The journey has good stuff on prayer beads, which it is worth remembering are a Christian, Moslem, Hindu and Buddhit tradition.
The activity of using beads in spiritual practice is not a recent or ancient phenomena but rather an archetypal one, as is borne out by the fact that it is common to all traditions. When strung together, these beads are used as a device to count recitations of prayers or as an aid to meditation.
The etymology of the word 'bead' helps us to understand this function, deriving as it does from the Sanskrit buddh, which refers to self-realization (Buddha being one such realizer) and from the Saxon verb bidden, to 'pray'.
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