Keeping Track of Large Numbers
In some traditions hundreds of thousands, or even 1 million mantras are required before we can manifest or at least, access, the properties of certain deities. Without carrying around paper and pen, how do we remember these large numbers of rounds of the mala?
You can have up to 3 devices or tallies on your mala, for keeping track of
large numbers They are
thick threads that hold 10 beads or rings that are slipped down or away from the
main string of beads. One of them is for tallying hundreds, the
other counts thousands and the bum (Tibetan for 100,000 or a lakh) is for
tallying each ten thousand.
An older kind of tally is made of a coarse double thread of thick rough yak wool or other fibre that provides enough grip so the little rings do not easily slip up or down unless they are moved with intention. It consists of a pair of sets of little rings on a double thread, one terminating with a dorje and the other with a bell.
We attach one on one side of the mala, and the other on the opposite side. One can be used to count up to a thousand, and the other for tallying the thousands. To attach each one:
1. Move all the rings down towards the little silver charm (bell or dorje).
Home Made Counters
After you have put a charm or a smooth and decorative bead on each of the cut ends of a thick piece of yarn (to keep the counters from slipping off) string ten good-sized "jump" rings from the craft or bead store over the doubled or folded wool.
These tallies can be easily made on a single thread by using silver or gold "lobster claw" fasteners from craft stores. These are the longer shaped spring fasteners used to attach the two ends of a necklace. After stringing on 10 beads or rings, at the other end attach a bead or miniature ornament by means of a jump ring.
Why all this emphasis on counting?
Once at dusk, while the 18th-century Sufi saint from Sindh,
Shah Latif Bhitai (called Makhdoom Shah Baba) was sitting in a grove
by the village well doing his rosary [tasbieh] practice he overheard two girls,
who had come to fill their water jars.
The former replied, "Oh sister, do we really keep an account of the meetings with
our sweetheart?" Then the girls went away, gracefully balancing the heavy jars on their
heads while laughing merrily."
One of his famous dohali (cf. Tibetan doha) is:
From the perspective of ultimate truth -- in Buddhism we could say, from the Mahamudra perspective -- there is no need or requirement to keep track of prayers and mantras. However, for those who choose the tantric system, the various practices are part of a tried and true rigorous method that works on the person at many different levels.
Vajrayana (tantric Buddhism) requires that a student follow his or her lineage's traditional instructions to the letter, and this includes performing definite numbers of various activities, including the saying of prescribed numbers of mantras.
Sindh: The Indus Valley of north-western India -- now mainly included in Pakistan.