Japa (Sanskrit: जप) is a spiritual discipline involving the meditative repetition of a mantra or name of a divine power. The mantra or name may be spoken softly, enough for the practitioner to hear it, or it may be spoken purely within the reciter’s mind. Japa may be performed while sitting in a meditation posture, while performing other activities, or as part of formal worship in group settings. The practice of repetitive prayer is present in varied forms within most religions in the world, although the religions of India generally give more emphasis to it as a specific discipline.
Japa means repeating or remembering the mantra, and Ajapa-Japa means constant awareness. The letter A in front of the word Japa means without. Thus, Ajapa-Japa is the practice of Japa without the mental effort normally needed to repeat the mantra. In other words, it has begun to come naturally, turning into a constant awareness. The practice of constant remembrance evolves in stages:
- At first, you intentionally repeat the syllables of the mantra internally, as if you are talking to yourself in your mind. You allow the inner sound to come at whatever speed feels comfortable to the mind. Sometimes it is very slow, as if the mind were wading through a vat of honey. At other times it is very fast, as if flying through the sky without restraint.
- With practice, the mantra japa is repeated automatically, like a song that you have heard many times, which just comes on its own. (Some practitioners consider this automatic repeating to be the meaning of Ajapa-Japa, though there is a subtler meaning, as described below.)
- Gradually, you merely remember the mantra with attention drawn to it. It is more like noticing what is already happening, rather than causing it to happen. It is somewhat like the attention stance of listening rather than speaking, though you might not literally hear the sound.
- In time, the feeling of the mantra is there, even when the sound or remembering of the syllables is not there. For example, sometimes people will say, “OM, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,” where the word Shanti means peace ortranquility. During the remembering of the word there may be two things–the word and the feeling of peace or tranquility. When the syllables fade away, the feeling may still be there; this is remembrance of the feeling of the mantra.
- As the practice evolves, there comes a pervasive awareness of the mantra, subtler than both the syllables and any surface level meaning or definition. This constant awareness is the meaning of Ajapa-Japa of the mantra.
Many students of meditation and spiritual life complain of a noisy mind, out of control senses, and emotional challenges. One of the most significant, single suggestions of the ancient sages is the use of mantra japa, or sacred word to focus the mind. No amount of intellectualizing will convince you of this. It must be practiced for the benefits to be experienced.
Regardless of what mantra you use, one of the most important principles is the practice of constant remembrance. By cultivating such a steady awareness many benefits come