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Niyama 9 - Japa, Recitation

Bodhinatha speaks on the niyama of japa, the many dimensions of the sacred science of chanting a mantra, a holy syllable, word or sentence again and again. Often japa is done right after attending a puja. Japa is not used to acquire worldly things. Instead, prayers are used for that. People who anger should not practice japa. The simplest japa is A-U-M. This is the primary sound of the universe. Initiation is important before starting the practice of japa yoga, and once initiated it is essential to continue the practice, to strive consistently to chant as instructed by he guru.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning, everyone!

This morning, we are continuing our series on 'Good conduct', up to Niyama 9 of Japa, which is to chant your holy mantra daily, reciting the sacred sound, word or phrase given by your guru. Bathe first, quiet the mind and concentrate fully to let Japa harmonize, purify and uplift you. Heed your instructions and chant the prescribed repetitions without fail. Live free of anger so that Japa strengthens your higher nature. Let Japa quell emotions and quiet the rivers of thought.

All of the niyamas focus on expressing the refined soul qualities within each of us. In the case of Japa, the divine quality we are expressing is becoming a more spiritual person through repeating a mantra every day. Mantras are a sound, syllable, word or phrase endowed with special power, usually drawn from scripture. Certain mantras are repeated softly or mentally for Japa, the subtle tones quieting the mind, harmonizing the inner bodies and stimulating latent spiritual qualities.

Japa refers to the repetition of a mantra, often while counting the repetitions on a mala or strand of beads and may be done silently or aloud. Japa is also known as mantra yoga.

Mantras for Japa are usually short, but not always. Gurudeva points out that Japa is never used in the Hindu tradition to pray for material things. Hindus do pray for material blessings, health and abundance but not through the use of mantras or japa. For these they turn to prayers, songs, ritual and affirmations which stimulate the chakras of willpower, reason and cognition, giving the worshipper physical, emotional and mental vigor to bring the worldly goods into his hands. Japa is religiously repeating just a few important, well-defined words, syllables or 'seed sounds', called 'bija', to awaken the higher nature.

Gurudeva gives us an important warning that those who are victims to episodes of anger, to pangs of jealousy or to periods of fear should not perform Japa. Instead karma yoga, selfless service, should be practiced by them to smooth out all character flaws. This is because they must first be lifted up into the muladhara chakra and above. They are living below it and must raise their consciousness, in order to proceed deeply into themselves.

Satguru Siva Yogaswami, placed great emphasis on Japa, repeating the name of Siva with concentration and feeling. This great Natha jnani explained, "May we not forget that mantra is life, that mantra is action, that mantra is love, and that the repetition of mantra, japa, bursts forth wisdom from within."

Let us look now at some specific mantras. The simplest of mantras is the Universal Mantra 'Aum', pronounced "AA, OO, MMM." Gurudeva states that, "Any Hindu or non-Hindu can benefit from repeating it 108 times a day. The AA balances the physical forces when pronounced separately from the OO and the MMM, as the OO balances the astral and mental bodies. The MMM brings the spiritual body into the foreground and when pronounced all together, AA-OO-MMM, all three bodies are harmonized. 'Aum' is a safe mantra which may be performed without a guru's guidance by anyone of any religious background living on this planet, as it is the primal sound of the universe itself. All sounds blended together make the sound 'Aum'. The overtone of the sounds of an entire city would be 'Aum'. In short, it harmonizes, purifies and uplifts the devotee."

For Hindus preparing to receive initiation into the mantra 'Aum Namah Sivaya', Gurudeva recommends they repeat the mantra 'Aum Saravanabhava', 108 times a day invoking Lord Muruga to bring the guru forth in their life who will initiate them. Muruga is the first guru, the first swami and renunciate.

Gurudeva recommends waiting until you have received initiation from the guru into the sacred Panchakshara mantra, 'Aum Namah Sivaya', before using it in japa, stating that it is the shakti of the guru, of the Gods and the devas that give power to the mantra through proper initiation.

Here is a classic story of a Hindu king and a Minister, to illustrate the importance of initiation. This story comes from 'Merging with Siva'. It is really, really long because Gurudeva liked it! He must have been very inspired when he edited it, it has unusual depth of story. I have cut it way back here, it is about one-third or one-quarter of full length.

A minister in a court was summoned to appear before the king. The minister also happened to be a brahmin priest, a kulaguru, empowered to give initiation in the Panchakshara mantra, 'Aum Namah Sivaya'. The king asked the minister to initiate him and the kulaguru said that he would, that he could start preparing the king, right away. The maharajah was impatient and demanded that the minister initiate him immediately, without any preparation. Of course, the kulaguru objected and told the king that it was not possible, as his tradition required him to only initiate after proper training had been given. The kulaguru explained further that this was a vow he had made to his own Guru, when he was empowered to give initiation. The maharajah replied that he would do the mantra without initiation, unless the kulaguru explained how the mantra worked differently, without initiation. The kulaguru agreed to explain the difference. The guru then called loudly to the five guards, who were present and told them to arrest the king, because he had demanded initiation without undergoing the necessary preparations that his tradition required. Of course, the guards did not act on his order but instead looked toward the maharajah waiting to be told how to respond. The king was quite upset at the preposterous order of his minister and shouted to the guards to arrest the kulaguru. Of course, the guards quickly came forward and grabbed the guru and held him tightly.

The kulaguru smiled and explained his actions by saying that what he said was just answering the king's question. The guru went on to explain that he had spoken the mantra, "Arrest this man". But, as he had not been prepared for and coronated, and thus empowered as king, the guards did not respond. However, when the Maharajah gave the same mantra, "Arrest this man," because he had been properly prepared and coronated as king, the guards responded. Upon hearing the explanation the maharajah understood the importance of proper preparation and initiation and prostrated at the kulaguru's feet. The guards who had listened to the entire conversation, then released their captive and after touching the holy man's feet, returned to their posts. In the months ahead the maharaja meticulously prepared himself for and then received his initiation. Now, His Majesty chants 'Aum Namah Sivaya', 108 times daily.

Clearly, practicing japa has a deeper level to it when it is done with guru involvement. Gurudeva points out that this is, in fact, true of all of the last five Niyamas. Siddhanta sravana - choice of lineage, Mati - cognition and developing a spiritual will with the guru's guidance, Vrata - sacred vows before a guru, Japa - repetition after initiation from guru and Tapas - austerities performed under the careful guidance of a guru.

Finally, here are four specific suggestions on how to perform Japa.

First, perform Japa aloud in the beginning stages as it is easier to concentrate the thought. The mantra is heard and therefore our mind does not wander. We must remember that the mind wandering into irrelevant thoughts mitigates the benefits of the japa. Therefore, we must remain concentrated. Once the japa is perfected aloud, it may be done silently, simply by moving the lips but not making a sound, and then later making the sound internally without moving the lips.

Second, pronounce the mantra slowly, properly, thoughtfully, with feeling. To perform japa quickly, as in a marathon, sometimes called "machine gun japa," brings little benefit. If you don't have time to do japa, don't do it at all.

Third, do not intensify japa by doing tens of thousands of mantras a day unless specifically instructed to do so by your guru. Intensifying japa without a guru's guidance could produce negative results.

Fourth, the very best place and time to perform japa is in the temple after the puja, when all is quiet. This is the most ideal surrounding to repeat Japa 108 times, to gain maximum benefit.

In conclusion, chant your holy mantra daily, reciting the sacred sound, word or phrase given by your guru. Bathe first, quiet the mind and concentrate fully to let Japa harmonize, purify and uplift you. Heed your instructions and chant the prescribed repetitions without fail. Live free of anger so that Japa strengthens your higher nature. Let Japa quell emotions and quiet the rivers of thought.

Just an aside here at the end. "Heed your instructions and chant the prescribed repetitions without fail." Sometimes we fail to repeat the prescribed repetitions. So, this is going to be one of our themes of next year. But, just to mention it in passing, it is very important in initiation, to do the practice. Everyone always looks forward to being initiated - samaya diksha, mantra diksha. This is great! But, it is natural at some point to let down and stop doing what you are supposed to do. So, that of course, is a problem. Gurudeva, when anyone asked him about that, says we should be very strict. We should make up every repetition we missed. If we stopped doing it for six months, then the next six months, we can do the repetition twice a day and catch up. In a serious way, fulfill this sadhana.

The other reason is, the power of initiation can dwindle. We don't want that to happen. There is a certain spiritual force or power enlivening the kundalini that comes along with any initiation, which is great. We develop that by doing the practice. We dissipate it by not doing the practice. We could dissipate the whole power if we just stopped doing the practice for years on end. We have lost it.

An analogy is, starting the car. You have a car. You cannot start it. The guru comes along and starts it for you. The car, of course, is a symbol of your spiritual progress. So, the car is just sitting there, right? You have a choice. You can let it sit there. If you let it sit there long enough, it will run out of gas. Or, you can drive it forward. Driving forward is accomplished by doing the sadhana, in this case. Performing the repetitions of the mantra. That is what moves forward. But, we have to do that.

When the guru started the car for us, we can just let it sit there and run out of gas. You lose the power of the initiation, unless we drive the car forward, which means we perform our sadhana, which in this case, is Japa, on a regular basis. It is a very important part of Saivite tradition. Initiation and then fulfilling the sadhana that comes with the initiation, in a regular way. That is how we actually make progress on a spiritual path. So, if you see someone sitting after puja for a long time on the japa beads, that is alright! We are open till twelve.