Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

Anatomy of a Bodhi Seed


Let us say your very dear friend and teacher returns from a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya with a wonderful gift — an antique mala — of bodhi seed. You would be very pleased, perhaps, (although remaining unattached, of course). Let us say that later on the cord breaks and that you decide, before restringing, that the seeds are very dry despite occasional soakings and that, since they have long since lost their distinctive odor anyway, you can best rejuvenate them by applying lemon oil.Should something similar occur in your trip(ping) down the Dharma road, here are a couple of things you need to know.

‘Bodhi’ seeds, which is a misnomer, are from a tree related to the Rudraksha (Elaeocarpus ganitrus) and not the Bodhi tree (being a fig tree, its seeds are inside a tiny fig, and are miniscule). The scientific name of this tree, native to Nepal, is yet to be determined.

The seed in the image shows the mark from the stem on the side, and a drill hole in the top of the bead.

Measuring, on average 10 – 12 mm. in diameter, bodhi seeds are dried, holes drilled, and are then strung into malas or jewelry in a process that has continued unchanged for millennia. Hard, durable, and really smelly when new, they achieve a pleasant patina from constant handling and make convenient meditation beads. They are a bit large for wear around the wrist, at least in a full-length mala, so most practitioners keep them for use at home or wear them around the neck.

Bodhi seeds are mostly hollow inside, and full of little bits of the actual seeds. They collect and hold viscous liquids very efficiently and as it turns out, the little fragments of seeds swell up and come loose inside the bead, further holding the aforementioned liquid in place.

I just spent a highly spiritual (not to mention messy) 45 minutes with an air can, blowing excess lemon oil out of 108 beads. I suggest wiping, not soaking, in similar circumstances.

Like so many things, it seemed a good idea at the time.

Author: Bill

Stumbling down the Middle Path, one day at a time.

5 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Bodhi Seed

  1. When I was in Bodhgaya I spent some time looking at the Bodhi tree, and bodhi trees (ficus religiosa) in other areas. As this tree is a member of the fig (ficus) family, the ‘seeds’ the tree was producing were actually tiny (green pea sized) figs, pale beige, very fragile, and of course filled with very tiny seeds. There is absolutely no way these little figs, unless impregnated with resin, could be made into functional beads for a mala, and in fact look nothing like the beads of traditional ‘bodhi seed’ malas. I have since found out the seeds used for bodhi malas are made from a tree related to rudraksha, eleaocarpus genus, but have been unable to find out its specific name or any other information about it.

  2. has well made Bodhi Seed Mala Beads, both new and old, and these are the real thing. They are well strung, and have a bag too! They are really large beads, real Bodhi are 10-12mm.

  3. Really durable, high quality bodhi seed malas are hard to find. Most beads look good enough when assembled into a mala, but when you look at the holes (you have to really eyeball each bead to see these clearly) they exhibit some “crumbling.” Bodhi seed beads that have crumbling of this kind will not last more than a year or so, and there is little point in caring for them for the long term, because they won’t develop that smooth, durable, hard patina than comes with use and will ensure that you’ve got a mala that will last a lifetime (and even become an heirloom after you die).

    Clark has written a good overview of malas and their use for Tricycle Magazine. It has been republished on the Dharmacrafts website. You can find it here.

  4. i actually put a small amount (half teaspoon?) of sesame oil in my hand, warm it up by rubbing it between my hands, and then massage it all over my mala. i then let the mala sit and soak up the oil for a few hours, and then wipe it off with a paper towel. mineral oil also works well, but doesn’t smell nearly as nice.
    : )

    I was rebuilding the entire thing from scratch, so I figured I’d use lemon oil as I’ve had good luck with it in woodworking. The oil wasn’t the problem; it was the method of application. Works fine with wood beads, but not well with the seeds.

    I do the same as you when working with an assembled rosary, except I like to use either sandalwood oil or rosewood. I’ll have to try sesame. Sounds nice!

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