Mantra sadhana or japa has been a constant in my path, a practice common to all spiritual traditions and faiths. Sharing here some of the incredible benefits noted over the years..
Memorizing complex Sanskrit hymns is something I enjoy tremendously. Thus, although I grew up with commonly chanted mantras accompanying worship and rituals, it was in high school that I discovered my innate love for chanting. My math teacher, a Sanskrit scholar and jnani, insisted on teaching me Bhagavad Gita chanting for local competitions. Although at the time I didn’t grasp the meaning of the verses I was memorizing, I discovered that Sanskrit enunciation came quite effortlessly and there was deep peace in losing myself in the rhythm and intonation of the verses.
In college, I discovered the Hanuman Chalisa, being intensely drawn to Hanuman. I would chant the chalisa day and night, and it would go on in the back of my mind automatically during daily activities as well as in dreams. Through this, I began to feel Hanuman’s powerful presence everywhere, never feeling alone. Looking back at the most difficult times, there is only one pair of footsteps in the sand – His. And it was with this that I came to understand the power of japa.
The Vishnu sahasranama – the thousand names of Vishnu, was the first long hymn that drew me mysteriously into its fold, taking nearly a year to perfect and finding that doors would open in all aspects of my life. While trying to recall the source of all the goodness that has come my way in the last 20 years or so, I realized that it was after I began chanting this supreme hymn that things shifted drastically, including meeting gurus and being guided from everywhere.
Some years ago, I was drawn to the magnificent hymns from the Rig Veda (the oldest of the four Vedas) – Purusha Suktam, Narayana Suktam and Sri Suktam. It was with Sri Suktam, a hymn dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi that ecstatic energetic movements first began along with moving visions of the radiant mother, resplendent in her shimmering form, showering her abundance beyond anything I could have asked for.
There is a peculiar phenomenon I’ve observed with respect to mantras and hymns.. It seems that they pick the person, and “click” as they wish, or not. There are many hymns and mantras I have wanted to learn or practice but could not proceed. The hymn would seem to slip easily from my memory, rendering memorization impossible. Months or sometimes years later, the attraction to the mantra would arise again automatically, when it would seem miraculously easy to memorize and practice, as was the case with the Sri Rudram, a Vedic hymn.
The power of japa has been written about extensively by Mahatma Gandhi and by beloved teachers like Ram Dass and Eknath Easwaran. The incredible power of the Jesus Prayer is described in the spiritual classic, “The Way of the Pilgrim”, where a simple peasant in 19th century Russia discovers the true meaning of unceasing prayer first-hand . Japa is unceasing prayer that is established deep within the psyche and transforms one from within. It does not have to involve complex words; the simple name of our beloved ideal is enough, as described in Swami Ramdas’ elucidation of his extraordinary pilgrimage with his chosen mantra -the monosyllable “Ram”. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna lauds japa as the most supreme of worship or meditative practices (BG 10:25).
Discovering Eknath Easwaran’s teachings years ago, I was inspired to pick a “permanent” mantra, and “Om Namo Narayanaya” was chosen. In the years that I’ve used this, it has been interesting to notice how japa “settles” into one’s being. At first a conscious effort that is noticed at the brain/thinking mind level, it settles gradually into the throat chakra and finally into the heart. Once at the heart level, the dynamic changes entirely – at this point, the mantra moves by itself, arising in conscious and subconscious levels of its own accord (known as ajapa japa). It is the first thing that arises between sleep and wakefulness and the last thing that is noticed before deep sleep, arising automatically in dreams and turning them lucid. This mantra has become integrated into the very fiber of my being, and seems like it is being embedded into the deepest recesses at a primordial, cellular level.
The technique for mantra sadhana is simple. The first step is to pick the mantra or let it pick us. We then set an intention for transformation and begin the practice. For mantra “siddhi” (the power of the mantra) to occur, it is said that at least 125,000 repetitions are necessary. While this number may be arbitrary, the more we repeat it, the greater is its ability to settle into our psyche. Thus, it is helpful to set aside time everyday to chant/practice. A rosary or mala can be used if that is helpful, using the beads for counting; malas with 108, 54, or 27 beads are most commonly used. In addition, the mantra can be chanted during activities like cooking, cleaning, showering, waiting, exercising and others. It can be remembered upon waking up and before falling asleep, and any time emotions get the better of us. The first sign that the mantra is beginning to settle within is when it comes up on its own at unexpected times.
There is an incredible power associated with mantra sadhana that is easier to experience than to describe. It has the ability to transform life into a stream of miracles.