|Ariadne's thread ( last few seconds are a little gruesome)|
Recently however, Sharath has mentioned Japa mantra practice in conference. This is a little confusing also, at times there seem to be the suggestion that Japa is just a relaxing practice that you might do for ten minutes before bed, or that it's part of the morning Puja practiced throughout India by yogi's and non yogi's alike.
But also that it can lead to deep concentration.
There can be confusion surrounding our use of the term meditation, is it the seventh limb, Dhyana, or do the last three limbs together, Samyama, make up the meditative practices of yoga.
I was taught Japa by Ramaswami as a meditation practice. Ramaswami presents it as the first stage of Samyama (the sixth limb, Dharana), often described as concentration practice or meditation-on-an-object.
There are alternatives to using a mantra, you might want to focus your attention on effulgence, an icon, there are several options.
We might employ a mantra like Om Namah Shivaya, I used that for a couple of years. This last year I've tended to us the Jesus prayer, mainly because it comes from my own tradition and seems to have more resonance. Another option might be loving kindness, May all be safe, well, healthy and peaceful (or a variant), the actual mantra or prayer does not perhaps matter too much except that ideally it should be up-lifting. It should also be added that the idea here is not to meditate as in reflect on the meaning of the prayer but rather to use the mental chanting of it as something to attach the mind, somewhere to bring the mind back to, Ariadne's thread
Spoiler: As I mentioned above, last few seconds of this are pretty gruesome
Japa should not be dismissed as something trivial, object meditation is where the hard work of meditation practice begins. The idea is to sit in an appropriate comfortable posture, decide how long you intend to practice, ten, fifteen, thirty perhaps forty minutes say and then mentally repeat a short mantra over and over. The mantra gives the mind something to cling on to, when the mind wanders you bring it back ( Like a puppy according to Jack Kornfield ) to the mantra or the internal drishti point in which you've placed it. At the end of the practice you reflect for a few moments on how the practice went.
"When, in due course, the mind is able to stay with the object to the complete exclusion of all other thoughts, it becomes dhyana, the second stage of meditation"
Over time the distractions become less and you manage to stay with the mantra longer.
The difference between this and the supposed meditative aspect of our asana practice is that nothing else is going on. Where not changing posture every few minutes or breath cycles in pranayama, there's just you and the mantra.
Ramaswami stresses that the asana practice gets rid of the rajas, our agitation, pranayama reduces tamas, lethargy, leaving us in a more satvic state to practice japa, to develop our focus and concentration upon a single object.
Japa is is the simplest and yet most challenging of practices.
Here's Ramaswami on meditation followed by the Samyama sutras from Patanjali and Aranya's commentary. At the end there are some quotes from conference reports relating where Sharath has mentioned the practice of Japa.
By Srivatsa Ramaswami
Only an orderly mind can successfully meditate. Sattwa (purity) is the quality of the mind that produces order and enables it to be one-pointed, a prerequisite for meditation, or dhyana. How can one make the mind and even the body sattwic? Yoga offers asanas and pranayama as the means of reducing the non-meditative, distracting, and dull qualities of the mind. These qualities range from rajasic, meaning passionate or over-active, to tamasic, meaning slothful or inert. Hence in classical yoga, one reduces the influence of rajas and tamas by practicing a well-rounded regimen of asanas and pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises. A yogic posture such as the lotus or hero is chosen and a definite number of pranayamas (usually ten) are performed.
This practice is followed by some meditation or repetition of mantra, such as the gayatri or other mantra. According to Patanjali, one who has practiced these aspects of yoga has a mind which is fit for dharana, or concentration, the first step toward meditation.
The objects of meditation are many: different centers (chakras) in the body, mantras, prayers, or external objects such as an icon of one's favorite deity. But then the method of meditation is to keep on coaxing the mind to be continually present with the object of contemplation. Initially there will be considerable effort on the part of the practitioner to keep the mind focused. Slowly, as the habit of focusing the mind gains ground, the mind stays with the object more intently and for longer periods of time.
When, in due course, the mind is able to stay with the object to the complete exclusion of all other thoughts, it becomes dhyana, the second stage of meditation. In this stage the span of concentration increases and the frequency of distraction decreases. This kind of progress in meditation can be monitored by the practitioners themselves. This qualitative improvement finally culminates in the mind being completely focused on the object for the entire duration of meditation when it is known as samadhi.
Thus, in meditative exercise the mind (which previously was habitually distracted or dull, due to the preponderance of rajas and tamas), becomes sattwic as the result of preliminary practices of asana and pranayama. The steady practice of dharana transforms the mind into one that is habitually one-pointed, the acme of which is samadhi, or complete absorption.
Once a practitioner is able to achieve samadhi on one object, he or she can contemplate on any other object (a higher tatwa, or principle). However, in classical yoga, the emphasis is not so much the object of contemplation, but the development of and the capacity for the habit of meditation.
Experiences (Vibhuti Pada)
Dharana, Dhyana, & Samadhi, #6, 7, and 8 of 8 rungs (Yoga Sutras 3.1-3.3)
3.1 Concentration (dharana) is the process of holding or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place, and is the sixth of the eight rungs.
3.2 The repeated continuation, or uninterrupted stream of that one point of focus is called absorption in meditation (dhyana), and is the seventh of the eight steps.
3.3 When only the essence of that object, place, or point shines forth in the mind, as if devoid even of its own form, that state of deep absorption is called deep concentration or samadhi, which is the eighth rung.
Samyama is the finer tool (Yoga Sutras 3.4-3.6)
3.4 The three processes of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, when taken together on the same object, place or point is called samyama.
3.5 Through the mastery of that three-part process of samyama, the light of knowledge, transcendental insight, or higher consciousness (prajna) dawns, illumines, flashes, or is visible.
3.6 That three-part process of samyama is gradually applied to the finer planes, states, or stages of practice.
Some expansion on this from Aranya'a commentary
Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali: by Swami Hariharananda Aranya,
And finally notes from Sharath's conference talks where he mentions Japa.
For example my grandfather was told by his students that he is now world famous. What did he do? Saying "Is that so? Okay." he just continued doing his japa, something he had done several decades every day. He didn't change at all.
16th dec 2012
Japa (mantra / prayer recitation) is good to practice in the evening.
"Twenty minutes of the Maha Mantra (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare), or any prayer that is meaningful to you will help to calm your mind, and you will sleep very well."
For example: if you are Catholic, you can recite the Holy Rosary (Hail Mary Full of Grace...) or if Protestant, The Lord's Prayer.
Anything that you connect with on a personal level, that can calm your mind, and lift your spirit is good to recite.
The Japa should be meaningful to you, and your thoughts should be focused on good things while chanting, then the effects will be very beneficial.
"Japa can also help to develop Bhavana (Spiritual Development) within you, and this will lead to Ishvara Pranidhana" (Surrender to a Greater Power).
Japa, the repetition of a holy name, is recommended for stability. Japa can easily be done for 15 to 30 minutes before bed. Any holy name with do, from any religion. On a personal note, I imagine a repeated serenity prayer would have the same effect.
28 October 2012
If we can’t do āsanas then sitting; breathing, or sitting; doing Japa (mantra repetition) is good. First we should take a bath then we can sit & do Japa for half an hour; this very helpful. But this shouldn’t mistakenly be called Meditation. Meditation means Dhyāna. “Just closing your eyes and thinking about your girlfriend (more laughter) is only good for photo.” Meditation (Dhyāna) means withdrawing the senses, experiencing a sense of oneness where everything seems to come into “one place.” The practice of Japa was recommended fairly fervently by Sharath.
Of the three aspect of yoga practice - Tapas, Svādhyāya; Īśvarapraṇidhāna - Svādhyāya is our homework [this is a reference from Yoga Sūtra 2.01]. Literally it means self-study, but that doesn’t mean that we learn on our own from books; videos without a teacher. We have to try to understand the teachings [of our teacher], what is yoga, what is the supreme. We have to try to get to that knowledge, to surrender to God. The Guru removes our blindness (Timirāndha), gives the ability to see (Unmīlita) Brahma, Viṣṇu; Maheśvara (this comment by Sharath is a reference from two verses of the Guru Stotra: the one at the beginning of this article and another not mentioned).
When we surrender to Guru & tradition, then Jñāna will come. There is a story from the Rāmāyana that demonstrates the power of devotion:
There is a fight between Rāma and Hanumān. Although Hanumān is supremely devoted to Rāma as Lord Viṣṇu, God on earth (Sharath doesn’t explain how the fight was staged, just that it was meant to demonstrate the power of true devotion). Rāma takes aim with his bow & arrow at Hanumān, but Hanumān is doing Japa to Lord Rāma. His devotion is so intense that he becomes Rāma! So Rāma is shooting an arrow at himself. So Hanumān becomes untouchable, or protected by God because of the identification with Rāma. This is real Īśvarapraṇidhāna. If you do lots of Japa, you get more concentration, more devotion. Yoga leads us to remove our delusions so we can see properly. One-by-one our delusions, our impurities leave us.
Japa done after bathing - so we are maintaining both our inner; outer purity - in either the early morning or at night before going to bed is very go
Don’t leave your practice, your practice will help you not to get distracted, judge that is correct what is no correct. Now you are still babying the practice, when you go deeper in the practice everything becomes secondary. Before I was married, I was married to yoga. That means its not being selfish, to make yourself stabilize s that you can be good to everything, for yourself, to others, that is why we do the practice of yoga, to stabilize the mind. Everyone does puja in the morning, bath, connect with your god, there is a superpower, a supreme soul which is controlling us, we call is different names, god, you get connected with that, you do japa, connected to the supreme soul, which makes you stabilize, that stability will come within you, that you should develop, s once you s that, chanting mantra, is so powerful, that makes you focused in one place, even japa is like that, when you do japa you won’t get distracted, sorrowness, happiness, you can do japa to any god that you are comfortable with, 15-20 minutes every day, every night, day by day, month by month there will be changes within you.