In the CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE Of all the systems of yoga used to induce pratyahara and intended to lead eventually to samadhi, japa yoga is the easiest and safest and can be practised by anyone at any time and under any conditions. The word japa itself means ‘to rotate’. Japa yoga means union of the self with the highest existence through the rotation of consciousness.
A mantra is the first requirement for japa yoga. A mantra is a grouping of sound vibrations which have an effect on the mental and psychic consciousness of man. Tradition says it is best if it is given by a guru or in a dream. An important point is that the mind should be fully impressed by this mantra. When the mantra is spoken verbally or mentally, the sound vibrations create a certain form inside the human being. This is the inner or psychic symbol and it has a physical manifestation.
A mala or rosary is the second requirement for most types of japa. A mala is a string of small beads, usually 108 in number and separated from each other by a special kind of knot which is known as the brahmagranthi or knot of creation. At one point in the mala there is one extra bead, known as the sumeru or summit of the mala, which is offset from the continuity of the main loop of the mala. The significance of this sumeru bead is often lost to modern day practitioners of japa, but its importance cannot be overemphasized. The purpose of the sumeru is that while practising japa the mind often tends to become
distracted from the mantra, either towards extraneous thoughts in the case of beginners, or unconscious and psychic phenomena in the case of more advanced practitioners. When this occurs, the rotation of the mala becomes spontaneous or automatic, continuing without awareness until the fingers reach the offset sumeru bead, which brings the awareness back to the japa in hand, so to speak.
In japa there is a continued rotation of consciousness centred on the mantra and the mind becomes concentrated and relaxed, which tends to bring all the physical and mental faculties of man to their most efficient working state. It should be pointed out, incidentally, that during the practice of japa the mind should not be forced to concentrate on the repetition of the mantra. The repetition of the mantra should seem to be a natural process emanating from within, and the mind should only be an unconcerned observer of this spontaneous process. When other thoughts enter the mind during the practice of japa, and they surely will, the awareness of the practitioner should watch these also as they come and go, feeling himself to be an unconcerned observer of them. He should not, however, let these thoughts distract him from the practice in hand and should continue his practice while watching these outside thoughts.
Types of japa
Japa is subdivided into four types, as follows:
- Baikhari (audible): The beginner should practise his mantra in baikhari or audible japa, and by producing sound
vibrations the brain will be gradually steadied and charged. After some weeks of this practice, the mind becomes quiet. By the practice of japa one can bring about a psychic condition in which the conceptualization of a psychic symbol becomes very easy. If you want to meditate on a particular object but find it difficult, practise baikhari or audible japa for about one hour and then sit for meditation.
- Upanshu (whispering): Here the mantra is whispered in such a way that only the practitioner can hear it. There is a lip movement but almost no sound. This stage is more subtle than baikhari japa, and brings the mind to a point where it can go on the manasik japa. Upanshu japa is usually done by those people who want to practise the mantra for eight or ten hours a day for a specific purpose. According to mantra shastra, the science of mantra, a mantra can be used for correcting the errors of destiny. Whether it is true or not some people believe in it and there are certain mantras which are repeated especially for physical purposes.
- Manasik (mental): Manasik japa should not be practised unless baikhari and upanshu have been mastered. Those who do not have a steady mind cannot make substantial progress without these preliminary practices. Manasik japa is both the most subtle and the most common form of japa. For persons who are ready for it, it is also the most powerful form. It is said by the sages and scriptures that the steady and devoted practice of manasik japa is enough to lead to enlightenment.
Likhit (written): This is usually prescribed for the aspirant who has successfully performed other practices of japa with a degree of progress in concentration. The practice of likhit japa is writing the mantra down in a note book hundreds of times in red, blue or green ink. The letters should be as small as possible and written with utmost care, concentration and a sense of beauty and proportion. The smaller the letters, the more the concentration. Likhit japa is always combined with manasik japa because the writing of a mantra requires simultaneous mental repetition of it.
If you have a mantra, a good way to practise it is to divide the practice and to do three parts in baikhari, two parts in upanshu and one part in manasik. The Hindu tradition says that once a person is initiated into a mantra he should continue it throughout his life. Japa yoga is a certain and sure path, though a long one. It enhances all other types of sadhana and gives the sadhaka unshakeable steadiness in his progress in spiritual life.
Anusthana means performance, observance or accomplishment of an act, the resolve to do a particular act with absolute discipline. Anusthana can pertain to japa and then it is called japa anusthana. Japa anusthana can be practised for two purposes: either for the purification of the self for spiritual progress through physical, mental and psychic discipline, or for the attainment of selfish purposes on the physical plane of consciousness.
Baikhari japa anusthanas are often practised in chorus
by groups of aspirants. In some places in India one mantra is sung without a break for years together. In Rishikesh, since 1943, the maha mantra Hare Rama, Hare Krishna has been sung continuously for twenty-four hours daily, year after year. There have been no breaks at all, not even for one minute. Mantra chanting creates an atmosphere woven with powerful currents.
Japa anusthanas are very popular in India and are the best type of anusthana for people whose minds tend to wander. During the month of Shravan, Hindus all over the world follow a tradition of plucking leaves off the bilva tree for the purpose of writing mantras on these leaves. Each leaf has three petals and people usually write the mantra Om Namah Shivaya on these leaves with red powder paste. Then the leaves are offered to a deity. This kind of practice continues for a month during which they write all day.
Manasik japa anusthanas using the guru mantra are the most popular type of anusthana and this type is most effective for use by the spiritual aspirant. Before commencing this practice the aspirant should set a certain goal for himself, for example, to practise 10,800 mantras a day for ten days. He should keep track of the number of malas that he practises and not cease until he has attained his goal.
Sumirani japa is a type of japa that is practised on a twenty-seven bead mala, which is perfectly continuous and without a sumeru bead. A very important practice, it must be done as anusthana 24 hours a day for a set period, during which the mala should never leave the aspirant’s
hand. The aim in this type of anusthana is not to repeat the mantra. The mantra must come up automatically from within with the rotation of the twenty-seven bead mala. Even in sleep the mala should rotate.
For a list of mantras used in various religions world-wide, refer to the appendix.
Rules and suggestions for japa
• Select any mantra or name of God, preferably one given by your guru. If you have no mantra, use Om, which is the universal mantra suitable for all. Repeat it from 108 to 1,080 times daily; that is, practise one to ten malas.
• Use a rudraksha or tulsi mala of 108 beads plus the sumeru for your guru mantra. For tantric mantras, a crystal mala can be used.
• Use only the middle finger and thumb of the right hand for rolling the beads; the index and little fingers should not touch the beads.
• Japa is best practised in a steady meditation asana such as padmasana or siddhasana/siddha yoni asana. The right hand with the mala can either rest on the right knee with the mala placed on the floor in front of the knee, or else the right hand can be held in front of the centre of the chest. In this case, the mala can be supported by a cloth bag hung on a strap from the shoulders and/or the right wrist can be supported by a cloth strap hung around the neck.
• The mala should not be visible to others. Keep it in a cloth or silk bag when it is not in use. A japa mala should
not be worn.
• Do not cross the sumeru terminal bead while rolling the beads. Turn the mala around when you come to the sumeru.
• Do mental japa for some time. If the mind wanders while practising manasik japa, do baikhari for some time and then come back to mental japa again as soon as possible.
• Pronounce each letter of the mantra correctly and distinctly. Do not repeat it too fast or too slow. Increase the speed only when the mind starts to wander.
• Do not wish for any worldly objects while doing japa. Feel that your heart is being purified and the mind is becoming steady by the power of the mantra.
• Keep your guru mantra a secret; never disclose it to anyone.
• Carry on the current of japa mentally all the times, whatever work you may be engaged in.
• If possible the aspirant should face to the north or the east while practising.
• Japa is intended to bring the hidden, subconscious elements, fears and desires of the mind to the surface in the form of images and thoughts. When these come into your mind, watch them as an unaffected spectator, but do not lose track of your japa.
Japa repetition brings about chitta shuddhi or mental purification in which samskaras (past impressions) and vasanas (future desires) are naturally eliminated. This chitta shuddhi is very important in the preliminary stages
of spiritual life because if the samskaras and vasanas are not removed early, they will become great obstructions later.
In yoga it is said that there are three great obstacles to meditation: impurity, ignorance and a distracted state of mind. These three obstacles can most easily be removed through japa practice, by constant and unbroken awareness of the mantra. In japa there should be no strain or tense concentration. Only by continuous and relaxed japa awareness does the mind detach itself automatically from the externalized state.
Our real nature is not our normal state of anxiety, excitement and tension. Our nature is samadhi, pure consciousness, calmness, tranquillity, equanimity. We can use the comparison of a mirror that is obscured by layers of grime and dust. Clean the mirror and its natural quality will be revealed, which is to reflect all objects. It is the restlessness of the mind which causes all unhappiness and complexes, but these are only impositions. Calm and purify the mind through your sadhana and experience your true self.
In meditation we are not trying to force the mind; we try to avoid effort at concentration. What we want is simply relaxed awareness. Not concentration as such, but we must try just to be aware; that is, we have one-pointed awareness though we do not fight with or try to suppress our thoughts. We remain only an impartial witness to them.
Sometimes the samskaras that come up will be so simple that you will wonder why they came up at all. This only means that your awareness of the mantra is superficial. When your mantra awareness is so deep that it occupies all of your awareness, then deeper and more important thoughts will surface. These will usually follow a few moments of thoughtlessness due to the one-pointedness of your consciousness. So you must relax yourself into japa and everything will happen automatically. Do not worry yourself about distractions. Everything will come in time just through japa and awareness of the mantra.