moving the mala

“Huge, violent, killer waves of our own making are bearing down on us, ready to smash us against the rocks.” I know this to be absolutely true. I’ve experienced some of it for myself already, across the moments, days and decades of my life. Every unskillful action I’ve ever performed either has, or will eventually, return to me. So when I think of what’s to come, the outlook really isn’t very pretty.

But, Phra Bhasakorn Bhavilai continues in his wonderful book ‘Karma for Today’s Traveler’, “somehow, we see more clearly, we improve ourselves, we reject our past behaviour and we embrace the five precepts. By changing our mental state like that… the power of our bad deeds to effect us has been reduced… The waves will hit us, we can’t stop them; but they only take a limb or an eye or some teeth. We are left alive. The five precepts will reduce the negative effects from our past.”

This is very practical stuff. It’s not about achieving Buddhahood through the perfection of precepts, something I know I am incapable of completing by my own efforts. Rather, taking refuge in the precepts is about developing the skills and habits to live with more peace and confidence in this very life, of being happier and having better relationships with everything and everyone around me, as well as making progress on the path.

I see how this works and rejoice in it, it brings results. And, though central to my personal practice, it’s still not easy. The trickiest for me, just as in Joseph’s insightful post yesterday, is the precept concerning speech. Partly formulated, in words from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fourth Mindfulness Training, as “Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.”

The trouble, I find, is remembering. Sitting with friends, it is so easy to slip back into negative speech patterns. So easy to swear, to complain, to gossip, to exaggerate, to condemn and criticise. So easy to speak rather than to listen, to dominate the conversation, and to talk with urgency and anger rather than with kindness and peace. How can such behaviour not build up disasterous karma? How can I remember my vows?

I recently heard about a church minister in America who suggested to his congregation that they wear a wristband and that every time they catch themselves complaining or gossiping or otherwise engaging in negative speech, they simply move the band from one wrist to the other. What a brilliant idea. It’s a simple act that would re-enforce one’s aspirations and help break the habits of negativity.

I decided to try this out using the wrist-mala I wear everyday, and was surprised at the results. Although I was concentrating on speech, the first effect was that I became much more aware of my thinking too. The second thing I noticed was how often I had to move the mala. And thirdly, I was pleased to see how often I didn’t have to. Which is important, not because I imagine I can ever reach perfection, but because it improves my life here and in the future, reducing the size of those killer waves.

I also remembered Kun Sunim’s advice about striking back at negative thoughts and changing them into something positive, and I worked on just that.  Of course the most positive thing you can do is to entrust everything to your own Buddha-nature, and this technique really helped me do that. I let go of the negativity, and found myself smiling instead. “When you entrust everything to the foundation” Kun Daehaeng Sunim writes, “with a single thought you can go a thousand miles.”

23 thoughts on “moving the mala”

  1. Thank you Marcus,
    After going back and forth about which precept I meant, I realized it was actually the third precept I recently had a lot of mental concern for (summer in Korea…ouch!), but as we’ve all mentioned several times together, the fourth is definitely the easiest to forget.

    It’s true, just laughing with friends, it’s so easy to fall into unskillful speech, apparently harmless but how much more must we suffer for it??

  2. The third! LOL! That’s funny! I am sure that you have no danger there mate! As you know, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the sights of Korea in Summer (fond fond memories!) so long as you don’t attach! LOL! All the very best mate, Marcus _/\_

  3. LOL! EunBong just asked me why I’m laughing, so I risked explaining the situation…

    She has a good sense of humor, she’s laughing too!

  4. Wonderful!

    (You know, you and her and the little one are such a lovely family, it shines through even the distance of the Internet. Thank you for providing such a wonderful example to us all and for sharing your joys and worries. Thank you).

    1. thank you Marcus.
      I know it could only be a small consolation, but you have been an immense motivation to me to embrace the opportunity to be a father as fully as I’m capable. When things are tough, I always think of you…

  5. very helpful post. lately what I see are the negative thoughts. It would be interesting to try this with the mala. I think it might be like a crazy little wrist disco dance back and forth sometimes!

  6. LOL! ZDS, you are right! This morning on my way to work I was switching the mala at each negative thought (although I told myslef I’d only do actual speech) and got to four or five switches before I’d made it to the bus stop! People will start crossing the road to avoid me next! LOL!

    Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment mate. _/\_

  7. ‘Sitting with friends, it is so easy to slip back into negative speech patterns’
    depends on the friends is what i learned by and by… my circle of friends has definitely changed and become rather small. gossiping is not the the problem as long as it ‘positive’ gossip. we all LOVE gossiping, that’s why we are here:)

    and, Markus, hope your mala has got a strong thread;-)

  8. Hi Evelyn, yes, the same here with the number and type of friends, and great point about gossip! Thank you! As for the thread in my mala… LOL! Brilliant! Thank you for the huge smile! _/\_

  9. Excellent idea about how to use the mala.

    In my own experience with “upright speech” I’ve found it useful not to categorize speech into “good” and “bad” types. You know, “good speech” is helpful, kind, truthful, etc., while “bad speech” involves cursing, gossiping, criticizing, exaggerating, etc.

    The hardest part of speech, for me, is to speak truthfully and helpfully in each moment – to speak in a way that actually responds to the requirements of the moment.

    The moment might actually require a well-chosen curse or an apt exaggeration. It might require angry words (although not spoken out of anger).

    The “middle way” requires so much of us – a profound insight into each moment – if we are not to pull back from the truth and correct function.

    1. Thank you Barry,

      I don’t know where I first heard the story – it was a very long time ago – but I’m reminded of the pilgrim about to head out across dangerous bandit-filled territory carrying the collected donations of the faithful.

      “But what if I’m attacked?” the pilgrim asked his teacher. “What if a thief reaches through the carriage window to snatch the bag of coins?”

      The teacher responded “don’t hesitate, hit him, strike him down – with all the love you can muster”.

      Thank you Barry!

      Marcus _/\_

    2. I found this very helpful too, especially when teaching young children. I often find myself in a situation where I must speak strongly, especially considering the local education style.
      There’s something to balancing the line between sounding angry and actually being angry…

  10. “I know I am incapable of completing by my own efforts” – don’t limit yourself by thinking like that, have faith in your foundation and know that you and your foundation is not separate.
    Buddha Shakyamuni did not always speak nicely, about half the times he used the words less than decent; and just by enforcing nice speech you cannot escape karma.
    Playing with beads in your hands can be only temporary means, it will stop working after a short while, it is only by returning thoughts back where they came from it is possible to deal with thoughts, habits, etc.
    Darn karma cannot be dealt with much by some precepts, although they do help alot, especially not killing, respecting life of others, not just people (which is obvious), but all life, from a cow to an ant, and plants too, see all life as your life, but the most powerful way to deal with difficulties and problems and suffering is to return it to your foundation. Although I dread the suffering, and wish I never had to deal with what I had to deal with, but I think everything hapenning in order to evolve you to a higher level, so as they often say in Russia ” whatever is happening – is for the best”. I entrust my thoughts and myself to my foundation, let it deal with me. And if you entrust everything to your foundation with firm faith (and not half- faith), then you would not have to work so hard at precepts, thoughts, etc.
    And, Marcus, try to accept Kun Sunim’s advice as a law, see what happens, and read all of her teachings that are available, if you haven’t done so

    1. “don’t limit yourself by thinking like that”

      It’s not self-limitation Tanya, it’s self-surrender. You know, I think we’re actually both talking about the same thing.

      As for “playing with beads”, I was posting about a technique I’m currently trying out and finding very useful. I’m not suggesting for a moment that it is for everyone. And again, the other points you raise, all good, were indeed covered in this and, more fully perhaps, in my other posts on this blog.

      And thank you for the advice to read Kun Sunim’s teachings. I’ll admit I’m surprised that you felt moved to offer it, and wonder what you meant by doing so. But thank you all the same, I’m sure you meant it kindly.


      1. self-surrender? to whom? you are surrendering to your true self, so it is you after all.
        I don’t really know what you ment by saying ‘what I ment’, but I just thought it would benefit you, your practice, that’s all; in my view of things (the way I percieve them) you remind me of myself, and, I guess, I told you to go and read and study all of KunSunim’s teachings because I thought it would be the best ‘medicine’ for you, because it is the best medicine for me. Just said it as a friend, however I forgot that you, most likely, do not consider me a friend, since you don’t even know me, I am just a person who butt in to your and your friends blog with opinions that might not match yours. But I think that debate is great, it lets things to be looked at from different perspectives, and thus lets you see better what is what

  11. I was stationed in Chuncheon for a year (1970 – Camp Page). Korea is a beautiful country with a rich culture.

    I’ve really enjoyed the “moving the mala” experiment. Thanx for the posting.

    Be well!

    1. Thank you so much Bonsai Doug, and welcome to WUaL! Being in Korea in 1970 must have been quite an experience; I guess you must have some interesting stories. Care to share any?! All the best and take care, Marcus _/\_

  12. Hello Marcus

    Being in the Army, my experiences were military in general, and medical in particular. I ran the clinical laboratory in the Camp Page dispensary.

    I also ran medical services to all the local orphanages. One in particular was pretty bad, as most of the children were Korean/American – deserted by their GI fathers. I don’t know how things are now, but at that time, these particular children were scorned; especially the girls.

    I didn’t identify myself then as a Buddhist; Daoist perhaps. But I did have a good Korean friend who was a Buddhist, and experienced much Korean culture thanks to him.

    He took me once to a celebration at the Cheongpyeongsa temple outside of Chuncheon. It was where I had my first experience eating “real” kimchi – followed by home-made ice cream. The two made for a very “interesting” combo.

    We also went to an extremely small Buddhist temple well up in the hills of Chuncheon. The temple was either a cave, or was carved right into the mountain. It was perhaps 10′ X 12′ in size. Before opening the old wooden doors, a monk asked that we not take photos. Inside, on the altar, stood a white Buddha – white skin and white robes. In a standing rather than a sitting position.

    I’m ashamed to say the urge to take a picture got the better of me. We were literally chased off the mountain side by four monks wielding brooms and rakes!

    I hope my good-orphanage-karma outweighed my bad-photo-taking-karma.

    I still have that 8X10 photo. I have no scanner so I can’t link to it in any way.

    Be well!

    1. Hi Bonsai Doug,

      Thank you! What a wonderful little collection of stories! I laughed out loud at the image of you being chased off the mountain by the broom-weilding monks! LOL!

      Lovely too that you did good work there and made great friends and are still interested in the country all this time later. You know, I bet you’d be a very interesting person to meet and talk to.

      Thank you again so much, and with palms together in gratitude and respect,

      Marcus _/\_

  13. Hi Tanya,

    “self-surrender? to whom? you are surrendering to your true self, so it is you after all.”

    My practice, Tanya, or the main part of it at any rate, is to let go to the Buddha. Or, more usually and specifically, to the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

    I have faith in the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas and I believe that they constantly embrace me. I also believe that I have within me the Buddha-nature that is no different from them.

    That’s what I believe and that’s what I practice – along with a sincere attempt to follow precepts, live within the paramitas, and be open to all the spiritual lessons I’ve learnt from all of my traditions (Christian, Seon, and Pure Land). Best done, I’ve found, through that letting go that I was talking about.

    Luckily, I don’t need to explain my spiritual position or journey, or answer to anyone. I can’t get it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and there is no Buddhist Inquisition. But, yes, I can always learn more and I thank you for offering me further lessons Tanya.

    As for becoming more of a friend, then – once again – I’d very much like to offer you a guest post on this blog to introduce yourself and share something of your journey. It really would be nice to hear more from you.

    All the very best Tanya,


    1. Hi Marcus,

      when i stopped moving my mala this morning i recognized that i was in tears and i was full of bliss and cool showers were still running through me. i addressed to Akshobya today and yes, ‘I have faith in the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas and I believe that they constantly embrace me.’ whenever you think on a Buddha, he’s there; he was definitely with me.

      love, peace and bliss to you


      1. Thank you so much Evelyn! I know that experience (but not with Akshobya Buddha who I know next to nothing about!) and it is so wonderful. My experience tells me you are right, the Buddhas are always there, with us and within us. They are our refuge and our True Self. With palms placed together, Marcus _/\_

  14. Marcus… thanx for the kind words.

    “I laughed out loud at the image of you being chased off the mountain by the broom-weilding monks! LOL!”

    While my Korean was not very good, I’m fairly certain the monks were not bestowing Buddha’s blessings upon us. :^)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s