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The Process of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: Invoking the Divinity of Japa Sadhana

When we say a name, the form connected with the name comes to our mind spontaneously. In the Yoga of meditation, we try to invoke some kind of form into ourselves, but it is not always easy to directly visualise any form without defining it in some manner. It appears that a definition, which is actually the name that we give to the form, is not only very intimately associated with the form, but is also a great help to the sadhaka in calling that form into the mind for the purpose of meditation.

We can never think anything without thinking of its qualities. The name is actually a designation of the qualities of the object. In ancient tradition, the naming of a person was done according to their nature, so that the person is described by that name. But if the nature of the person is not clear, and therefore a correct naming cannot be conducted at the very outset, at least such name is chosen to suggest a nature that we wish that person to have in his life. If we go on calling a person, day in and day out, by the characteristics with which we would like that person to identify, that person may feel that these characteristics are part of his or her nature.

This is the psychological background and philosophical foundation of mantra sadhana, japa Yoga, or even meditation with a concept attached to the object of one's choice. As a matter of fact, this system of invoking a name, which is what is known as japa of a mantra, is also the method followed in any kind of thought process, because the japa spoken of is only the repetition of the qualities of something indicated by what is known as the name of that particular thing or object. Independently, minus any kind of such association of a defining characteristic, it will be difficult to invoke any picture before oneself.

When we want to think a thing, we think it in terms of certain characterisations. Name and form go together, and such a name is chosen for the purpose of recitation as would enable the disciple to carry on meditation along those lines. The disciple is initiated into this formula by the teacher.

To take the specific instance of mantra sadhana or japa Yoga, we have to consider certain particular kinds of importance attached to it, apart from japa being merely the calling out of a name for the sake of invoking the form. The mantra is holy. It is not merely a secular name attached to an object, and not just anything and everything that we may consider as a name of something. The mantra is sacred because of various other factors involved therein. That is to say, there is definitely an object connected with it. Inasmuch as this object is the sole reality before us, it is our god. We have already bestowed sufficient thought on this aspect. Because it is our god, it is called devata. Therefore, there is a god behind a mantra. The godliness of that particular object consists in its being the sole reality before us and the only thing that we require.

The second aspect of the mantra is that it is a vision of a great rishi or sage. In deep contemplation and mystical union – Yoga samapatti, or Yoga samadhi – this seer, rishi, had intuition of this object which is the god or the deity of the mantra. The power of the sage's mind associated with this mantra cannot be separated from the mantra, just as we cannot forget the author's name when we read a book. The contents of a book are connected with the mind of the author who wrote that book. We will be continuously remembering the person who wrote the book, invoking that person's presence, and admiring the author's ability if the book has appealed to us. Similarly, we can never associate ourselves with the mantra minus association with the rishi. Just as the thought of the author is in the wisdom of his writings, the power of the mantra in which the deity, the devata, is embedded is augmented by connection with the power of the mind of the rishi who saw the mantra. Actually, during the initiation into mantra japa sadhana, we are instructed that the presence of the rishi should be invoked before we start reciting the mantra. Due respect has to be given to the author of that mantra who visualised it in his deep mystic meditation.

Thus, there is a divinity in the mantra, which is the devata spoken of; there is the mantra itself, which is the name or the designation of that divinity; and there is the rishi or the seer, whose mind is at the back of the mantra. There is also something more.

A mantra is a combination of certain letters, or it can be a combination of certain words. The speciality of a holy mantra, whether it is of the Vedic type or the tantric type, is in the manner of the juxtaposition of the letters or the words or phrases of the mantra, which, when combined, produce a new effect. Just as when different chemical elements are brought together and combined a chemical action takes place, two letters combined create a third effect that is much greater than the capacity of both letters to produce that effect. We have examples galore in our daily life of compounds of this kind.

Hence, when we start resorting to japa sadhana or mantra purascharana, we bring to the focus of our attention first of all the deity that is the object of our worship and meditation, the rishi who is the source of all the blessing for our success in the mantra japa, and the mantra itself which is going to be recited continuously. The chandas, or the metre of the mantra, is what is known as the way in which the letters of the words or phrases are compounded into the form of that mantra. Then last but not least, there is the thought of the sadhaka. Sadhana shakti, mantra shakti, devata shakti and chandas shakti all join together to produce a total shakti in the process of mantra japa.

It is a great sacrifice that we are carrying on in japa sadhana. It is a yajna itself. That is why Bhagavan Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavadgita: yajñānāṃ japayajñosmi (Gita 10.25). Of all the yajnas, havanas, sacrifices, homas, yagas, nothing equals japa, because there is no need to collect material for the performance of this japa. We do not require any object outside our own thought for carrying on japa sadhana. We do not require ghee, firewood, a special place, or any other such appurtenances as are necessary to perform a sacrifice in the ritualistic sense. We need not spend one penny if we want to carry on this great yajna, or sacrifice, of japa. It is a mental sacrifice. There were saints and sages who carried on this yajna in the mind, such as Agastya Maharishi who is mentioned in the Mahabharata as having conducted a tremendous yajna for years together merely through his thought process. As we know very well, the mind is stronger than material elements in the world, and all the materials used in yajnas assume an importance because of the mind or the thought that is connected with the actual performance – else it would be just empty ritual, minus life in it. No prana will be there if the mind is not associated.

While considering all these five aspects of mantra japa, even the thought of this wondrous combination will infuse a new energy into our system. If we think of how powerful a great rishi was, power enters us. Even when we go on gazing at an elephant for a long time, we slowly feel some energy entering into us. Our strength increases when we perceive an elephant for a long, long time. Energy enters us because of the energy of the rishi of whom we are thinking, energy enters us when we think of the power of the devata, or the god who is before us, energy enters us by the contemplation of the mantra itself, which is a mini-capsule of energy potential, and energy immediately enters us when we are sure in ourselves that we have taken to the right course of action and we are going to succeed in achieving the desired result.

Calling on the name again and again, in the form of a formula, or a mantra, or a prayer brings you to the proximity of that object. If you go on calling something continuously, it shall be near you as much as possible. Things are really not distant in space, as you would have gathered from the wisdom communicated to you during this sadhana period. There is no spatial distance between even remote things. The distance between things is an illusion created by an artificial curtain of space. Therefore, when you call out a thing, it shall listen to your call. People say if you cry in the wilderness, nobody will listen to you. Actually, this world is not a wilderness. Even the trees will listen to what you say if you cry out loudly in the forest. Vana-devata, the deity of the forest, will listen to what you say; the leaves will respond, and the trees will vibrate. Hence, calling out a name which is the recitation of the mantra actually brings the so-called remote powers of the cosmos near us.

Mantras are of different kinds. There are small ones and big ones, connected with small things and with more important, wider things. There are nicha devatas and uccha devatas, as they are called – petty deities and higher deities – reference to which is made by Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the seventh and ninth chapters of the Bhagavadgita.

Yajante sāttvikā devān yakṣarakṣāṁsi rājasāḥ, pretān bhūtagaṇāñś cānye yajante tāmasā janāḥ (Gita 17.4) A tamasic approach also is possible in japa sadhana. We can have siddhi or power over an inferior deity, a kind of mesmeric effect that we produce on lower entities by which we gain some power to materialise thought – produce effects materially – as we might have heard of in many cases. But here in our case, in the context of devotees of Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj who aspire for spiritual perfection, the ideal of mantra japa sadhana is not contact with an inferior deity in order to obtain any particular power materially construed in this world, but it is contact with God Himself.

Such being the case, believing in the words of Bhagavan Sri Krishna that japa is the greatest sadhana –yajñānāṃ japayajñosmi – and also believing that it is the most effective of all types of contemplation and meditation, and is the easiest to practise, involving the least effort on our part, we need not stand on our heads or put ourselves to the torture of extreme austerity of any kind, and focus on the mental process only. Here in japa sadhana, the only sacrifice we have to make is in the mind. As we are not poor in our mental process though we may be poor in other ways, and we are not poor in our words as we may be poor in material things, there should be no difficulty in taking resort to this highly wonderful, most powerful method of meditation, japa sadhana.

How does japa lead to meditation? They are intimately connected, as name is connected with form. As name is incapable of dissociation from the form, japa cannot be dissociated from meditation. What we recite is the mantra, the japa. What we think at that time is the dhyana, the meditation. Here is the relationship between japa of the mantra and meditation on the deity. They go together, inasmuch as one process is vitally connected with the other. Japa sadhana becomes a potent force, leading us into higher meditation.

What kind of mantra, what kind of formula are you to take up for the purpose of this practice? If nothing is clear to the mind, it is up to you to approach someone who is competent in this kind of sadhana – a Guru or a master – and be initiated into whatever is suitable for your purpose. But if you have some clarity in your own mind and you know what you are seeking – who your god is according to your liking, who is your Ishta, your beloved, the deity whom you love most for any reason whatsoever – and you also know its name, you can take to japa sadhana of that particular name. As I mentioned, it can be one single compound letter such as pranava or omkara, it can be two or more letters if the mantra is constituted of so many ingredients, or it can be still more lengthy if many phrases or words are associated with it. It is up to you to choose. Once you take to the name it should not be changed, and you should continue chanting only that name.

Abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tannirodhaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.12). The mind is controlled by renunciation and steadfastness in practice. The mind is very impetuous and hard to control, but it can be restrained by continued practice. Anything done continuously produces a powerful effect. As is the case with the meditational techniques that we considered earlier, so also is the case with the technique to be adopted in japa sadhana. A particular place, a particular time and a particular method – this system applies to japa sadhana also.

When you take to japa assiduously, tenaciously, with great method, symmetry and system, it becomes what is known as purascharana. Purascharana means a concentrated attempt to carry on japa for as long a period as possible, with as much concentration as it is practicable. To assist in this effort, certain accessories are taken into consideration, such as only one particular place for japa. In purascharana, or this specialised form of japa sadhana, the place, the seat, is equally important. If you sit in the same place every day, that little spot on which you are sitting will have its own vibration. The place where you sit for japa produces a vibration of its own because of your seatedness. Therefore, if you desire a quick result from doing purascharana mantra, it would be good to sit in the same place every day and not change the place. Also, the same time should be the occasion for starting and concluding of japa. If you have started doing japa at a particular time of the day, let it be the time for every other day also, and not at different times. Else, the thread of energy, the continuity of the practice, will break. If a person takes medicine to cure an illness in a slipshod manner – one capsule or a tablet today and the next ten days later, then another the following day and another after a long gap – it will not produce any beneficial result. Similarly for concentration in the practice of purascharana, the seatedness should be in the same place, and at the same time. It need not be emphasised that the mantra should be the same. You should not experiment with different mantras, else the continuity of producing an effect in the form of a force of japa will be broken.

The direction which you face is also important, and should not be changed. It is said that facing either the east or the north is best while being seated in japa sadhana because of the special energy emanating from the east due to daily sunrise, and the special effect being produced from the north due to the magnetic force that runs from north to south, as we all know. These two directions are supposed to be most conducive to face while seated for japa sadhana.

The posture, the place where you sit, the time, the direction, the continuity of the mantra – and lastly, the most important thing is the purpose for which you are doing this purascharana. The purpose should be very justifiable. You should not do mantra japa to harm or destroy someone. While the worst kind of practice is where there is a negative intention or motive to destroy, even a selfish intention to gain some material end by japa sadhana is not considered very praiseworthy. God may give you a sword if you want a sword, but what will you do with it? Our askings are sometimes not well conceived. We do not know what is good for us. According to the ancient story, King Midas wanted that whenever he touched anything, it should turn to gold. He thought he would become very rich, not knowing what tragedy would befall him because of the blessing that he received. The mind is so mischievous that even when it gets what it wants, it may come to ruin by the very acquisition of that want.

I heard a story of a sadhaka going to a great siddha and begging him, "Please bless me with the power to materialise whatever I think. If I think something, it should be there in front of me." If that blessing is given to you, you will think that you are the most blessed, but do you know the consequences of an uncontrolled mind wanting to materialise whatever it thinks? Anyway, that blessing was given. "All right, take it," said the siddha purusha. "If you think something, it will be there in front of you." This wonderful devotee suddenly became elated with the prospect of becoming a master of everything, not knowing that he had no control over his mind. He walked into a forest, sat under a mango tree and thought, "Let there be mangoes." Immediately mangoes appeared in the tree. "Let the mangoes drop," and they dropped. He started eating. Then immediately a thought came to him, "It is a forest, and a tiger may come." Immediately a tiger came, jumped on him and ate him. Whether it is King Midas or this wondrous disciple, if there is no restraint over the mind process, what is the use of having the power of materialisation?

Prahlada's instance is an example before us. When Lord Narasimha offered a boon to Prahlada, he replied, "Don't tempt me, my Lord, with this question. Give me what is best for me." Then the ball is in the other court. How can God give us what is not best for us? If we choose what is best for us, it could be something like Midas or the other gentleman about whom I mentioned just now. Therefore, the intention behind the japa sadhana should be self-purification, purgation of all sins, repentance for whatever mistakes one has committed in the past and, ultimately, grace itself with the blessing of God.

After some months of practice you will feel the result in yourself, just as when you take a good meal every day you will feel the energy in your system after some days, and when you continuously take medicine you will see how you are being cured and your health improves gradually, stage by stage.

While all this is clear to you, one last point to be mentioned is that this process of the practice of japa sadhana should be carried on every day. As the same place, time, method and direction are advised, it is equally important to see that it is done every day because daily continuous practice produces a cyclic effect. At the particular hour of the day succeeding the day on which you started the japa, a force will be waiting to receive you. If you are not present at that time, there will be nobody to receive you and assist you. Somebody is waiting for you at that particular moment of time the next day itself, because of the time you chose for sitting on the previous day. That somebody is some invisible superhuman being, and if you miss it, you will not find it again.

It is said that the latchet of the door of spiritual practice is inside and not outside. At any time there may be a knock from outside, but if you have locked the door from inside, the mistake is not on the part of the one who knocked. At midnight the call may come and the hour may be at hand. This friend who is ready to receive you at that particular time of the day when the japa has been started will be your guardian angel on successive days. There are guardian angels in everyone's life. "A divinity shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will," said the poet. The divinity is shaping our ends. Even if we ignore it, forget it any number of times, that devata, the guardian angel, is ready to guard us, protect us in times of agony, distress and insecurity.

This mantra devata will guard you wherever you go. In the thick of the jungle, in the depth of the sea and the heights of the skies, throughout this world you will find this guardian angel behind you, protecting you wherever you go, and you are perfectly secure with this divinity that shapes your ends, provided that your japa sadhana is consistent, sincere, honest, and is carried on with the pious aim of the realisation of spiritual perfection.