CHANTING OR JAPA

Vedic Articles
  • In Indian philosophy ‘upasana’ or worship is highly significant for an individual as well as for society. Worship plays an important role in exercising restraint over our lives and in helping us to live peacefully and happily. There are various kinds of spiritual practices. The easiest and most prevalent way of worshipping, which can be followed even by an ordinary person is ‘japa’ or what we call chanting a ‘mantra’ over and over again. Seldom do we come across an Indian who has not seen a person doing ‘japa’ or chanting ‘mantras’. One can chant either a full ‘mantra’ or a ‘beej mantra’ i.e. an abbreviated basic form. It can be done for a specific purpose or just for self–purification as a religious practice. There are many ‘mantras’ like Gayatri, Navkar, etc., which are popular at different places and in different sections of society. Of these, the ‘beej mantra’ is given by a Guru at the time of initiating a person which grows with the passage of time and proves rewarding in the end.

    Japa or chanting implies reciting a word aloud. The sound or word originates in the air. The air directs our bodily functions.The universe was also created on the basis of the alphabet. The alphabetic sounds are afloat on in the air. Our minds are engrossed in several alternatives and are vibrated. These vibrations are also generated by the air or ‘vayu.’ That explains the restiveness of our minds. Chanting contains words. Words are comprised of alphabets or letters. The letters contain sounds. These sounds contain ‘naad’ or resonance. There are four planes of ‘vaak’ i.e. para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. The sound that we can hear is called ‘vaikhari’ in an ordinary language. The sound that leaves the tongue steady, the lips unmoved and the mouth quiet is called madhyama. In it, it is the mind that experiences the formation of sound or graphic shapes. In japa when a mantra is chanted, it is called verbal japa. When only the lips move, but there is no audible sound, it is called upanshu japa or subdued chanting. After this stage, when the mind attains concentration, and the gross phase of the sound chanted pales into insignificance, the japa becomes mental. The verbal japa carries the maximum effect of air. In upanshu, it is lessened. There is an added concentration level. In mental chanting, the effect of the external air is eliminated. It is marked by intense concentration. Japa begins verbally. But with an increase in its practice, inhalation and exhalation become slow and japa itself rises to the level of upanshu. When breathing becomes very slow and the sound ceases, upanshu japa automatically changes into mental japa. During the earlier two stages of chanting, breathing functions through the two nerve systems, viz. ida and pingala. As the chanting enters the periphery of the mind, inhalation and exhalation begin through Sushumna. The air works in Madhyama. It means that the mantra continues to be recited within. While in the external japa, we have to strain ourselves for reciting aloud, recitation gains momentum automatically at the subtle level of the mind. It is the practice and deep concentration that contribute to the accomplishment of japa and gradually the vibration of japa continues thereafter without any effort. It is called unchanted japa.

    In Vaikhari or verbal chanting, the words and the meanings appear distinct. In Madhyama, the word becomes resonance or naad and the sound comes to an end. Something like a flash of light appears. As the mental japa progresses both the word and meaning merge in Pashyanti. The light of consciousness emerges. Pashyanti is the realm of the accomplishment of a mantra and the vision of God. In the long run one enters Para from Pashyanti. Here the sound dissolves in a bindu (dot). It means the naad that originates in a bindu (dot) dissolves itself into a bindu again. Kaviraj writes: “In the course of the alphabetic gross word, once the echoing word of consciousness is recognized and all doshas (demerits) come to an end, it is consciousness that rules the roost. It is these phenomena that can be called the characteristics of concentration. In this state of the mind the vibration of vakra vayu (evasive air) are absent, only simple motion persists. It is the playfulness of the power of consciousness which continues with the support of Mahamaya (Goddess Durga).”

    There are two ways of achieving concentration. The venerable power or deity that you adore and worship may be pictured in your inner consciousness. Offer the chanting to that power only. Gradually, the picture itself will appear clearly on the inner screen. The other way is that you listen to the words of the mantra. Try to fix the mind on words and see that you are cheerful, your feelings are gentle and chaste, and that you are fully dedicated to the deity. You are offering your good and evil, all your urges to Him. You are only a tool. No japa can yield the desired results unless the mind is cleansed of its evil thoughts.

    As we focus our attention on the words and their meaning, our concentration will grow intenser. We will also realize that our pronunciation is correct. With any alteration in the pronunciation, the effect will also change. After some time, we will also feel that the chant of our japa is becoming slow. Let us keep on hearing the words as the sound slows down, we will be ushered into the world of upanshu japa. The speed of our breathing will also correspondingly diminish in intensity. This practice will, in due course, pave the way for our psychic elevation. We will experience ecstasy.

    The maximum ecstatic result accrues from the beej mantra (the root mantra). Each deity owns a beej mantra. The beej mantra awarded by the Guru changes it into mental chanting, if it is practised with reverence and doggedness. Chanting is a simple mode of spiritual pursuit. One hardly needs any supplementary knowledge to practise it. This is an open sesame to everybody to achieve the desired heights. What is needed is an ardent longing and faith.

    To gauge the effect of japa, the only thing to be realized is that the pause between one utterance and another diminishes through gradual practice. Slowly with the pause, the sound and the word will also merge. Only the resonance or naad remains. This naad also merges into the bindu or bright dot whence it originated. The individual remains a mere witness to the occurrence. He is illumined. It is also referred to as the awakening of the kundalini power.

    The japa leaves the main effect on the stream of the vital breath and the sadhak remains wholly unaware of it. His knowledge remains confined merely to the sound and the word. The vibration of the vital force means the playfulness of nature. In our body pran, apan, vyan i.e all the five gross elements act as the vital breath. ida and pingala carry out their activities. Through the practice of japa an individual attains the level of the subtle forms of vital breath. Only the subtle vital force enters sushumna. Ida and pingala are relaxed automatically. All the activities of the body are relaxed. The individual enters the subtle body from the gross one. Sushumna has three subtle nerves _ Vajrini, Chitrini and Brahm. They achieve concentration as soon as japa activates subtle forces, and the individual is immersed into the self. He moves forward towards the casual body.

    Japa is also a way of accomplishment even for ordinary persons. It is a way of achieving knowledge. Strong realm of emotions, regularity and faith do yield the desired results.

  • An individual passes through numerous adverse situations in life. His mind is hemmed in by scarcities and influences. It continues to be shrouded by one or the other layer of impressions and experiences. In a life dominated by a plethora of mundane activities it is also imperative that we also follow the path of nivriti (gradual emancipation from activities) so that we may lead a balanced life to some extent. For it our rishis have propounded the principles of mantrayoga, hathyoga, layayoga and rajayoga. Of them mantrayoga is easily available as well as convenient. It may become a part of every one’s life.

    That which acts as a shield for a person who thinks deeply or meditates against any onslaught is called a mantra. The very contemplation of mantras is called tantra and the use of mantras in a definite form creates a yantra. A mantra makes us aware of the pure and righteous thoughts. It means that it removes the veil and purifies the intellect and mind. It transports a man to a state of bliss. In our country there are numerous religions, castes and sects. We can see that all these groups subscribe to specific mantras. We also see the effect of these mantras on them. Certain sects rely on specifically potent mantras. Harnessing these mantras is a countrywide practice. Witchcraft and black art are dependent on mantras and so are the beliefs pertaining to spirits and ghosts. Due to them both dignosis and treatment are also based on mantras. They are said to give quick results. In sharp contrast to them the vedic mantras are considered useful for purifying the soul. Nama and Beej mantras are believed to be more important among the Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakt mantras.

    Mantras are based on words. Every mantra has its vowel sound, meaning, metre and rhythm. Besides it also contains thoughts. On the one hand the chanting of a mantra gives momentum, on the other hand the meaning has an encounter with the thought contained in it. It is also commonly believed that the wrong pronunciation of a mantra can cause havoc.

    There are three types of japas. When the pronunciation of words in a mantra is clearly audible, it is called vachik japa or verbal japa. The mantra in which voice is not audible, only lips move and the throat is used is called upanshu japa. The japa in which the knowledge of the meaning flows only in mind is called mental japa. According to the classifications of mantras upanshu japa is considered superior to verbal japa and mental japa is considered superior to upanshu japa.

    Tantric literature gives a special place to the beej mantra. According to the eight main activities of God, there are eight kinds of beej mantras (seed mantra). Of these ‘Om’ is called the Absolute sound or shabda brahma. In a beej mantra, aing, hring, shring, kling, kring, dring, striing hrung, etc. indicate guru, shakti, rama, kam, yoga, tejo beej i.e. master, power, female divine principle, material gains, yoga and glory.

    Beej mantras cannot be interpreted through the meanings of their words. They reveal their meanings through chanting. For it the knowledge of the correct recitation and complementary mantras proves useful.

    There is no distinction between the mantra and the deity. The vibration of the mantra and that of the deity in the shape of vital force are one. The pronounced word has four planes, para, pashyanti, madhyama and vaikhari. The origin of the universe is also attributed to echo or alphabet or word. Here the word exists in a subtle form. It is also considered to be the source of the development of seed and mantras. When utterance and light proceed towards a gross phase, it is called naad or resonance. As creation becomes gross, the word also becomes so. It moves from Para to Pashyanti, then to Madhyama and at last to Vaikhari.

    Maharshi Panini writes, “Due to ideological differences the sixty-three or sixty-four letters were generated by the self-born God. The soul tries to express itself through the meanings with the help of intellect. The mind gives percussion to the bodily agni or thermal energy. The resultant inspiring power generates a profound sound in the thorax. A form of sound known as Vaikhari is produced. We should interpret it as the Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari modes of the word.”

    Our scriptures give a detailed analysis of its etymology. The bold, the moderate and the accelerated modes of the pronunciation have been represented as Shadaj, Gandhar, Madhyam, Sanchaya, Dhaiwat and Nishad (The levels in the musical octave). They indicate the levels of the Naad, Bindu and Kala. The mode of pronunciation of the mantra is revealed by the metre, and the knowledge about its inventor by the name of the seer. Each mantra has a deity that rules it. It has a seed of its own. There is the Keelak and the power of the Mantra. The inhibiting obstacle is removed by means of the Keelak.

    The mantra gives power to the chanter. There are instances galore to prove it. The method is to watch it with the depth of its thought, stabilise it there and thus stick to its profoundity. It is the means by which the desired effect of success and development is achieved. One has to glide over from the uttered to the semi-uttered and the mute modes. In addition, one ought to visualise the mantra with the accompanying chaste feelings. One is supposed to suggest to oneself that one is growing healthier, nearing the primordial spiritual form and enhancing self-discipline. Cheer and purity add to our exhilaration. The top-level austerity is to surrender in the very inception of the practice to the venerable entity and at the end of the practice offer everything to the same power. If we are free from any urge to obtain something, the practice does not result in any bondage whatsoever. It, on the other hand, frees us from bondage. Of course, we may not win what we aspire to have. The giver knows what the practitioner deserves. He may, as well, give much more than what is asked for. There is always a limitation of our asking for something.

    Viewed from a scientific standpoint vibrations are the basis of our creation. These alone create different forms and modes and are responsible for our development. With the help of japa we try to add vibrations as per our wishes to this very process and are thus able to make progress in the desired direction.