Japa Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Talk at Cama Hall, Mumbai, February 1963, originally printed in YOGA, Vol. 2, No. 11, 1964

Meditation is a very important science, but there are many who cannot practise it. Some can, but do not receive proper guidance from a guru. Such spiritual aspirants often complain of distractions in meditation. Therefore, great importance has been assigned to japa yoga. Japa is a method of spiritual communion through the repetition of mantra. By continued repetition you create certain vibrations in your system. Mantra repetition purifies the physical body and fills the mind with spiritual vitality. The practice of japa frees one from tensions and a host of mental vagaries. According to realised saints, repetition of the mantra gives perfect knowledge of God and is the best medium for communion with God.

Power of mantra

In japa yoga you should proceed with the conviction that the mantra which is recited is very powerful and that it confers siddhis. This fact has been amply demonstrated. It is within common experience that various fevers are removed by certain mantras meant for the purpose. The use of mantra as an antidote for snake bite is not an uncommon practice. So also hypertension, hysteria and blood pressure can be cured.

It is evident that there is a divine power latent in each mantra which is released through faith and willpower. Our hypothesis is that the real power is in the mantra itself. Just as the explosive power latent in a cartridge remains unreleased unless fired through a rifle, likewise the divine power in any mantra remains unreleased unless approached through faith and willpower. In addition, it is necessary to aim the mantra with one-pointedness. When the mantra is awakened and becomes potent, its presiding deity or invisible power comes into operation.

According to occultism, there are invisible powers and deities hidden in every mantra beyond ordinary vision. If anyone were to argue that a mantra is simply an arrangement of syllables, nobody would believe it because this view is scientifically untenable. Theosophists like Leadbeater, Annie Besant and Madame Blavatsky have clearly stated in their writings that a mantra is totally different from a mere alphabetical congregation.

If you come across the book Garland of Letters by Sir John Woodroffe, you will realise that a mantra has secret power and meaning. The mantra ‘Om Namah Shivaya’ literally means “I pay homage to Lord Shiva”, but if you examine it in the light of esoteric science, you will find that every syllable has a definite and different range and frequency of vibration. If you study the science of music, you will understand what I mean. The sound ‘Ni’ has a definite length, frequency, depth and range. The sound ‘Ma’ will differ again. Therefore, each syllable in a mantra has a different form and meaning.

Revealed sound

In the Mrityunjaya mantra you say, “I pray to the three-eyed Shiva, who is the giver of strength; may he liberate me from the pangs of death.” But in fact if you analyse the mantra, you will find that each syllable has its own form and power. All mantras, whether intelligible or not, were uttered by saints after full realisation. Thus the supramental expressions came to be known as mantras. Mantras composed by grammarians are not mantras, but groupings of letters. Mantra is a product of revelation, not simply an arrangement of syllables.

You may have read about the word of God in the Bible. For thousands of years innumerable yogis have realised and received the divine sound or mantra which they have given to their disciples in succession. If you want evidence, you will find it said in all the holy scriptures of the world that the word was always revealed.

In the olden days a Shiva bhakta initiated his disciples only into the Shiva mantra. A Shaivite never initiated anyone into the Vishnu mantra. It was not because he was narrow-minded, but because he has not received that mantra himself. Nowadays we are forced to initiate disciples into a mantra which we have not heard in samadhi, whereas previously the gurus would only initiate disciples into those mantras which they themselves had practised, heard and realised.

Sakama and nishkama japa

Once the mantra manifests, its realisation can be had in the form of mantra siddhi and by realising the presiding deity of that mantra. In ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’, the presiding deity is Sri Krishna. Shiva is the presiding deity of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. All tribes have certain mantras and their respective deities. The practitioner either attains mantra siddhi or realises the presiding deity of the mantra. If you practise the mantra ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ according to the rules prescribed in the scriptures, you will either have direct realisation of Sri Krishna or acquire mantra siddhi. These are the two results of any mantra.

All mantras belong to two categories, commonly known as sakama and nishkama. When repeated with no self-interest, it is nishkama japa. This forms a part of pure bhakti. Sakama japa is repetition of a mantra to achieve a particular end, for instance, to win a lawsuit or to ward off an obstinate illness.

There are also tantric mantras. This is a different science altogether. According to tantra shastra the mantra shakti or mantra devata is awakened by undergoing various hardships and other similar disciplines. The same shakti can then be released against one’s enemy. There are two paths for the tantric practice of mantra. One is tapasya or hardship and the other is the pancha makara or five ingredients in which the practitioner drinks wine, eats meat and fish, performs coitus and the like, as items of sadhana. Siddhis accruing from such sadhana are never used for noble ends.

Those who do japa of a sakama mantra to cure a sick person should do the sadhana according to the rules laid down in the scriptures. There are many rules and regulations regarding the type of mala, the system of doing japa, purificatory rites, etc. But if you want to do nishkama japa for spiritual upliftment alone, there are no rules as such. In this case you can practise japa either before or after bathing and at any place and time. There is no regulation or direction regarding time, place and process.

Suppose someone is ill and you are worried about him. If you have faith that by repeating the Mrityunjaya mantra, he will be all right, you can do the japa yourself, but you must complete the specified number of malas every day. The practice must be regular.

Gayatri is a very protective mantra. Apart from its spiritual merits, it is a mantra of great power. Because certain mantras have power, there is fear lurking in the minds of some people that the japa might have an adverse effect. This fear is justified in the case of sakama japa, which is done for a purpose, but if you practise japa with nishkama bhava, selflessness, you do not have to be afraid at all.

Nishkama japa is of two kinds. If you repeat the mantra daily or occasionally, it forms a part of your prayer. Today you may do a Devi mantra and after some time you may give it up. But this is not so with the ishta mantra that you receive through a guru, in dhyana or in a dream. The ishta mantra must be repeated regularly every day. However, you can repeat other mantras as well if you need them.

Types of malas

Japa yoga is repetition of any mantra with or without a mala, but it is better to practise with a mala. All great saints prescribe japa with a mala. The Christians use a rosary. There are many different kinds of malas such as tulsi (sacred basil), sphatak (crystal) and chandan (sandalwood). The rudraksha mala is strong and durable and has occult significance as well. Rudra means Shiva and aksha means eye. Rudraksha means the eye of Shiva, the eye of intuition, the inner eye or the pineal gland. It is probable that there is some connection between rudraksha and the inner eye. Possibly it may have some effect on ajna chakra, the mystic eye. It is a subject for study, research and experiment.

The sphatak mala is equally good for those who repeat Devi mantras. The tulsi mala is available everywhere. It is a very sensitive type of mala. If you handle it with purity, then it acts marvellously. Much esoteric significance and many mysteries surround the tulsi plant and tulsi mala. Much importance has been attached to tulsi by scientists also.

Japa practice

There is a definite way of holding the mala while doing japa. We use only three fingers, the thumb, the third and the fourth. Hold the mala close to you at the level of the heart. The second and fifth fingers are not used. This is the first rule. The second is that we rotate the mala forward, not backward. The third is that when you complete the mala and arrive at the sumeru, be careful not to cross it. This removes the chance of mechanical rotation and absent-mindedness. The principal bead is called the sumeru. You can call it the point of revival in terms of psychology. The most important point is constant observation and bead to bead awareness of the mantra and moment to moment awareness of the japa process.

While practising japa you can concentrate on the form of the mantra, on the sound vibrations of the mantra, on the guardian deity of the mantra, or else you can be aware that you are meditating. Now you may enquire, what should be practised first, japa or meditation? First practise japa and then practise meditation.

Eventually the practice of japa should be done in padmasana, siddhasana, siddha yoni asana or sukhasana. You should be able to sit comfortably in any of these postures for at least an hour. Before sitting for japa it is necessary to say a few prayers and sing kirtan. If you do not do so, the tensions due to physical or mental strain will materialise during the process of japa in the form of visions. To avoid drowsiness and dreams recite some inspiring stotras or do a little kirtan.

There are four stages in the practice of japa. The first is verbal, chanting the mantra loudly. The second is repetition in whispers. This is more powerful than the first. It is not for beginners as they will find their mind running here and there. The third is mental or manasic japa, in which you meditate through the mental vibrations of the mantra. You have to feel the mantra mentally. No audible or whispering sound is to be made. This system is definitely more powerful than the first or second. It is not for beginners but for those who have advanced in the practice of japa. The fourth is ajapa, which is a separate topic. Aspirants should practise japa in all its four stages proportionately.

When you turn the beads, you should keep your awareness alert and mindful. Concentration is not suspension of mind nor even one-pointedness of mind nor total attention, but it implies awareness. During japa the tendency towards mental hypnosis and mechanical repetition is checked. The mind is very cunning; it knows many tricks. If you go to an expert for analysis, you will find your conscious mind thinking of hell whereas your subconscious mind is thinking of heaven. The conscious mind is thinking of impurity and the subconscious mind is thinking of purity. Japa with a mala is very helpful in getting a grip over all the dimensions of consciousness, if its traditional methods are not ignored.

Anushthana and purascharana

Anushthana denotes a prolonged and methodical process by which the deity of the mantra and the mantra siddhi or power are awakened. There are two types of anushthana. Some do japa anushthana for the achievement of a particular selfish aim; others do it for self-purification, enlightenment and spiritual progress. When it is done with nishkama bhava, selfless feeling, it is called purascharana in which you undertake to repeat as many lakhs of japa as there are syllables of your mantra.

Suppose you are doing purascharana of Om Namah Shivaya. There are five syllables in the mantra, not counting Om. So you have to do five and a half lakhs (550,000) to complete the purascharana. Complete purascharana of Gayatri is twenty-four lakhs (2,400,000). In the case of very long mantras such as Mahamrityunjaya mantra, akhanda or ongoing purascharana is prescribed. If you do five and a half lakhs (550,000) japa of Om Namah Shivaya, you have to offer 50,000 to the guru. The five lakh (500,000) mantras will give peace and enlightenment to your mind, but the half lakh (50,000) you should dedicate to the peace of others.

During purascharana you should resolve to do 20,000 repetitions, or whatever you can, every day. You have to complete it at a definite time every day. You should not under or overdo it. There must be regularity with no fluctuation. Purascharana normally takes one month to complete. During this period the diet must be sattwic. It is better to take only milk, fruit and boiled vegetables.

Those who want to undertake anushthana with a particular aim should either do it themselves under the strict rules of the scriptures or have it done by another. Some people may well ask whether it is right and effective to have the japa done by priests. One who does japa releases a certain force, which may be in the form of thought vibrations or in the form of energy, either electronic or vibratory.

It is a fact that certain vibrations or energy are released by the person who practises japa. There are many tantrics who never practise yoga or any form of self-restraint. Their practice is far away from everything that is good, virtuous and pure. But even so when they practise certain mantras, they produce energy. They may use that energy for a negative purpose, but still it is produced. So whoever practises japa according to the rules prescribed produces and releases a certain quantum of energy according to their intention.

Through mantra japa one can remove disease, sorrow and restlessness. Mantra is so powerful that it can change bad habits also. It is important for people to study and understand this science in the correct way. There are two forces or powers in the mantra. One is the power of consciousness, Shiva, or what is called purusha. The other is the force of nature, or prakriti. Through sadhana, these two forces are awakened and often when awakened they will continue to help you for the whole of your life.