What is a mantra Japa practice?
What is a mantra (मंत्र)?
Creation is a complex amalgation of sounds or vibrations of various frequencies. And certain sounds are special and different from the rest of the white noise that reality is composed of. A mantra is significant for its sound and has the power to transform creation in a chosen way. Vedic mantras known to us today are ancient and have been received or experienced by a yogic practitioner in the deep state of samadhi or spiritual absorption. The yogic scriptures often compare mantra to a boat or a bridge that an aspirant can take to cross the mire of delusion created by the external world and reach the center of consciousness within. These mantras can also be used to generate certain vibrations to transform our consciousness in an intended way.
What is a Japa (जप)?
The recitation of mantras or Japa in Sanskrit is a Vedic practice that is integral to Yoga and is thousands of years old. It consists of the repetition of the same mantra, which can be composed of a single syllable (e.g., om) or a string of mantric sounds (e.g., om namah shivaya). According to schools, such as Hatha Yoga and Mantra Yoga, the universe is created through the medium of sound, and all sound, whether subtle or audible, issues from a transcendent, "soundless" source called the "supreme sound" or "supreme voice" (shabda-brahman or para-vac). While all sounds possess some degree of shabda-brahman's creative force, the sounds of mantras are far more forceful than other sounds.
The purpose of mantras
As Patanjali reminds us, the yogic path is propelled by practice and dispassion, and significantly, the Sanskrit term for practice—abhyasa—means “repetition.” Through repetition we create either positive or negative habit patterns.
Mantra japa produces positive mental tracks, helping us to gradually overcome spiritual darkness. It is a powerful technique for focusing the mind and for harnessing the body/mind’s subtle energies in completing the yogic path of self-transformation. As stated in the concluding chapter of the Kularnava Tantra: “Japa is so-called because it removes the sin accumulated in thousands of lives and because it reveals the Supreme Deity.” The greatest “sin,” of course, is ignorance of our own true nature.
Using a mala (माला) for your mantra japa
What is a mala?
A mala is a string of beads that is used to keep count during the chanting of mantra. Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning garland. Malas for chanting Vedic mantras have 108 beads, 108 being a sacred number in Hinduism. A 109th bead that is distinct from the 108 beads is often added to a mala and is distinct by being larger or having some kind of ornamentation in the form of a tassel. This is the guru or meru bead acts as a starting and ending point for finishing one round of the mantra.
Using a mala for your mantra japa
A mala is usually worked with by using the right hand. The mala is held resting over the third finger, and the beads are brought toward you, one by one, using the thumb. The index finger which carries the energy of the ego is meant to not touch the mala during chanting. In Hindu tradition, you would be taught to use the right hand as the left hand is considered impure for such a practice. The Tibetans are more liberal as they have no such rules and they use either hand or any of the fingers to perform the counting. The reason most people use the third finger is that there is a nerve on the inside of that finger which is connected to your spine in such a way that you’re getting a little added benefit from the practice. It’s similar to an acupressure point, and it adds a little extra energy rush to the process.
Each bead counts one repetition of the mantra. When you get around to the guru bead, you don’t count it, and you don’t pass it; you stop there, mentally bow to the guru, flip the mala around, and start going back the other way. Each time you come to the guru bead you awaken once more, then you turn around and go back the way you came.
Should you use a mala?
Whether to use a mala or not is a choice you have to make but it does have the benefit of being a physical manifestation of the energy, time and sincerity you put into your practice. It adds another dimension to your mantra chanting by involving tactile sensation to your practice which grounds you while performing the practice and prevents it from being a purely mental process. Bead by bead, it brings you closer to the realization of your goals.
How to choose a mantra
Decide on what you seek
Traditionally, mantras are passed down from a teacher to a disciple, but it is not necessary, and you have the power and choice to choose a mantra that resonates with you. Different mantras have different frequencies and are codified to create different effects within you. So some self-reflection is needed to come to terms with what is that you wish to change and help support you in your life right now. It could be to help you overcome a dark phase in your life, lessen mental clutter and noise or even to strengthen the connection with your divine self. You can go to this page to choose from a selection of mantras that Adi works on with her clients.
Try it out
Once you have decided on a mantra, try it out, see how it feels for you. If you don’t like the sound of or feel comfortable chanting the mantra, feel free to choose a different. Use your intuition and heart during this process.
Upon choosing a mantra, practice it for a week or two without being flippant about it and deciding it doesn’t work. Sometimes it takes more than a month for a mantra to start working on you but that usually isn’t the case. When chanting a mantra, be earnest and commit to giving yourself to it without rushing to finish it.
Start slow and go with the flow
As with many things in life, build a consistency and start small. If 108 repetitions seem long, start with 27, and increase it in multiples of it until you enjoy doing 108 counts everyday. It is recommended to practice at the same time everyday (usually morning after taking a bath) to build into a discipline. You can also chant your mantra outside your dedicated time doing household chores or while driving to work to integrate it more wholly into your routine as the mantra. The more you use it, the more it will work for you and support you in your goals.