The beads are called Juzu. It is said that the beads originated when Shakyamuni instructed Virudhaka: “If you wish to resolve your sufferings, bore holes in 108 wooden beads, string them and carry them with you.” As for the symbolic significance, there are many deep meanings. Here we mention a few:
The two large beads at either end are called the parental beads, the mother bead and the father bead. They both signify the Buddha and Myo (Mystic) Ho (Law). Just under the father bead is a smaller one that represents the essential nature of the Law, the absolute truth that has existed before the beginning of time.
There are 108 beads strung between the parental beads that signify the 108 earthly desires that we possess. There are an additional four smaller beads strung among the 108 beads that signify the four noble virtues: Eternity, Happiness, True Self, and Purity. The tassels at the ends of the parental beads carry the meaning of Kosenrufu and symbolize the continuous stream of Myoho (the Mystic Law) to the whole world. The roundness of the beads signifies the benefit of Myoho which will fill everything in great harmony.
The Juzu signify the attainment of Buddhahood and the resolution of our various problems and sufferings. The beads used in Nichiren Shoshu have been offered in front of the Gohonzon and are prayed over at the Head Temple or a local temple. Through the profound “Eye Opening” ceremony conducted by the High Priest or local temple priest, the beads become endowed with the benefit and significance of an instrument of worship in our practice.
When we use the beads, we twist them over once, forming a figure eight. The end of the figure eight with the three strands is placed over the middle finger of the right hand and the end with the two strands over the middle finger of the left. The short strands lie on the outside of the hands which are placed together with palms and fingers touching. The beads should not be rubbed together but held quietly between our palms when facing the Gohonzon. It is said that when we hold the beads on our fingers and enclose them between the palms of our hands, we can obtain the great benefit of transforming earthly desires into enlightenment.