(DISCOURSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, AUGUST 2010)
A Hindu devotee is free to adopt any form of worship that suits him. The Bhaagavatam which is the most popular amongst Puraanas mentions 11 forms of worship. These are:
1. Keertanam (singing the glory of God in Bhajans)
- Smaranam (meditation of God and His glory)
- Eekshanam (Darsan of deities in images or pictures)
- Vandanam (obeisance, Namaskaarams)
- Sravanam (listening to discourses on the glories of God or Puraanas)
- Archanam (worship of Ishta devata in Pooja)
- Japam (repeating holy names or stotras)
- Paaraayanam (reading religious literature)
- Aalaya Darsanam (visiting temples or sacred places)
- Utsava (participating in festivals)
11. Seva (doing service to community, particularly to the poor--daridra seva)
Sri Sankaraacharya referred to all these methods of worship in his works but he has specially commended Naama Japa to the common man. It is a unique yogic practice towards Bhakti Maarga.
Japa in itself is not physical but it is mental and is to be raised to a still deeper level. Neither a mere rolling of beads nor a non stop muttering in the mouth can constitute Japa Yoga. Unproductive thought-wanderings and flow-of-thoughts end in a dark ditch of frustration and stupor.
Japa Yoga also known as Mantrayoga originated from Vedas and Tantras. This yoga brings about change in material consciousness by the agency of sound. Of course, the "sound" Japa Yoga is referring to, is a mysterious sound which you cannot hear by the human ear. From modern science, we know three important facts:
1) Matter is an expression of energy
2) This energy vibrates at different frequencies in different types of matter
3) Our sense organs can only receive sensations made in a very limited frequency range—anything above this range is called ultra sound and any sound below is called infra sound.
We may say that Japa Yoga is based on the vibratory aspect of energy and its modification to varied matter. Mantras are used to bring about substantial results as well as the unification and unfolding of the consciousness. Japa Yoga is widely used by devotees belonging to all other yogas for spiritual enlistment and unfolding of consciousness. The word Mantra consists of two words—'man' to think and 'tra' signifying instrumentality. In brief, Mantra means 'thought-form'.
In all religions of the world we hear a lot about the necessity for the control of the mind. In the make up of an individual, we can say that 'as the thought, so the mind, as the mind, so the man'. Therefore, in case a seeker is demanding a total transformation of his personality and strives himself to become a good man, it is necessary that he must tackle his mind and bring it under his control. We have to change (a) the quality, (b) the quantity and (c) the direction of the thought-flow in us in order to achieve the total transformation of our present personality composition and structure. This is the secret of our inner resurrection. Company of good books, noblemen, dynamic aspirations, inspiring ideas etc should necessarily change the color of the thought pattern entertained by the aspirant. In short, the quality-of-thoughts get improved by surrendering to the Lord of the Heart and by devotion to the Lord which is called 'Bhakti'.
Ordinarily, in almost all of us, the mind is in constant state of agitation. Thoughts gurgle down, thundering and roaring in their sweep into the world of objects, feelings and ideas. This state of flood is contributed by the three mainstreams: a) the shackling memories of the past, b) the benumbing fears for the future and c) the freezing anxieties with the present. These are the three eternal peaks from which gurgle forth regrets, fears and anxieties which cause flood in the mind.
"Quality of Thoughts" is changed by following the path of devotion (Bhakti Yoga) and the 'quantity of thoughts' is controlled by pursuing the 'path of dedicated action' (Karma Yoga) and the "direction of thoughts" is changed by the "pursuit of knowledge" (Gnaana Yoga). A true seeker should not jump into the conclusion that these three processes are mutually excluding activities. To every one of them, the other two are complimentary. The quality cannot be changed without consciously or unconsciously changing the quantity and the direction of the thought-flow. One in whom the quantity of thought has diminished, both the quality and the direction of his thoughts are also changed. And, unless, the quality and quantity are modified, the direction of thought-flow cannot be changed at all.
In fact, the Path of Devotion (Bhakti), Action (Karma) and Knowledge (Gnaana) are to be practiced in synthesis, although any student may take one or the other of them as his main path according to his subjective mental temperament. However, each intelligent student must discover for himself that whatever may be his main path, the other two cannot be totally eliminated from his program of self –evolution. Since each of this triple program of changing the quality, quantity and direction is so intrinsically inter-related with the other two, the accomplishment of one must be along with the fulfillment of the other two also. This is what our great philosophers Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva have elaborated in their philanthropic thoughts. Hence, there is a need for a technique wherein all these three factors come into full play.
The erasing of the old wrong patterns and rewriting the healthy lines of thinking can be both accomplished by the same divine process which is prescribed in the sacred Upanishads and other scriptures. The method advised is the constant and repeating Japa of a sacred Mantra. In the recent history, there is the instance of the esteemed teacher of Shivaji, Samartha Ramadas, who perfected himself through the Japa Yoga of the Sree Rama mantra: "Sri
Ram Jaya Ram Jaya Jaya Ram".
Meditation is keeping the mind hitched on to one line-of-thought, to the complete exclusion of all other thought currents. To succeed in this, we must learn to stop at will all other "dissimilar thought currents". This mental capacity is gained through Japa when intelligently practiced along with a regulation of the normal life lived. Japa is a very effective mental discipline for spiritual progress. To keep the mind actively engaged in the repetition of a sacred hymn, mantra invoking divine ideas or ideals which provide an infinite possibility for contemplation and intelligent flights is called Japa. Japa is training for the mind in fixing itself to a single line of thinking. We cannot pronounce a word without a thought form rising up immediately in us; nor can we have a thought form without its corresponding name. In this close connection between the 'name' and the 'form' lies the underlying principle in the technique of Japa, and the secret effectiveness of the mantras used in the practice of Japa.
A mantra is a word-symbol or symbols representing and expressing, as nearly as possible, the particular view of God and the Universe they stand for. There is nothing secret about the mantras. By the term 'secret' it is not meant that it is a knowledge that it cannot be given to others; it only means that it is a knowledge which will be beyond our comprehension until we are initiated into it by some experienced teacher. All of them are in the scriptures, but when the mantra is given to the disciple by an illuminated teacher, it becomes a living seed. Mantras are given out by the Rishis. Every mantra has a presiding deity. Whenever Japa is undertaken, the form of the Devata is to be maintained in front of the mind's eye. To facilitate this we have the meditation stanza, Dhyaana sloka, that describes the Devata associated with every mantra.
There are three types of mantras:
- those that invoke the low powers of nature (tamasic);
- those that excite and manifest might and power (Rajasic);
- those that lead to spiritual experience (Saatvik).
All the mantras can again fall under two classifications:
(a) those that need be only chanted, there being no need for one to know their meaning; (b) those mantras that are of the nature of an invocation and the devotee must necessarily know the meaning of those mantras without which he will not be able to bring his mind to play upon the divine theme constantly.
Here we have, in Taittiriya Upanishad, a mantra for chanting which when pursued properly with necessary understanding and mental co-operation can strengthen and purify the mind-intellect-equipment of the student:
"He whose form is manifold, who is pre-eminent among the hymns of Vedas, and who has sprung up from the hymns which are immortal—that Indra (Omkaara) may fill me with intellectual vigor. Oh Lord! May I become the possessor of the Immortal revelations! May my body become able and active, my speech sweet and agreeable to be topmost! May I listen abundantly with my ear! Thou art the Sheath of Brahman. May you preserve my learning"!
According to Sri Sankara 'Indra' here means Omkar. Etymologically, the word Indra is derived from the root meaning 'to illuminate'. The Om symbol, indicating the Conscious Principle in man, is the illuminator of all the faculties in him including his own intellect. The mantra as it reads is an invocation to Omkaara for a clearer Consciousness or Awareness in the student.
The Infinite and Immortal Truth, which is one-without-a-second, All-pervading and Perfect, indicated by the symbol OM, is the common theme that is dealt with in all the hymns in the Vedas. In the mantra portion of the Vedas, the exclamation of the seers at the beauty of nature were but the adorations of the Infinite; in the Braahmana portion of the Vedas where they entered into a scheme of ritualism there too they invoked the same Truth Manifest for special purposes as Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Brihaspati etc. The mantra is rounded up with the assertion that OM is the sheath of Brahman. Sheath is invoked, just as we do in our daily life when while asking for a container we actually mean the contained—'bring the sweet box', 'bring the ink-pot' etc. In all such instances the request is not a direct demand merely for the box or the pot but it is the demand for sweet or the ink. The mantra here says that Om-symbol is the sheath of Brahman and therefore invoking Om is invoking the Supreme. Om thus represents the entire manifest and the unmanifest world and also that which is beyond both the manifest and unmanifest, the Brahman, which is the changeless substratum for the changing objects of the world experiences. Therefore to every mantra, 'Om', the Pranava, is added on and without Om no secret chant has its power. Just as a living body has no vitality when the life-giving breath is not flowing through its veins, so a mantra too has no life in it without the addition of the Pranava.
There is a verse in Vedas: 'Prajaapatir vai-idam agre aaseet'—in the beginning was Prajaapati, the Brahman; 'tasya vaag dwiteeyaa aaseet'—with who was the word 'vaag vai Paramam Brahman'—and the word was verily Supreme Brahman. In the gospel of the New Testament we read it repeated: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God". This Sphota has its symbol in the word OM. Thus in the Maitraayana Upanishad after it has been said that there is one Brahman without words and a second, a word Brahman, we are told that the word is syllable OM. The sound Om is also called Pranava meaning that it is something that pervades life or runs through Praana or breath.
The entire possibility in life has been terraced by the Rishis into fourteen worlds--Seven higher Lokas and seven lower worlds. The word loka in Sanskrit is generally translated as world but in its etymological meaning it signifies 'a field of experience'. There are, in the higher lokas three worlds in which a limited ego-centre comes to play its game of reincarnation and repeated births and deaths.
(a) Bhur Loka, the physical earth,
(b) Bhuvar Loka, the world next to the physical and closely connected with it but constituted of finer matter, and
(c) Suar Loka, the heavenly world.
Beyond these are the four other worlds wherein the ego comes to move about and enjoy its higher evolutionary life, and they are called Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka. Below the seven worlds there is yet another set of seven worlds called the Talas. They are named as: Paa-talam; Mahaa-talam; Rasaa-talam; Talaa-talam; Su-talam; Vi-talam; and A-talam.
Of these fourteen worlds, Bhur-Bhuvar-Suvar denoting the three worlds are called the Vyaahritis and as in the Gaayatri Mantra, when these vyaahritis are chanted, the meditator can visualize 'three worlds' as arising from, existing in and disappearing into AUM, OM. He can subjectively identify them with the waking, dream and deep sleep conditions of Consciousness, transcending which extends to the realm of the Infinite which is signified by the silence that follows between the chanting of Oms called A-maatra (Turiya). The Vyaahritis in the Gaayatri represent in one sweep the entire world of the subjective and objective experiences of man.
Gaayatri Mantra is one of the oldest available divine hymns. It is not only believed but it has been actually observed that by repetition of this mantra with the right understanding of its sacred meaning, the natural negative tendencies in a human mind can be erased out to a large extent.
During ancient times, the student life began with the initiation of Upanayana or the thread ceremony in the life of first three Varnas (classes), Brahmana, Kshatriya and Vaisya which educated their children. Girls were also given this initiation and women also wore the sacred threads. To-day this initiation to Brahmacharya remains mostly with the Brahmin community and that too for boys only except with some orthodox Kerala Brahmins who initiate girls also to Upanayana ceremony. The three threads reminded the wearer of the Pranava (Om, the symbol of the Absolute), Medha (Intelligence) and Shraddha (diligence)—the three essential guides for education. The student lived with the teacher or Guru in gurukula (school) usually set in the midst of forest. They were initiated and taught the powerful Gaayatri Mantra for the worship of the Sun so that they may absorb its brilliance and effulgence.
In Manusmriti we read: "In the early dawn by doing this Japa standing, one ends all sins committed during the night and by doing this Japa in the evening while sitting, one ends one's sins committed during the day". Sin here means, the agitation created in our mental life by our own negative actions and the tendency to repeat the same which is left by them as impressions upon the mind. This mantra is never chanted for the purpose of material gains, physical or otherwise. Its very invocation concludes with an appeal to pure consciousness to illumine more our heart—it is a prayer into the Self to unveil itself and come to manifest as Pure Wisdom in our life.
Gaayatri Mantra is also called Savitri Mantra. In some old books, we find this mantra titled as Savitri-Gaayatri. It only means that it is an invocation dedicated to Lord Sun couched in Vedic metre called Gaayatri. This is considered to be the most important mantra, written out in the Gaayatri metre and, therefore, by tradition this mantra has become to be known as Gaayatri. The Gaayatri metre is generally of three lines of eight syllables each. The three lines of Gaayatri-Savitri Mantra are as follows:
- Om Tat-Savitur-Varenyam
which means: "we meditate upon the auspicious godly light of the Lord Sun; may that heavenly light illumine our thought-flow in our intellect"
This mantra is always chanted along with Pranava and the Vyahritis as Om-Bhur-Bhuvaha-Suvaha; Om-Tat-Savitur……etc. The seer of this mantra is the royal Viswamitra. This mantra is dedicated to Lord Savitri. That Savitri represents Lord Sun. In Geeta Lord says "the light that pervades the Sun and the Moon are all my light". The sun gives illumination to the world and any prayer of light should be addressed to the source of all light in the material world--the Sun. Thus Savitri, the Lord of Gaayatri is nothing other than the Light of Consciousness, the Infinite, the Absolute.
One who is chanting this mantra is to carry water in his folded palm and at the end of each mantra Japa he must offer the water to the Lord. This is called the offering unto the Great guest (Arghya Pradaan). As this water in his folded palm is offered, the devotee says: "The Sun is Brahman (Asaavaaditya Brahma)" and performs Atma-pradakshinam by turning round himself by his right. This signifies a suggestion that the devotee is going round in the reverence and devotion round the Lord Sun—the Brahman which is the Self in himself.
In the Taittireeya Aranyaka, there is a story built around this ritual of the daily chanting of the Gaayatri. The story describes an island where a tribe of devils called 'mandehas' lived. These devils gathered in horde every morning and approached the sun threatening to destroy him. At that time the water offered by the Gaayatri-chanters struck them like lightning and they returned to their island. It has the typical Vedic mysticism about it. The simple story has a deep philosophical significance. 'Mandha' means mind and 'deha' means body. The devils of mandeha therefore signify the desires, passions and cravings of the body and mind. These desires veil the pure Self. They prevent the Divinity from flowing out of your Self. These desires are eradicated by the subtle intellect which is charged with Gaayatri Mantra. Then the inherent brilliance of the Self emerges out of the personality of such a seeker.
Prayer to the Guru, invocations to the Lord and surrender to the Supreme has become a typical tradition before the start of all auspicious and religious functions. Let us for example take a typical mantra 'Om Namo Narayanaaya', prostration unto Narayana. During Japa the individual will be sincerely striving to surrender totally his personality to Narayana who is his concept of the Reality.
A mantra is either chosen by the disciple himself or is chosen for him by a Guru. If there be one who has not chosen nor has been given a mantra he can use "Hari Om" or any of the vedantic or puranic
mantras given below:
- Mantras that end in "Swaha" are called feminine mantras.
- Mantras that end in 'Hum' or 'Phat' are called masculine mantras.
- Mantras that end in 'Namaha' are called neutral mantras
Tat tvamasi—That Thou art
Aham Brahmasmi—This Self is Brahman
Aham Atma Brahma—This Self is Brahman
Shivoham Shivoham—I am Siva, Auspiciousness
Aanandoham Aanandoham—I am Aananda, I am Bliss
Om Namo Narayanaya
Om Namah Sivaya
Om Aim Hreem Sreem Sarasvatyai Namaha
Om Aim Hreem Sreem Lakshmyai Namaha
Om Hreem Kleem Chaamundaayai Vichche
An irresistible attack of sleep while doing Japa and a shamelessly evident tendency to express bad temper soon after Japa Saadhana are quite common to ninety percent of those practicing Japa in early stages. The seeker should not get annoyed at him, patiently fight this tendency and win over it. Sleep comes because a mind in Japa is a mind at rest. We must train the mind not to sleep in the salubrious climate within.
There are very many mantras used in Japa Yoga in Hinduism. But this is not exclusive to Hinduism alone. "Om Mani Padme Hum" is a great Buddhist Mantra which refers to "jewel in the lotus of the heart''. In Judaism "Baruch Attah Adonai" means "Blessed are Thou, O Lord our Lord". For a Christian, the very name of Jesus is a great mantra like 'Hari Om'. In the Catholic tradition 'Hail Mary' is used as a very powerful Mantra. "Bismillah Ir Rahman Ir Rahim" is a beautiful Muslim Mantra meaning 'in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate'.
Regularity and sincerity are the secrets of success in spirituality. Profit motive is the strongest urge in man in all his strenuous activities. Japa polluted by the profit motive cannot end in the spiritual effulgence of the one doing it. A japist attempts to maintain his mind in one fixed line of divine thinking. Japa is a very healthy and effective aid to meditation if properly practiced and regularly pursued.
Abridged and edited by N.R.Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple from the following publications:
1. Swami Chinmayananda, Vedanta, the Science of Life, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai.
2. A.Parthasarathy, The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals, Vedanta Life Institute, Mumbai.
3. S.Balakrishnan, Sankara on Bhakti, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
4. Ed. Viswanathan, Am I A Hindu? Roopa & Co., New Delhi.
5. N.S.Anantha Rangacharya, Selections from the Upanishads, Bangalore.
6. Sakuntala Jagnnathan, Hinduism, Vakils, Feffer and Simon Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai