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Material religion is considered to be the link between religious beliefs and life in our materialistic world today, it refers to different physical objects such as pictures, liturgical and devotional objects, sacred space and architecture, works of art, and artifacts. Those objects play a huge part within everyday religious life. For example, an article written by The Gale Group Inc. said that “Many Catholics pray using a rosary which is a string of beads. Each bead represents a prayer or meditation. Some evangelical Protestants have pictures of Jesus that they hang in their homes to remind them of his love. Muslims center their prayers on a variety of holy places in Mecca. Buddhist homes have a small shrine, which sometimes features a figure of the Buddha which serves as a center of meditation”.
For some people, these objects provide individuals with collective and spiritual symbols. The objects mentioned above have been associated with the divine, the sacred, and the sublime, which means that they are actually considered by different religions as symbolic manifestations of a deity or the actual deity itself.
According to a book called “key terms in material religion” by S. Brent Plate, “material approaches to religion stir us to rethink the relations between the secular and the religious. By finding material similarities between events such as sporting events and religious ceremonies, we also come to a body-centered understanding of religion. We sense objects, connect with other bodies, and create an identity through popular culture and religions alike. From this vantage point, the differences between so-called atheism and theism, and between church and state, are a lot more intertwined than we might at first be led to believe”.
Christian Rosary Beads and Buddhist Mala Prayer Beads
No one knows for sure when people actually began using prayer beads, however nowadays’ prayer beads are quite common to many religious traditions and are often used in popular practice. This is why they are considered a universal prayer item and are used within many faiths throughout the world. These religions include Christianity, Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. These prayer beads are used to declaim devotions and prayers.
In both the Christian and Buddhist faiths, Prayer beads are believed to help individuals become more centered and focused when praying and meditating. They help to keep track of each prayer the individual has said and are also believed to bring about a sense of tactile meditation. The purpose of prayer beads is to allow the person to think about the actual meaning of the prayers being said without being distracted by focusing on counting the repetitions. Each time a prayer is repeated, the person’s fingers move to the next bead.
According to an online article post by Vienna imports called ‘History and use of prayer beads throughout the world, “Prayer beads are basically made of string, and beads, to create a smooth beaded necklace. It is used in a typically same style in all traditions and religions. The beads are normally fingered one at a time in an automatic manner to help the user keep track of the number of prayers said with the least amount of conscious effort. This allows the devotee to pay maximum attention to the prayers without conscious distraction.”
Prayer beads serve a common purpose in all religions but each religion has its own way of using and making the beads. Prayer beads are made from a wide range of different materials. Buddhist prayer beads are made from various different materials such as the wood or seeds of the famous Bodhi tree, which is believed to be where Buddha sat until he attained enlightenment. The seeds of a lotus plant, animal bone, or semi-precious stones, such as amethyst or carnelian. Whereas Christian rosaries are made from a wide variety of materials, including glass, amethyst, wood, silver, gold, and plastic. Rosaries contain a cross symbolizing the crucifixion of Christ in the center.
Prayer beads are an important part of the prayer for Christians and Buddhists. The prayer beads are a tool to help aid in keeping the individual more focused and helps to clear their mind so that they can meditate on their prayer more effectively, which in turn brings about a sense of value, meaning, and order into that person’s life. For both Christians and Buddhists, prayer beads are used to help count prayers and for meditation. Some individuals even carry their prayer beads with them at all times. They do this to remind them of their devotion and to protect them against corruption and harm.
One reason why both religions use the prayer beads is that it allows individuals to keep track of the number of prayers recited when they are doing repetitions. An example of this in Buddhism is when practitioners are reciting mantras, such as the “Om Mani Padme Hum” or “Om Mani Peme Hung”. The Roman Catholic Church’s traditional devotion combines prayer and meditation through the recitation of “Our Father”, “Glory Be”, “Hail Marys”, as well as any other prayer such as the Apostle’s Creed. Catholics use the rosary prayer beads to count the prayers in a specific sequence.
According to an online article, in the Buddhist tradition, prayer beads are called mala. They consist of 108 beads that represent the 108 human passions or sins that must be overcome in order to reach enlightenment. This number also ensures the worshipper repeats the sacred mantra at least 100 times, the extra beads allowing for any omissions made through absent-mindedness in counting or for the loss or breakage of beads”.