The word japa means ‘to rotate’, and the practice of japa yoga involves continuous rotation of a mala in synchronization with a mantra. Japa yoga actually means ‘union with the highest existence through rotation of consciousness.’
Of all the systems of meditation, japa is the most popular. Its practice is not confined to followers of the yogic and tantric path, it is also a part of Hinduism, Christianity, Sufism, Buddhism and most other religions and cultures. The practices of japa provide many different techniques and in one form or another japa is applicable to every person. It is the easiest form of meditation for those who do not have the guidance of a guru and is, therefore, the most widely used meditation practice in the West.
The technique of japa yoga is primarily meant for the awakening of psychic awareness in the average individual as well as the spiritual aspirant. It is particularly suitable for those who have a restless, unstable mind and for all who are tamasic or rajasic by nature.,
During japa one has to do two things – chant a mantra and rotate the beads of the mala. These act as a point of reference for awareness. After a short time one gets into a rhythm; the movement of the mala becomes synchronized with the chanting. If one tends to fall asleep or become too involved in thoughts, the mantra repetition and moement of the mala will become uncoordinated or stop altogether.
Rotation of the mala and chanting of the mantra will quickly and automatically make one introverted. Japa provides the practitioner with an easy way to break away from external noises and other disturbances. While practicing it is impossible to become totally absorbed in one’s worries and mental activities as japa requires (and develops) a certain amount of awareness. Japa, therefore, prevents the practitioner from becoming lost in either the inner or outer world, and it keeps sleep and drowsiness at bay.
While practicing japa, thoughts will arise and these must be witnessed and not suppressed. Most thoughts that arise during meditation are very superficial and they must be cleared away to allow the deeper tensions of the mind to manifest. After steady, regular practice of japa, the mind will be overwhelmed by the mantra and less interested in the monotonous patterns of thought. Mental turmoil will subside and balanced, harmonious mind will rest.
When the mind has become still and you have become deeply absorbed in your mantra, a vision or unexpected thought may suddenly manifest. This represents a deeper problem which you must witness without any involvement. If you can do this, it may be all that is needed to remove it. If you have this experience, understand that you are cleansing the mind and are now beginning to penetrate its deeper layers. Let your thoughts flow and let the japa process continue simultaneously. Sometimes the awareness of thinking will become keen and at other times the awareness of the mantra will predominate. There is an alternate awareness of wavering and concentration, fluctuation and unification; this must happen.
One should never wish to be completely free of thoughts in meditation. It is impossible to be totally aware of only the japa or the mantra. Along with the mantra and the actual practice of japa, thoughts will come; fluctuations must take place, memories must return. This is natural, and if it does not happen, you can sure that you have a mental block somewhere and you must get rid of it. So, along with the mantra you can practice antar mouna, the art of witnessing the thought process.
Techniques of Japa
There are many different techniques of Japa but they all fall into one of the following categories.
1. Bakhari japa (also calld nachika) is audible japa. The mantra can be chanted as loudly as you wish. This is the most suitable form of japa for beginners and those people who have a disturbed mind. When one feels depressed, tense, angry or unhappy, this is one of the most effective methods of making the mind peaceful and harmonized. It is the practice for those who are dull, of wavering tendencies or of a restless nature.
It is a very powerful practice, particularly when a large group of people chant together. The whole atmosphere is charged with positive vibrations. Audible japa should be practiced for a few months by all beginners, and those who practice more advanced techniques will benefit by doing a little baikhari before their other japa. This will charge the brain with the powerful vibrations of the mantra. If you practice baikhari japa for hours together your mind attains a particular psychic level, a suggestive state of mind. This is the time when you can use japa therapeutically to make positive suggestions for yourself or for someone else whether they are far away or near. Baikhari japa can be practiced with the eyes open.
2. Upanshu Japa is whispering japa. In this form the lips are moved, but they create no loud or external sound. Only the practitioner can hear the mantra. This stage leads from simple baikhari japa to the more subtle manasik japa, and it is also useful in situations where environmental factors prevent one from practicing baikhari.
Whispering japa is the best form for those want to practice hours of japa at a time. It should also be used by those who are practicing japa with a special mantra for a specific purpose. There is a whole science of mantra, and throughout the world, even to this day, people repeat specific mantras for the purpose of endowing themselves with added strength to face a particularly difficult situation or to change the course of their destiny. There are mantras to bring wealth and prosperity, long life, a successful court haring, protection against disease or disorder, to aid digestion, to induce sound sleep, etc. There are many, many more mantras. The practice of upanshu japa can be done with the eye half closed.
3. Manasik is mental japa. No sound is uttered and the lips do not move. This is the most subtlest form of japa and is the practice for those with a steady mind which is reasonably free of thoughts. If you do manasik japa wth a disturbed mind, you will most likely fall asleep or become lost in the thought processes. If practiced with a calm state of mind, manasik is the best form of japa to delve deeper into the mind. It is said by the wages and scriptures that the steady and devoted practice of manasik japa is enough to lead a man to enlightenment. It should always be practiced with the eyes closed.
4. Likhit japa involves writing the mantra on paper hundreds of times in red, blue or green ink. The letter should be as small and as possible and written with utmost care, concentration and sense of beauty of proportion. The smaller the letters the greater the concentration. Likhit japa is always combined with manasik japa. Each time the mantra is written it should be simultaneously repeated silently.
Combining the practices
It is the best to commence japa practice with baikhari, whether the mind is calm or tense. If the mind is tense, loud japa will pacify and relax the mind. If you are calm you can quickly transfer to upanshu or maasik japa.
If you are doing manasik japa and the mind is wandering too much or becoming drowsy, you should mmediately transfer to baikhari. When you have established control over the mind you can return to manasik japa.
Which mantra and how to use it.
The best mantra to use for japa is a personal mantra which has been given by a Guru. If you do not have such a mantra, it is perfectly safe to use the universal mantra OM. Once you have begun to use a mantra do not change it unless you have been practicing with OM or Soham and a guru gives you a personal mantra.
The mantra should be chanted rhythmically and with clear pronunciation and intensity of feeling. The mantra must be synchronized with the movement of the mala. Each time you repeat the mantra move one bead of the mala. Chant quickly if the mind is disturbed and slowly if the mind is more relaxed.
Before you begin any japa practices read the supplementary notes on “Mantra” and “Mala”. This will enhance your understanding of japa yoga.
The effects of japa and the mantra can be felt within a few weeks. A person who is suddenly overwhelmed by anxiety, restlessness and doubt can be helped by japa even if he has no faith. All he has to do is patiently practice japa for about ten to fifteen days, then, although he may not become a self-realized man, he will be free from his abnormal complexes.
Japa can be practiced at any time in any place, although it is best to practice at a regular time every day, either early in the morning or before sleep at night. If you want to practice while travelling to and from work, or in a place where there are other people, do not use your mala. Never practice for show; your spiritual practices should not be revealed to anyone or they will lose their power.
When you practice japa, the left nostril should be flowing; it is alright if the breath if flowing through both nostrils, but if it is only passing through the right nostril you must change it before you begin japa. Place your left hand under the right armpit and apply a slight pressure for five to ten minutes until the left nostril starts to flow. Traditionally a special kind of arm rest (yoga danda) was used. It was made of wood and placed under the right armpit.
The methods of practicing japa should be quite clear now. Instead of describing for baikhari, upanshu, manasik and likhit, we will give brief instructions for a more advanced variations of Japa.
Sit in a comfortable meditative posture. Relax the body and close your eyes.
Start to chant OM aloud. With every utterance of OM move one bead of your mala. Om chanting and rotation of the mala must be synchronized.
Try to be completely aware of the OM chanting and feel the vibrations of the mantra resonating through your whole being. At the same time do not forget to rotate your mala.
Continue in this manner for as long as possible (at least 10 minutes)
Then stop chanting aloud, continue to rotate the mala and take your awareness to the pulse at the eyebrow centre. When you can distinctly feel this pulse, synchronize it with mental (manasik) repetition of the mantra and rotation of the mala.
Be aware of the internal sound of OM at the eye brow centre, vibrating in harmony with the pulse.
Continue in this manner for about 10 minutes, ending the practice as you complete the round of mala rotation.
Finish by chanting OM aloud 5 times.
For this practice you can choose any pulse centre for concentration, but the eyebrow centre is particularly recommended. Other useful places for pulse concentration are the heart, the throat and the navel.
Source: The Sure ways for Self-Realisation by Swamy Satyananada Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga.