Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bead Number 109

In many countries one sees followers of different religions with prayer beads in their hands, fingering them bead by bead.

I asked one man in a shop in Bahrain what it meant to him to carry the beads and he said, “Nothing really. They’re just a status symbol. Every man has them.”

However, for the devout the beads give a focus for their prayer.

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her best seller, Eat Pray Love, has adopted the idea of the traditional Indian prayer beads (japa mala) with their 108 beads and she has written of her ‘search for everything’ in 108 chapters. This is a literary method she employs to give her book structure and her ventures to Italy (for eating), India (for praying) and Indonesia (for balance) mean a nice even 36 chapters for each of these sections.

Gilbert in her introduction notes that the japa mala has a special extra bead that dangles outside the balanced circle of 108 like a pendant.

Gilbert says, “I used to think the 109th bead was an emergency spare like the extra button on a fancy sweater, or the youngest son in a royal family. But apparently there is an even higher purpose. When your fingers reach this marker during prayer, you are meant to pause from your absorption in meditation and thank your teachers.”

What a lovely thought. Even if you don’t buy your students some prayer beads, tell them about the wisdom of bead number 109. It is a wonderful gesture and a delightful discipline, that we all take regular pauses to be thankful for our teachers.

Source: Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything (London: Bloomsbury, 2006), 1-2.

This best selling book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Prayer Beads