April 17, 2015 on 11:04 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Yesterday I went to visit a friend and when I walked into her house, I felt immediately uplifted and rejuvenated. She told me she had just sprinkled peppermint oil on the floors in her house. Can you believe that? Randy P., Winnetka, IL

Triloka Peppermint Oil

Triloka Peppermint Oil

Dear Randy: Oh, oh, somebody’s going to find me out. I always sprinkle peppermint oil on my floors, particularly if guests are coming. Sometimes I find that I have not had the time to do a particularly good washing of the floors before somebody is knocking on my door, and eureka, I reach for my Peppermint Oil and all is sweet smelling and clear. Triloka Peppermint Oil has a very strong menthol scent that accompanies its dispersion and which also adds to a very healing quality in case you are dealing with some people who have fallen prey to the flu.

Actually, there are many uses of peppermint oil. You will remember as children that peppermint oil was one of the most commonly used scents during our growing up. Now there are so many out-of-the-box, extravagant combinations of scents, that sometimes we have lost touch with the lowly peppermint. As a committed peppermint lover, however, I always have one or two small bottles at home for emergency usages. I don’t like to use those ever-present sprays that are advertised on television. Triloka Peppermint Oil is a much healthier alternative.

While on the subject, there are cinnamon, lemon, bergamot, lemongrass, orange, etc, to name a few of Triloka offerings which has gained an extraordinary reputation for the purity rendering of their oils. Those oils are also suitable for, if you will excuse my levity, being tossed around to refresh your rooms. And of course, we are also noting how each one of them has their own particularly healing virtues.

Back to peppermint however: Peppermint is derived from the peppermint plant, a cross between water mint and spearmint that thrives in Europe and North America.

Peppermint oil is commonly used as flavoring in foods and beverages and as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. Peppermint oil also is used for a variety of health conditions and can be taken orally in dietary supplements or topically as a skin cream or ointment. How about peppermint toothpaste too?

Some evidence suggests that peppermint oil may help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion. But despite promising research, there is no clear-cut evidence to support its use for other health conditions.

When used as directed, dietary supplements and skin preparations containing peppermint oil are likely safe for most adults.

While I have mentioned all of those usages for peppermint oil. I am still sticking by my usage as an air freshener of rooms above the others I have mentioned. There is just such an upbeat and refreshing quality that only peppermint can bring to a room.

Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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April 15, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: When can one use incense cones and when should one use incense sticks? Larry P., Richmond, VA.

Dear Larry: I have to say that incense sticks usually win hands down since most people are more familiar with the sticks than they are with the cones. That is a shame, of course, because, cones give off such a rich and pungent smell that is quite mesmerizing and profound when they are lit. I refer in this blog particularly to the Sandalwood Incense Cones that are truly one of my favorites.

I know many people on the go who like to travel with cones for a very good reason. They find them easier to light perhaps because they include within the box a small stand upon which to light. Interesting word since in this case it holds the meaning of standing upon and also igniting. My friend Dorothy who travels by airplane constantly throughout the United States is faithful in bringing her sandalwood incense cones which are 12 to a box; she finds them less unwieldy than carrying the sticks which she tells me are always getting lost in her clothes—while also conveying a nice scent she tells me. So all is not lost.

Stick incense is a mixture of resins taken from aromatic trees, essential oils and gums hand rolled to a thin stick. The incense burns along with the stick releasing fragrant smoke. This incense is burnt usually in an upright stand.

Cones are essentially stick incense formed into a different shape. Most cones burn about 20 minutes give or take. There is no stick which burns with the incense. Caveat: Do not burn an incense cone without something non-flammable underneath it, as it gets very hot.

Sandalwood Incense Cones arise from the sandalwood tree, which is among the earth’s most fragrant plants. However, the cones do not come from the flower of the sandalwood tree but from the wood that is aromatic. Cones or dhoop incense are used in very important sacred ceremonies and seem to lend an air of profundity to any ceremony. Some say it’s like tomatoes, tomahto. I say it’s one of the few things we get to choose in life.

Best wishes, Spiritual Explorer

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April 10, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Is it true that Nag Champa Incense was Satya Sai Baba’s favorite incense? Lara P., Milwaukee, WI

Nag Champa Incense

Nag Champa Incense

Dear Lara: It is said that Satya Sai Baba actually loved this very fragrant and legendary Nag Champa Incense, and in fact, the Nag Champa Incense bears his name and endorsement.

I first heard about Satya Sai Baba in the 70’s when I resided at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California from a devotee of his who regularly visited Satya Sai Baba when he went to India. He and his partner were totally enamored of Satya Sai Baba and regularly held meditation meetings at Esalen dedicated to their guru. As someone new on the path, I never tired of the stories of the miracles of Satya Sai Baba. In fact, his devotee gave me a substance called vibhuti, which Satya  Sai Baba regularly was able to produce magically out of thin air. It was a grayish, perfumed substance that felt very magical and I held it close to my heart for a long time. Vibhuti was said to have real healing properties and some people even ingested the substance.

Satya Sai Baba’s Nag Champa is truly a favorite of mine and I have been known to have continually favored his Nag Champa incense since many years ago when I visited Muktananda’s ashram in Oakland, Florida. I immediately was enamored of the never cloying, yet sweet fragrance that is attached to Nag Champa incense, a combination of spice, gum, resins, oils and flowers. Available in many sizes and packages, I don’t know anyone who is not impressed with the subtle, yet deeply fragrant incense. I would go so far as to say that Nag Champa is right up there with the spiritual fragrance of sandalwood that is one of, if not the most popular, incenses.

Satya Baba claimed to be a reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi who had died in 1918,who was also considered to be a saint and miracle worker.  Satya Sai Baba was at first considered famous for his materializations of not only the holy ash called vibhuti, but other small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches. In fact, the Satya Sai Baba devotee previously mentioned showed me a ring that Sai Baba had manifested for him.

While these conjuring abilities led to much of his fame, in fact, Satya Sai Baba was a great philanthropist during his life and created many foundations and hospitals in his name that performed free medical services for countless people. In addition, Satya Sai Baba also established a network of clinics, drinking water projects and schools. His foundations continue to exist to this day to provide services.

While many were attracted to Satya Sai Baba initially by his miracles, the true miracle of Satya Sai Baba was in the many philanthropic and charitable institutions he funded and created.

I always loved Satya Sai Baba and at one time thought myself to be a devotee of his. I am truly one of his great admirers. Thanks for writing, Spiritual Explorer

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

April 8, 2015 on 11:49 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: What does Pema Chodron mean with reference to uncertainty in her book Comfortable with Uncertainty? Rose P., Eastchester, NY


Comfortable with Uncertainty

Dear Rose: Uncertainty as Pema Chodron speaks of it in Comfortable with Uncertainty is the uncertainty that is present minute by minute in our lives. It can be that short moment of uncertainty when you have completed a goal and then are awaiting the next goal in your life. It could just be a moment of boredom that you attempt to fill perhaps with food, amusement, music, drugs, etc. It could also be if you are ill, an uncertainty of whether you might survive in the next moment or not. Pema Chodron tells us that as a species, we can never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. To go with our vulnerability in this gap time is news that we can use.

Pam Chodron offers us a solution. She tells that sitting meditation is our support in learning how to do this. Sitting mediation also known as mindfulness-awareness practice is the foundation of bodhchitta training. Bodhichitta training is training of the heart.

Sitting meditation gives us a way to move our thoughts and emotions and to get in touch with our bodies. It is a method of cultivating unconditional friendliness towards ourselves and for parting the curtain of indifference that distances us from the suffering of others. In short, it is our vehicle for learning how to be a truly loving person.

Pema Chodron is kind enough to also give us Points of Posture when meditating. While most of us think we know how to meditate, it is always comforting to me that there is someone willing to tell me the proper way to sit. Pema Chodron tells us that each time we sit to meditate we may access these six points of reference so that we may get on with our meditations.

Labeling our thoughts during meditation is a powerful support that reconnects us with the clearer part of our minds. Breath is also intertwined with our thoughts. When our thoughts become too apparent or concrete, we can always return to the breath for a different and emptier vista.

Meditation according to Pema Chodron certainly becomes an exciting adventure into our psyches. I wouldn’t mind spending a weekend or longer time exploring the strategies, stories and beliefs that I use to fortify my sense of ego. Pema Chodron makes this possible discovery exciting and something one might be anxious to explore since the outcome becomes a feeling of freedom and kindness to one’s self.

Most importantly, meditation according to Pema Chodron is not an attempt to improve oneself; we can still be angry, jealous or unworthy. It’s about befriending who we are already. It is a sense of good heartedness extended to who you are, and once you feel that, you cannot help but extend it to others.

Well done, Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty becomes a wonderful exploration and explanation of how to stop being aggressive and judgmental to oneself, which is the cornerstone and purpose of all spiritual aspiration.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

April 3, 2015 on 11:48 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I have been so confused in my life lately and wish to lead a good happy life. Unfortunately, I feel that my mind is so full of complexities that I am at a loss. Any suggestions? Laura R., Wichita, KS


Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom

Dear Laura: I know that when we go through times of confusion there is a desire to meet with someone who can offer us a simple solution to our complexities; but we are also looking for not just mere attempts to solve our worldly problems, but a wisdom perspective. I suggest to you in that regard the Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Wisdom.

Many years ago I remember watching a video of the Dalai Lama speaking of wisdom, happiness and kindness. I remember that when the video was over I felt as if a dear uncle had just left the room, while similarly feeling as if a great emptiness remained. His warmth and kindness were just what I was looking to feel during that time. The amazing thing is that this very esoteric Buddhist from Tibet who might have stayed in Tibet if not for the Chinese has been such a great gift to us with his simplicity and graciousness. I don’t know how else to describe his magnanimity to all who drink at his well of wisdom, hoping for simple answers to complex questions. He addresses this matter by stating that he of course could have regretted his forced departure of his special country but it also brought him great opportunity to meet with different people and scientists also.

In his Book of Wisdom, the Dalai Lama has ten chapters entitled: Joy and Living Well, Death and Dying, Dealing with Anger and Emotion, Giving and Receiving, Transforming the Mind, Transforming Through Altruism, Transformation Through Insight, Eight Verses on Transforming the Mind, and Compassion and The Basis for Human Happiness. I list all of these to give you an example of how simple and compassionate the Dalai Lama truly is to render his enormous wisdom into a tiny, readable book that can both comfort and illuminate one’s mind and heart. The most important lesson to be gained is how the Dalai Lama speaks of transformation of the mind and challenges you with his wisdom to attempt to do so.

The Dalai Lama speaks a lot about happiness and how to transform one’s mind in order to achieve happiness. The Dalai Lama refers to the lo-jong teachings of Buddhism for that purpose. Lo-jong literally means transforming the mind. There are slogans for transforming your mind, similar to koans, which you have to realize and experience to receive their knowledge. One of my most favorite lo-jong slogans is “Drive all blames into one.” While outwardly it sounds a bit abstruse, for me it has meant taking responsibility for everything in my particular life to the extent of assuming “blame” or “responsibility” for even so-called negative matters, which seemed outside of my scope. The enlightened approach is to accept responsibility for not only my reactions to what I have been dealt, but to see my part in perhaps creating a certain situation, which I am, forced to encounter. It is so preferable to feeling victimized by outward events and gives one a feeling of strength and empowerment.

These are but a few of the pearls of wisdom that the Dalai Lama imparts to us. This book should be read slowly with great respect, for it is educational, inspiring and spiritually enhancing.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

April 1, 2015 on 11:08 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Can you talk about mindfulness? Rose H., Boston, MA

The Miracle of Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulness

Dear Rose: One of the best books on mindfulness is from the beloved Vietnamese practitioner, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness. It is not only an introduction to the practice of meditation, but is an excellent discourse on mindfulness.

Thich Nhat Hanh practices achieving mindfulness at all times, whether he is sitting on a chair listening to music or playing with children. He reminds us to say, I am now sitting on a chair listening to music; I am now playing with children. He brings attention and awareness to his life. When walking, the practitioner must be conscious that he is walking; no matter what position his body is in, the practitioner must be conscious of that position. One must be conscious of every breath, each movement, every thought and feeling, everything which has relationship to oneself.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that when one brings awareness to each step of one’s life, one is awakened to the miracle of life and its beauty. When one is mindful of the earth, suddenly the earth becomes a paradise in which to live and one realizes how lucky one is to inhabit such a wonderful place. In short, mindfulness becomes the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Instead of searching for happiness in “things,” one’s awareness brings the joy and happiness that we seek.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses the breath, similarly to all yoga masters, as a tool to stop mental dispersion and build up concentration power. He even speaks of how he healed himself at one time when he was extremely ill by utilizing the breath and mindfulness.

When one takes control of one’s breath, it is Thich Nhat Hahn’s assertion that one has already become awakened. In order to maintain mindfulness through a long period, one must continue to watch the breath. Thich Nhat Hanh then gives us simple explanations of how the breath may be performed and utilized with various inhalations and exhalations.

Most importantly, Thich Nhat Hanh gives us a powerful reason for the practice of meditation. He asks the question of why one should meditate and then tells us that each one of us needs to totally rest. Sleeping in bed does not provide this rest since one is moving restlessly throughout the night. As one advances more deeply into mediation, one can resolve the worries and troubles that upset and block our consciousness sometimes without the benefit of sleep. While relaxation is a goal of meditation, the goal goes much deeper than that. It is Thich Nhat Hanh’s experience that it possible to realize a tranquil heart and clear mind.

A tranquil heart and clear mind are truly wonderful goals to achieve especially in these difficult times where many things seem to overwhelm and inundate our awareness and ask for our attention. Reading this simple but profound book by Thich Nhat Hanh will do much to encourage and inspire us to meditate and practice mindfulness.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

March 27, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: What is aghora? Randy P., Albany,NY

Aghora Left Hand of God

Aghora, At the Left Hand of God

Dear Randy: Robert Svoboda’s book Aghora At the Left Hand of God is a classic. In it he tells the story of his teacher Aghori Vimalananda who pursued the left hand of god and spirituality, otherwise known as Aghora, which is an advanced form of Tantra. Known as an authentic teacher, Vimalananda was quick to say that the true meaning of Tantra is not sexuality but attaining absolute reality. According to Vimalananda, tantric sex becomes possible only when one has totally effaced one’s personality and offers oneself for the gratification of the deity, the universe incarnate.

According to Vimalananda and other spiritual teachers, we live in relative reality, which is changing, and non-absolute and that is what differentiates ultimate reality from relative reality. Relative reality is where the personality and all of its aspects reside. However, for the sincere aspirant who desires the left hand path of god, as a method of leaving relative reality, it is thought of as the most dangerous and most easily misunderstood path to liberation. Only those who can go beyond space, time and causation to become immortal can be said to be devotees of the left-handed path. Aghora becomes in its purest sense true renunciation, although it might appear differently in its manifestation. But aghora also calls forth only the purest devotee to assume the practice of the left-handed path.

The left handed path can be dangerous in that if left in the hands of an inexperienced and sophomoric aspirant, it could conceivably lead to sexual and other abuse and lead to misunderstandings of the true nature of aghora. Many of its practices can be misunderstood as many of them relate to dealing with death and cremation grounds.

Written almost entirely in Vimalananda’s own words, Aghora, at the left hand of God, presents events from his life, tenets of his philosophy and highlights from his spiritual practices. Some of these practices are shocking, but there is no doubt that they are offered up to his beloved. Vimalananda insisted that this book be published only after he died so that he might be spared pursuit by those entrapped by some of the sensationalistic events described.

Ultimately, according to Svoboda, the great benefit of the study of tantra is perhaps an enhanced appreciation of motherliness. Tantra is truly the worship of the mother; it is the most advanced method for inculcating maternal feelings. As Vimalananda observed,” What more does one need to do once the Mother has accepted him? She will do everything without being sake’s is the being to be realized.”

As with any true humble devotee, he adds a warning not to take anything he writes as gospel truth since he is but a human who makes mistakes. His advice, “Try it out, experience it, and then you will know whether I am telling the truth.”

This is a very serious book, and for the purposes of this blog, we have not written about some of the sensational aspects that Vimalananda alludes to. But it is a truly fascinating exploration into the left-handed path, which a rare devotee might encounter on his path to the divine. Highly recommended for its readability and insight into one of the most esoteric aspects of spiritual practice.

March 25, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I am both an addict and a spiritual seeker. I have tried mightily to accept that aspect of my personality as a part of my spiritual journey, but can always use some assistance in understanding how to integrate the two. Jane P., Liverpool, ENGLAND


Yoga and the Twelve-Step Path

Dear Jane: Sometimes I think we are all in recovery and hence suffering from some addiction of some sort. Whether it’s heroin, marijuana, solitude and even obsessing on meditative practices for some, it’s all the same escape from what is occurring in the moment. Whatever it is, our addictions and turning away ultimately brings us to a place of discomfort and unacceptance within ourselves. It is then that we must ask for compassion for ourselves. Yoga and the Twelve-Step Path by Kyczy Hawk addresses this conflict within ourselves and successfully brings about a détente between the 12 steps and spiritual life. In fact, the addition of yoga to a 12-step program has been known to deepen people’s recovery and give them that sense of longed for serenity and acceptance.

Being in spiritual life for many years, I can truly see the coherence and similarity between the 12-step path and general spirituality. It basically includes admitting to your powerlessness and surrendering to a higher authority, although with a different vocabulary. And both practices, that of yoga and 12 steps, agree on the ultimate step where one finally is able to let go of one’s ego in the service of others, thus extending that learned compassion for ourselves.

Combining yoga and the twelve steps of recovery into an integrated whole has been successfully achieved by Kyczy Hawk. Several types of yoga’s espoused beliefs extended her skills in this regard. Similar to recovery rooms in traditional AA meetings, Ms.Hawk came to see that yoga groups offered safe havens from the madness of everyday life. Yoga in its centuries old wisdom offers an end to suffering—being separate from your authentic self.

While yoga and the 12 step program are intertwined in their goals of recovery, Kyczy Hawk makes sure to tell us that meetings, working with others and attendance at 12 step meetings and sponsorship are not to be overlooked as necessary ingredients to maintain recovery.

Chapter 7 of this book is devoted to hatha yoga where Ms. Hawk talks about the importance of the body and restoring health and suppleness to the organism. Many times recovery groups are known to consider health and wellness practices not as important as the act of giving up the deleterious substance. Many of the AA meetings are enclaves of donuts and bad coffee. The paradox is that addiction is a disease of the mind and the body, and both must be addressed for a full recovery.

This great book includes postures, breath awareness, and styles of yoga and Ayurvedic practices. It is very comprehensive and written in an easy to grasp manner no matter the previous experience with yoga or the 12-step program.

March 20, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Can you tell me something about the Buddha-Lounge series at Ma’s India? Lori Z., Lake Tahoe, NV

Buddha Lounge Series

Buddha Lounge Series

Dear Lori: Just as you wrote this, coincidentally I walked into Ma’s India and was listening to Hotel Tara, the next installment in the Buddha Lounge Series. I was transported at once to a very ethereal, yet seemingly grounding musical feeling. I attribute this feeling to the fact that Hotel Tara seems to combine Indian instrumentation with what has been called “subtle retro-lounge flair.” It is reminiscent for those of us who have spent some time in lounges, most popular I think during the 60’s, where you could visit a lounge, which had mostly relaxing music with a slight alcoholic cast over it. Now it seems that there are less lounges and more clubs that cater to younger and more hip styles.  I might add the music is much louder also, which is sometimes harsh on sensitive ears.

To answer your question, however, the Buddha Lounge series began in Europe under the guidance of Christoph Buhring-Uhle. This series quickly became a bestselling phenomenon due to a seductive blend of downtempo electronics and music made by some of the most creative artists and DJ’s from around the world. In 2001 David and Steve Gordon entered into a partnership with BSC Music to bring the series to the United States. Their music became such a big hit that they have continued to release more in the series by choosing, compiling and mixing the tracks themselves. These Gordon guys have a keen ear for finding the right songs and creating sets that flow seamlessly from one song to the next. The Buddha Lounge Series has thus become an even bigger success in the States, winning many awards.

If you love some of these pieces, which are quite intoxicating, combining relaxation with an upbeat style, and what some may call the “chill” factor, check out our site for other compilations of this Buddha Lounge series.

As an added note, you might be interested in the fact that Tara is a very eminent Tibetan goddess, which adds to the spiritual flavor that casts a spell over this music also. A very powerful goddess, you might want to pay Tara some homage in your mind as you listen to this delightful compilation. You’re going to want to check in, but not check out, at Hotel Tara for an enjoyable and exciting listening experience.

March 18, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I was looking at your White Bone-Inlay Mala which really speaks to me for some reason. Is that real bone? Sandy K., White Plains, NY

White Bone Inlay Mala

White Bone Inlay Mala

Dear Sandy: Yes, our White Bone-Inlay Mala is made from real bones. I am quick to say that the bone malas from Ma’s India are not human bones, but bones perhaps from yaks or buffalo. And these animals are not killed for that purpose. It’s when they die at their own time and their bones are then harvested for spiritual usage. I can add also that some Tibetan temple shrines do indeed have human skulls to remind the meditator of their mortality. Likewise, bone malas are traditionally used for deeper, more esoteric practices. Those practices are called “wrathful” practices and they involve worship of gods and goddesses who are a bit more frightening in appearance. It is said that these deities hang out in graveyards and the cremation grounds and one worships them for the purpose of freeing oneself from habitual patterns and actions. It is also recommended when pursuing “wrathful” practices, that one engages a teacher to guide them.

Now, I have been asked humorously whether one has to invoke a “scary visage” god or goddess in order to become free. The answer is no. Shiva, Saraswati, Durga, Hanuman and many other Hindu gods and goddesses may be more appealing to worship. However, as one commits to a god or goddess, eventually it may become frightening to think of divesting oneself of ego, which has become quite comfortable in which to reside.

During times of discomfort, it is sometime reassuring to turn to one’s bone mala, or any other mala constructed of gems, rudraksha beads, wooden beads, crystals, etc. I always feel that Spirit or God can be very compassionate in that there is always a mala or god or goddess that fits one’s particular personality. There is no better or best; it is who you are and what you feel comfortable with.

I have also been asked whether mala beads are similar to rosaries, and I would be very affirmative in that answer. Just as rosaries are used to recite holy prayers, so are malas in using their particular Hindu mantras. Malas are designed to quiet your outer mind and restore peace and connection to your higher self as you recite your mantras.

The other question is whether or not you should wear your malas constantly, and I would have to say that again is your preference. Some people wear them under their garments and some don malas for religious ceremonies. However you wear these malas, they affirm a commitment to your spiritual life.

Most malas are not particularly fancy, but the bone malas certainly carry another nuance of renunciation and austerity in my opinion.

This white bone inlay mala has 108 beads, which signify the 12 signs of the zodiac times nine. It also represents by its circular form how all life is connected, thus giving another reason to wear this extraordinary bone mala.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

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