The rosary, or string of beads, is an implement common to many religious traditions. The Tantric texts of Tibetan Buddhism explain that a rosary is mainly used to count mantras that can be recited for four different purposes: to pacify, to increase, to overcome, or to tame by forceful means.
Used to count the number of mantras that have been recited, it is employed in daily practice, but becomes even more important to someone in retreat, because the limit of many retreats is measured in terms of the number of mantras recited. Many people wear their rosary around their wrist or around their neck, where it easily reminds them of their religious commitments.
Beads of the peaceful rosary are made of conch shell, Pipal tree seeds, pearl and crystal, all of which are smooth and white in color. The thread of this rosary is made of white wool. A rosary for this purpose should have one hundred such beads. Mantras counted on these beads serve to clear away obstacles, such as illness and other calamities, and purify the practitioner of unwholesomeness.
The rosary of increase is made of 108 gold, silver, or copper beads or lotus seeds strung on yellow thread. Mantras counted on these serve to increase lifespan, knowledge and merit. The beads of the rosary of control are made, for example, of red sandalwood, and corals and so forth that are sweet scented and in red color. The rosary is made of twenty – five beads strung on red thread and mantras counted on them are meant to tame others, but the motivation for doing so should be a pure wish to help other sentient beings and not to benefit yourself.
The beads of a rosary used to recite mantras aiming at subduing beings through forceful means should be made from Raksha seeds or human bones, such as skull bone, in a string of sixty on a thread made of strips of fine leather of any color. Again, as the purpose should be absolutely altruistic, the only person capable of performing such a feat is a Bodhisattva motivated by great compassion for a being who can be tamed through no other means, for example extremely malicious spirits.
A rosary may not be made of a mixture of different precious stones. Beads made of Bodhi seed or wood can be used for counting all kinds of mantras, as well as other prayers, prostrations, circumambulations and so forth. The rosary of one hundred and eight is popular as it can be used easily to count in hundreds. Often, two subsidiary strings of ten small metal rings are attached to the rosaries that are used to count hundreds and thousands. The string common to all rosaries should consist of nine threads, which symbolize Buddha Vajradhara and the eight Bodhisattvas. The large bead at the end stands for the wisdom which cognizes emptiness and the cylindrical bead surmounting it, emptiness itself, both symbolize having overcome all obstacles.
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