Saturday, December 3, 2011

How To Care For Your Wood Malas

Mala care-

Every now and then someone asks me how to take care of their bodhiseed, sandalwood, or other wood mala. It makes sense to ask, since if wood gets wet and dries out it cracks and looses luster. Sandalwood can loose its fragrance. And the patina of wood grows more beautiful from the oils in our skin. How do we protect that?

We know that all things are impermanent and we shouldn't cling to things as they are, but here are a few guidelines. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section!

Without any treatment, wood mala beads will grow in beauty. They'll darken and become a little bit glossy from contact with skin. But if they get wet and then dry out, they may loose some of this patina. So don't swim in your mala! (LOL) They don't need a wash. If it has become wet and looks dry, handle it a lot–now is the time to say many prayers and mantras to get natural skin oils back on the beads.

This is all I would do. I wouldn't use an oil–the smell of it might not fit the sense of your mala and you don't know if the oil has chemicals. Perfumes in lotions and oils wouldn't be good either. If you have found an oil that works on wood without scent, just use a tiny drop on your fingers; don't apply it to mala directly. But I wouldn't bother treating it with any oil. The last thing you need is an oily set of wooden prayer beads,

Caring for sandalwood:
Sandalwood is wonderful. The smell of a sandalwood mala brought me right back to the present moment yesterday when I was working. To bring the scent back if it dissipates, store it overnight in a ziplock bag. That's it! No aromatherapy needed. I'd actually avoid using aromatherapy oils directly on any mala. If you wear a bit on your skin or have just had a lovely massage, I think that's fine for the beads. They'll take on the smell for a long time, so be sure you want them to be affected before you put them next to well-oiled skin.

These are my simple tips for caring for wooden malas, including bodhiseed ones. The main thing is to use them everyday and handle them a lot with love. And if your custom is to wear them, that's helpful, too. (Just don't tug them when putting them on or taking them off or you'll wear out the cord faster. If your mala breaks, find a mala-maker like me to repair it.)

(Semi- precious stone or pearl malas, on the other hand, can be very adversely affected by perfumes and chemicals. Be very careful not to spray perfume, sun lotion, or hairspray near them; especially with softer stones like amber, chrysocolla, and turquoise.)

Malas, like any powerful meditation support, take on the power to bring you to mindfulness. This is through your own loving intentions and aspirations. Holding them can bring you right back to a deeper reality and calm if you love and care for them. And that calm and peace can spread through your family and community, affecting the whole world positively.

Be well and happy!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bongeunsa Temple: Seoul, South Korea

On Saturday, my friend Breda and I, and her friend Bo Seul, went to Bongeunsa temple. It's kind of deep in the heart of Seoul, right across the street from COEX (of the aquarium fame). Despite being in the middle of one the loudest, busiest, most crowded cities in the world, Bongeunsa still retains a very quiet and isolated atmosphere. I'm pretty sure there's some kind of force field (powered by super secret Buddhist voodoo?) keeping out all of the sound and chaos of the city around it.

This is part of a display in the main courtyard of the temple. The white flowers are left in memory of people who have died. The other plants are left with wishes. On the other side, you can light an incense stick and leave it burning there as a wish. I guess the idea is that the smoke or the scent carries your wish up to heaven?

Pretty sure this is related to some expression about enlightenment and the tail of a tiger or some such. Too lazy to look it up.

While we were there, they started the call to evening prayers.

After a couple hours of traipsing about the temple grounds, we sat here for a rest and a bit of zen.

And we ended the visit with spring water from a fountain.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful temple. Hopefully you all get to see it some day. Namaste!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The top 5 books of my Dharma library

I have a real weakness for books. They're probably my biggest material attachment, surpassing even yarn. (I know there are many worse attachments, but I do try to keep my library under control.) My husband and I moved last summer and again a couple of months ago, so most of my book collection has been stashed away in boxes for over a year. Last week I found myself actively missing a few of my favorite Dharma books that had gotten buried in storage; when I found them, it was like I was meeting old friends again! That got me thinking about which books I felt were essential to my practice and my life.

These are my top five, in no particular order:

1. The Dhammapada
My favorite is the Thomas Byrom verse rendering published by Shambhala. It's beautifully poetic and accessible, and also conveniently pocket-sized - my copy lives in my purse!

2. The Heart of Understanding by Thich Nhat Hanh
Though I've never had the honor of meeting him, I consider Thich Nhat Hanh to be my first Dharma teacher. He has a wonderful gift of making difficult concepts easy to understand without any "dumbing down," and you don't have to be a Buddhist practitioner to benefit from his teachings.

3. The Lotus Sutra
I first read (and reread and reread) the Burton Watson translation; I'm now reading the new translation by Gene Reeves. It's one sutra I continually return to; the sense of wonder I find in it never goes away.

4. In Praise of Tara: Songs to the Saviouress by Martin Willson
This is the best collection of writings, prayers and praises devoted to the Buddha Tara, my patron deity. 

5. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Sogyal Rinpoche addresses a Western audience in this book about how we in the modern world relate to life, death, and dying. It's helped me through a lot in recent years.

That's my list - I would love to hear what Dharma books are most important to you all!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

NEW Honeysuckle Soap on Faerykissnaturals!

YUM...well, that is how I usually describe my
soaps..however...this one is more than that...close your eyes, take a sniff of this soap, and you will think you are in a honeysuckle garden! Honeysuckle Oatmeal is loaded with natural oatmeal to give you smooth, soft skin, and the scent is SO lovely..perfect for Spring!! Castor and avocado oil make a thick, moisturizing lather that feels like an all-natural luxury you can actually afford! These soaps are super huge too, about 6+ oz. Most soaps are 4 oz. but I love a big soap!
So..I just wanted to share! In NC here it is really warm and beautiful at the moment and I want to take advantage of that. Namaste, and see you later!!  :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Tutorial: Zafus and Zabutons

The most important part of Buddhist practice is meditation, and what is meditation without a zafu and a zabuton?

The Zafu


"Zafu" is written with two Japanese kanji: "za," meaning "sitting," and "fu," referring to cattail or reedmace, the original stuffing material (rarely used in zafus today). Often, though, it's translated as "sewn seat" or something similar. Online, I've seen zafus in all kinds of colors and patterns, but the ones my sangha uses are black.

The Zabuton

Courtesy of

Unlike the zafu, which is associated primarily with zazen meditation, the zabuton has many everyday uses. It's the standard cushion for floor seating, though in zazen you don't sit on the zabuton. In zazen, you place the zafu on top of the zabuton, using the zafu to cushion your pelvis and the zabuton to cushion your ankles and knees. This is especially important when you're doing zazen on a hardwood floor! Keeping the pelvis elevated is important for comfort and good zazen posture, which is why you don't simply sit on the zabuton itself.

Where To Get Your Zafu
Of course, there are a variety of shops on Etsy that sell zafus, zabutons, and entire sets!

Light Mine Studios has customizable sets and single zafus in an assortment of sizes and luxurious fabrics:

Large Customizable Zafu Set

InspiraZen also carries lovely sets, with exceptional hand-printed designs:

enso zen zafuEnso Zafu

A nice compromise between buying and making yourself is buying the cover and then stuffing it on your own. Stuffing anything like a pillow or toy animal can take more time than you imagine; by selling only the cover, an artisan can provide a high quality product and keep the price very economical, since they no longer need to charge for the filling material or the time spent stuffing the zafu. ZafuChi has a variety of zafu covers for sale, all at a very budget-friendly price. And they're beautiful as well:

mocha jacquard zafu cover
Mocha Jacquard Zafu Cover

But for those aspiring seamstresses and tailors out there, why not go whole hog? Making your own zafu (as well as zabuton, if you're feeling ambitious) can be a meditative process in itself, and a way of demonstrating devotion. Plus, the things we make, we imbue with a little bit of ourselves and our wills; they are by nature more meaningful for us than things we simply buy.

How To Make Your Zafu
(The part you were all waiting for ;])

The definitive guide to making a zafu was published in a now out-of-print text by John Daishin Buksbazen called "To Forget the Self: An Illustrated Guide to Zen Meditation." Fortunately, it's been immortalized in the Internet. You can find instructions at, or with the original diagrams at I suggest bookmarking one of those and embarking on the zafu craft during your next rainy weekend.

The Filling
Most zafu retailers stuff their cushions with either buckwheat or kapok; some use cotton. Polyfill is also popular. What you prefer is a question of comfort, price, and environmental concern.

1. The Environment
The cheapest and easiest-to-acquire filling is the workhorse cotton. Unfortunately, conventionally-grown cotton uses more insecticide than any other crop in the world, and is also more water-dependent than your other filling options. (Source: The Organic Trade Association) If you are concerned with your environmental impact, cotton shouldn't be your first choice.

Polyfill/polyester is also common. As a synthetic it requires an non-renewable investment in energy, though recycled polyester filling is also available.

Kapok is a light, downy filling from the Ceiba (pronounced say-ba) tree found in Asia and Central America. It's a hardy, fast-growing tree; kapok is the substance that surrounds the Ceiba seed. In its finished form, kapok is a light, silky filling similar to down, though hypoallergenic. (Source: From an environmental perspective, it's preferable to cotton because it's naturally more pest-resistant; unlike polyester, it's renewable. However, it's not a naturally occurring tree in the US or Canada, so it will eat up some fossil fuels in transportation to the US.

Buckwheat grows naturally in the northern US and Canada and offers the same environmental benefits as kapok: it's a hardy, pest-resistant plant, and it grows very quickly. For practitioners living in the contiguous United States or Canada, it's a bit more of a sustainable choice through the reduced fuel cost in shipping.

2. Cost
Cotton is the cheapest, available for about a dollar a pound. Polyester is about two dollars a pound. Buckwheat is three-four dollars a pound, and kapok is the most expensive at six dollars per pound.

3. Comfort
Everyone has a different body and different preferences about seating. Cotton, polyester, and kabok are lighter and are going to be softer and more yielding; buckwheat is firmer, with more resistance. If possible, you should try all of your options see which you prefer—it's difficult to make it through zazen if you are extremely uncomfortable! I personally prefer a buckwheat zafu, as it resists compression over the duration of the zazen session.

4. Other Notes
Whatever you choose to use inside your zafu, you should remember that anything you use will compress over time and eventually need to be re-stuffed (which is why including a zipper is such a good idea). So be generous with the stuffing and make sure you get material into every nook and cranny.

I haven't been ambitious enough to make my own zafu yet—I'm working on developing my sewing chops—but it's on my list, since regular pillows just aren't cutting it anymore. If you've made your own, let's see it in the comments!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Knitting for Peace

For this post, I was trying to pick one book that's been influential to my Dharma practice - no mean feat, since I love to read. I went through all my favorite Dharma books and authors before it occurred to me to feature a book that's not "about" Buddhist practice but has nevertheless had a wonderful effect on my practice of generosity: Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time by Betty Christiansen. It examines the growing trend in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world of knitting and crocheting for charity and features a number of prominent charities for knitters and crocheters, including my two personal favorites, Afghans for Afghans and Mother Bear Project.

A lot of good people, I think, feel helpless when they see the suffering in the world. What the book really drives home for me is that you don't have to have money or vast intellect or political power or even a lot of free time to do good. I don't have the wealth or intelligence it would take to find a cure for HIV/AIDS - but I can knit a teddy bear that will bring joy and comfort to an AIDS orphan in Namibia. (The photo shows one of my bears with its child.) No one person can do everything, but every person can do something.

My great-grandmother knit for soldiers during the First World War; my grandmother did the same during World War II. They knit out of a spirit of giving and in the hope of a better world. Though what I'm doing is not exactly the same - they knit for the war effort, I knit for the "peace effort" - I feel like I'm continuing in their tradition. We use the skills we have and do what we can to make the world better.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oh My Goddess!

I have been on another online treasure- hunting venture, this one inspired by the Buddhist Goddess, Guanyin/ Kwan Yin.  I actually wear a tiny, precious sterling silver figure of her on a sterling chain around my neck. It was what influenced me in the first place!

a treasury by m00ndr0ps

Kwan Yin is globally known to represent compassion, mercy and unconditional love. She is usually shown in a white flowing robe and usually wears necklaces of Indian/Chinese royalty. In the right hand is a water jar containing pure water, and the left holds a willow branch. Often depicted sitting on in a giant lotus blossom and also known as kuan-yin, Kannon (japanese) , Gwan-eum (korean), and Quan Âm (vietnamese).