhist rosary of sorts, prayer beads used to count repetitions of a mantra. Buddhist malas typically have 108 beads, though mine has less.
I first saw a mala worn when I encountered His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his entourage during a 1996 visit to Bloomington, Indiana. His Holiness' humility and compassion moved me that day, and I made it a point to seek out some of these mala beads for myself. I never believed that they held any mystical power or would make me a better person, but thought having these beads on my wrist might serve as a subtle but effective daily reminder of what I wanted to remember--have a little humility, practice compassion, take a breath, be in the moment.
|I thought having these beads on my wrist might serve as a subtle but effective daily reminder of what I wanted to remember--have a little humility, practice compassion, take a breath, be in the moment
Though this was a mere five years ago, it took me some months to find a mala for my wrist. Only by chance, on a trip to New York City, did I finally find the beads for sale in a small Tibetan artifact store, on an obscure street below Greenwich Village. The simple dark wooden beads were from Tibet, the store clerk promised me, but the origin was really not so important. I was simply buying a reminder, not a totem or holy relic.
I wore the beads happily, and on a good day the reminder worked for me. Every once in a while someone would ask about the beads, and I would say, "Oh, they're Tibetan, they don't mean much."
Then the explosion came: mala beads, Buddha Beads, or Magnetic Power Bead Stretch Bracelets were suddenly, it seemed, as common as baseball caps. Starting roughly one year ago, I began to see them for sale in department stores, then in teen fashion outlets, and increasingly in the back pages of various non-Buddhist magazines. Never mind if they were mimicking the Buddhist tradition, or playing off some ancient Chinese custom--they sure looked like malas.
Two months ago, in a Kroger's grocery store in Georgia, I saw the beads dispensed as special prizes out of a 25 cent bubblegum machine. A woman walked by with her four-year-old daughter, and the girl chirped, "Cool! Power beads are so cool! I love power beads!"
Then, a week later, I ran across some on sale in my hometown's Super Mall--in the Disney Store. The Disney "mala" was lavender, with a picture of Eeyore, the sad gray donkey of Winnie the Pooh fame, on each bead.
The last straw?
No, the last straw for me was a website: www.buddhabead.com.
"THE LATEST FASHION STATEMENT!!" the website advertises. "Buddhist mala beads, supplied by Buddhist Temples in North India and China, in use for over 25 centuries in the Orient as a talisman, to insure success in love, to further careers, to provide good luck as well as spiritual guidance and protection, are NOW BECOMING AVAILABLE in the West and represent not only the latest fashion statement but also provide a link to our other spiritual side!! Join in the discovery of the most successful Hollywood Stars! Discover the power! Improve your Karma!!"
My bracelet suddenly doesn't make me feel so Buddhist.
Yesterday, I took it off.
It no longer serves as a daily reminder of my humility, my need to be aware. Instead, it has begun to remind me how our culture cheapens everything. I began to understand how my Christian friends felt when the pop star Madonna wore a crucifix in one of her steamy videos. This is not very Buddhist of me, perhaps. Surely my attachments are causing me to feel so miffed, to judge the people selling these Tibetan beads, or rather selling cheap knock-offs of the Tibetan beads, becoming rich at the expense of a 2,500-year-old sacred tradition.
I have too many attachments, surely.
But I am down by one. The beads are no longer attached to my wrist.