How to chant a mantra 108 times without mala beads

Right hand counting (explained in text). Click on image to see lager view.

Hindu mantras are traditionally repeated 108 times, using mala beads to count the repetition. Shaivites traditionally count on rudraksha beads,  whereas Vishnavites us beads made from the stems of the tulsi plant.

There are times when it is useful to chant japa without mala beads. I recently read a facebook post that described a fairly complicated way of counting to 108 using your fingers. I found this method rather confusing, so I thought that it might be useful to describe a method that I use.

The method is based on counting the segments of each finger, pointing at each with the thumb on the same hand. Start by touching the tips of the thumb and the little finger of both hands together. Chant the mantra, then move the thumb of the right hand to point to the middle segment  of the little finger. Chant again then point to the base of the little finger. After the third chant move the thumb to the tip of the next finger, then continue counting the segments of each fingers in turn as shown in the “right hand” picture.

Left hand counting (explained in text). Click on image to see lager view.

Continue in this way until you reach the base of the index finger on the right hand. This time after chanting the mantra point the thumb of the right hand finger back at the tip of the index finger, and move the thumb of the left hand to point to the second (middle) segment of the index finger. You will now have chanted the mantra 12 times.

Continue counting with the right hand exactly as before. When you again reach the base of the index finger with your right hand thumb, again move the right hand thumb back to the tip of the index finger, and advance the thumb of the left hand to the base of the little finger. Continue in the same way, each time you finish counting on the right hand advancing the thumb of the left hand to the next finger/segment as shown in the left hand counting diagram.

Each advance of the left thumb represents 12 repetitions of the mantra. When you reach the point with the right thumb on the base of the index finger and the left thumb at the base of the middle finger you have completed 9 counts of 12 = 108 repetitions. This is the point where the next move would logically be to move the left thumb to the tip of the left index finger.

There is a lot of symbolism in the 108 repetitions, but if at first you lose track of the counting don’t worry, chanting the japa a different number of times is still beneficial, it is the discipline of trying that matters.

Symbolism of the 108 repetitions

The number 108 has many meanings, including the following:

  • It is the hyperfactorial of 3 since it is of the form 1^1 * 2^2 * 3^3.
  • The interior angles of a regular pentagon measure 108 degrees each.
  • Hindu deities have 108 names. Recital of these names, often accompanied by counting of 108-beaded Mala, is considered sacred and often done during religious ceremonies. The recital is called namajapa.
  • Shiva’s Nataraja dances his cosmic dance in 108 poses.
  • In the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna dances with 108 Gopis.
  • In Hindu Astrology there are 12 Rashis or Zodiacs and 9 Planets or Navagrahas. 12 X 9 = 108. This symbolism is illustrated well by the counting method, where the finger segments of the right hand represent the Rashis and those on the left hand the Navagrahas.
  • Also in Hindu Astrology there are 27 Lunar mansions or Nakshatras which are divided in 4 Padas or quarters each. 27 X 4 = 108.
  • 108 signifies the wholeness of the divinity, perfect totality.
  • The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realisation.

The Aum mantra

A mantra that can be recited by anyone is the Aum mantra. A description of how to chant this Mantra is given in the book Loving Ganesha (Chapter 10):

For Aum japa to be effective, the mantra must be pronounced correctly. The first syllable is A, pronounced as the English word “awe,” but prolonged: “aaa.” The second syllable is U, as in “roof,” pronounced “oo” but prolonged: “ooo.” The third syllable is M, pronounced “mm” with the front teeth gently touching and the sound prolonged: “mmmm.” Each repetition is sounded for about seven seconds, with two seconds on A, two seconds on U and three seconds on M, with a silence of about two seconds before the next repetition. The three syllables are run together: AAUUMM (silence), AAUUMM (silence), AAUUMM (silence). On the first syllable, A, we feel the solar plexus and chest vibrating. On the second syllable, U, the throat vibrates. The third syllable, M, vibrates the top of the head. Thus, proper chanting of Aum also is a high form of yoga, moving energy from the lower chakras of the body up to the highest chakra, or energy center — the sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head.

Other mantras vary with tradition. Once versed in the Aum mantra, Shaivites may proceed to chant Aum Sharavanabhava. Other sects within Hinduism will have their own recommended mantras, for example Vishnavites may chant the Hare Krishna mantra.

37 responses to “How to chant a mantra 108 times without mala beads

  1. Nice blog… are you english? are your ancestors definitely not of Indian origin?
    Well the fact that you mentioned that hindus don’t proselytize is true. But we could pay dearly for that with christian evangelists spread all over india hunting down poor hindus… hahaha …no: of hindus could decline gradually ….

    • Thanks Manish,
      I am English and as far as I know I have no Indian ancestors. Some day I might take one of the dna ancestry tests to find out for sure.

      I don’t think that active poseytisation is the answer to the problem of Christian evangelists, but better education about Hinduism and about the techniques of evangelists and their beliefs. For example I have heard that many Hindus assume that Christian evangelists will always be truthful and not employ deception, whereas many of them believe that this is justified in spreading Christianity. Also Christians often say that the richness of Western countries shows God’s favour to Christians, neglecting to say that countries like Uganda and Guatemala have a higher percentage of Christians than the USA or the UK. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way. I also believe that Hindus should abandon the idea of untouchability (which has no support in the scriptures) and of Hereditary caste, which I also believe is a misunderstanding.
      Aum Shivaya
      Chris

  2. The mantras used by Shaivites : is Om Namah Shivaya[the Panchaaksharam -5 syllabled mantra];
    By Vaishnavites :Om Namo Naaraayanaaya/ tthe Ashtaaksharam-8]
    By worshippers of Muruga :Om Sharavanabhava /the Shadaaksharam-6]
    I dont know the mantras used by Sri Devi upaasakas or Sir Ganesha bhakthas.

    • Thanks Sita, that is very useful. The Aum mantra itself is associated with Ganesha. The book “Loving Ganesha” gives many other Ganesha mantras, the most important probably being this one:

      Another special mantra is Aum Gam Ganapataye Namah. This is Lord Ganesha’s mula (“root”) mantra. It is also known as His bija mantra, for it combines Ganesha’s bija (“seed”) sound, “gam,” with the phrase, “Praise be to Ganapati.”

      The mantras of Ganesha and Muruga are important to Shaivites too. In fact the Nandinatha Sampradaya recommends that these are used first of all, and the Panchakshara Mantra is saved until initiated by a Guru.

  3. Thank you for the significance of 108. I only knew about the energy lines…so now I learn the rest :).

  4. Oh and the Devi mula mantra is

    ||Om Dum Durgayai Namah||

  5. here is more on japa and different mantras:

    http://www.dlshq.org/teachings/japayoga.htm

  6. There are two more significances…
    1. The distance between the earth and the moon (which generates feminine energy) is 108 times the size of the moon.
    Similarly the distance between the earth and the sun (which generates masculine energy) is also 108 times the size of the sun.
    2. Also there are 108 different type of sounds (54 spiritual sounds {the christian nuns use 54 bead rosary}and 54 materialistic sounds.
    Thanks

  7. This is really very informative. I have heard the significance of number 9, and thought for 108 the same. But this one is really an eye opener. Thanks so much for sharing. I didn’t get fully how to use your hands to get 108 repetition, I guess need to practice a lot :)

  8. Modern scientists have agreed that everything moves producing sound, water flowing in a pipe will make sound that we can hear, even our blood flowing in the veins producing sound eventhough difficult to be heard by our physical ears. If we go deeper into subtler level, the moving electrons around the nucleus producing sound. Go deeper again the energy / prana that make proton and electron is producing sound. This is the sound of the universe that we try to imitate by chanting AUM. By practicing this chanting someday we will reach the level of consciousness to always enjoy the cosmic joy from the all permeating universe sound of AUM.
    AUM NAMAH SHIVAYA

  9. Tnx for the info on 108 mantras. I have 4 divisions on my thumb so I stop when reach middle of the middle finger.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwMyiDbQrjY – its so powerful.

  10. Hi Chris,

    It was once explained to me, but not so clearly, so I wasn’t able to understand this counting method which seemed confusing before.
    Thank you for clarifying.

    All the best.

    • I can teach you even more simoler way.Hold your hands together in the Hindu wy of Namaskar or Namasthe while chanting any mantra.Start pressing both fingers from the little finger till the last finger-the thumb-as you chant the mantra.Repeat it without a pause until you have finished a 2nd round. Mentally think it as ONE ROUND( ie.2 times one round). If you do this 5 times(5 x 5) it makes 25 chants. Repeat it another 4 times. That makes 100.Do this 8 times pressing the tip of the finger.shat makes 108.
      CAUTION; While doing this be 100% aware while
      counting mentally.It is very simple & effective.You can ask someone to verify by couning while you do it silently that will amaze others.While you are touching the tips of the
      fingers,nobody can notice,as it appears to them that you are just holding your hands in the Hindu way of worship.

  11. Good work and continue to do this so. All religions in the world are trying to improve humanity. Instead of we compare, first always choose one path faithfully to follow….
    Bhavad Gita says :
    “Man is what he believes in, as he believes, so he is.”

    • This OM OR AUM chanting can be integrated with the breath continuously so that a the last breath of life,while Soul leaves the body it merges with the Cosmic Source,according to Mother Ananda Mayee the Divine
      incarnation,as your very breath becomes from which yoiu
      and me were created, as Om is not considered just the name of God,but God Himself.

  12. Great explanation. Very helpful. I sometimes use mala beads when I chant.

  13. Pingback: Krishna got my attention - Religious Education Forum

  14. Thanks for sharing! Your article is really perfect. I am writing about All religions in the world are trying to improve humanity and spirituality but you have such an interesting that suggest me to modify my writing.

  15. Hi, I have problems achieving things in life, because I can easily lose track of what I am trying to achieve. I saw this article and I tried chanting this mantras ‘Aum’. I was not sure if I while I was chanting if I fell a sleep. It’s strange because, I know I was chanting and counting on my fingers. Is this normal? Should I do something to keep myself aware of what I’m doing?

    • Namashkar Thanendera Ji,
      A Satguru of my lineage says:

      If you catch yourself dropping off to sleep while sitting for meditation, know that your meditation is over. The best thing to do is to deliberately go to sleep, because the spiritual power is gone and has to be invoked or opened up again.

      Going to sleep with the holy mantra on your lips is not a bad thing, indeed ideally we should all make sure that the last word we utter before we sleep, and the first word we utter on waking is holy.
      Aum

  16. Yes we can use our finger to count the number of times of our repetition of the mantras and chants.We do not need to buy the rudrakhya mala and anything for this purposes.

  17. Chris! your effort is much appreciated! Being Hindu myself, I have’nt discovered much… I feel very proud to be hindu and to see how it changes and benefits people and lives all around.. the scientific nature is way much ahead of any other study in this universe!
    Peace be to all!

  18. To true realization of your own soul
    study Vedanta (Veda , upnishad , Gita hinduism base theory)
    and after learning and understanding well this Vedanta, work on this mantra…………………….:- Sohum
    this mantra means “you are that”
    that means God.
    and remember during repetition of mantra, the vedanta theory (Ancient hindu theory).
    That will make u realize the true nature of yours and make u able to experience spirituality in greater way.

  19. prasad immidisetti

    we can count with 108 flowers or 108 pepper beeds also keeping them each aside after chanting mantra for one time.

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  22. lots of thanks..

  23. Thank you, your method is very easy and useful. I have translated your article to Ukrainian, here: http://ahamot.org/jak-povtoryuvaty-dzhapy-108-raziv-bez-maly/

  24. Pingback: Як повторювати джапу 108 разів без мали | Ахамот.org

  25. Vyacheslav | April 27, 2013 at 9:54 | Thank you, your method is very easy and useful. I have translated your article to Ukrainian, here: http://ahamot.org/jak-povtoryuvaty-dzhapy-108-raziv-bez-maly/
    I explored the above weblink but then I haven’t understood much because of the language barrier Well, being from India I clearly understand that language indeed is a barrier we all will have to overcome…somehow, the world is shrining as we speak thanks to explosive advances the inform technology accomplished and live telecasting etc etc not to forget quick travel facility available now. I spent a couple days in Moscow a couple of decades ago. Your translation- Whats the purpose , are there some hindus in the area who may benefit from it you think, if so what kind of tradition they follow. Finally, please visit a plathora of hindudharmaforums that are available on the web if some more insights are needed.

  26. There is so many things to learn from Hinduism. Initially I thought it must be a limited book of knowledge, but as I progressed the more I seemed to learn the farther I went from completion. I have a particular faith and interest in Lord Shiva mantras and chants and they are all peace bringer. As for the 108 explanation – Thank you Author. God Bless.

  27. Thank you for the great information, some times i get problem chanting without mala, I usually use karamala to count 10 mala’s (10*108) when chanting with Mala, this is good source of information

  28. There is an alternate method for chanting mantras 108 times, which I’m doing since long. Start the mantra. When finishing one count, fold the small finger of the right hand and hold it. When finishing the second count, fold the index finger and continue up to the thumb. Once completes 5 counts, start unfolding the thumb to the small finger in a reverse order to finish 10 counts [or unfold can be started from small finger to thumb to complete 10 counts]. When finish one cycle of 10 counts with right hand, fold the small finger of left hand, and for the next 10 counts fold the index finger of the left hand and so on up to the thumb and reverse…..Repeat the process until 100 counts. For the remaining 8 counts, use the right hand (5+3). This method reduces the chance of miscount.
    AUM HREEM NAMASHIVAAYA.

    Gopan, Dubai.

  29. Pingback: Mantra-Mediation im Yoga – Warum 108? | Rani's Blog

  30. I also use my fingers to count sometimes but I use both left and right hands. I also check 4 points on each finger: using my thumb I touch the tip of each finger and then each of the 3 lines on all fingers. So that gives me 16 counts on each hand. 108/16 gives you 6.75 so I reach 108 on the second set of lines on my ring finger of either hand. I just keep a careful check on how many counts of 16 I’ve done. It’s easier for me this way because I learned to count bols or syllables on my fingers. I find it very useful when I don’t have my japa mala or I don’t want to use it.

  31. Blocks in this chakra cause confusion, depression, senility, worry of success
    and lack of inspiration.

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