Customs and Rituals

What is the Buddhist Rosary?

Buddhists in many places have used a number of variations on the string of beads for devotional purposes. In ancient India, Buddhists used a string of 108 beads (very similar to the ancient Hindu rosary) as a symbol of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. This compassionate being, whose name means, roughly, “Lord Looking Down on the World,” took on 108 human characteristics in his saving descent to assume the human condition, using the beads while doing so. Chinese and Japanese images of the Buddha, as well as of various patriarchs and monastic founders, sometimes show them holding rosaries. For ritual purposes, the rosary has been particularly important in the more esoteric sects of Tibet and Japan. Tibetan rosaries have three larger beads at the end as symbols of the Three Jewels. Devotees in those sects use the beads to count repetitions of their mantras. In some more popular sects, devotees count repetitions of names of the Buddha or phrases like “Glory to Amida Buddha.”


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