“Om namah shivaya” “Om namah shivaya.” “Om namah shivaya.” …..
To clear the mind is indeed a difficult task. Meditation is something that many people, myself included, have struggled greatly with. My students often ask me about ways in which they can learn how to meditate, and I often respond with the approach that has helped me the most—japa.
For being such a powerful technique, japa is one of the easiest to practice and thus, a great way to learn how to meditate. In the Hindu system it begins with a mantra, or mystic word or words, that is given to a student to repeat. The repetition of this word or these words is called japa. Mantras are intrinsically expressive of Shiva-Shakti (male-female; yang-yin; consciousness-life-force) energies. Because of this, they have the power to transcend and unite us to the higher reality.
For countless generations, japa has been practiced with the aid of various kinds of rosaries. These are called malas, or garlands, and can be found in many religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, as well as across the world in Christianity and Islam.
These mala beads are a sacred instrument used to count mantras and to keep the mind focused on meditation. Most mala have 108 beads. In addition, every mala has a larger bead called a meru or guru. Why are there 108 beads? The answer depends on who you ask. Check out this link to learn more about the significance of the number 108.
Traditionally, when a person practices mantra japa with mala beads, it is usually done in a seated position, the mala in the right hand. Before counting, you hold the mala bead next to the meru with your index or ring finger and thumb. The index finger is never used in mala japa, as it is known as the “threatening finger.” In addition, it is common to hold the mala at heart level so they do not drag on the ground. Your left hand can also be used to hold the remaining beads in your lap.
Once you choose a mantra, or one is given to you by your teacher, each time it is repeated, you move one bead along the mala. Once you get back to the meru or guru bead, you do not count it or cross over it. Instead, you turn the beads around the begin a new round, again moving forward along the mala.
Ok, so why is japa so powerful? By repeating something constantly, it becomes a habit. I’m sure most of you have heard this quote before: “We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” John Dryden said this centuries ago, and well, as we all have experienced, he was right on the money. If you repeat something often enough for an extended period of time, you slowly become what it is you repeat. This is how people become phenomenal athletes or washed-up alcoholics. This is how people become obese or too skinny. Habits are the reason why one person gradates from university and becomes a successful teacher while someone else becomes a kingpin of the streets. What you repeat is what you become. We see it everyday in ourselves and in those around us. This is why it is important to focus on love, gratitude, and our spirituality. Mantra japa helps us to do this.
A well intentioned mind carries with it unlimited possibilities. Mantra Japa is yet another tool to aid in our self-transformation and for connecting us to our higher selves. Taking time for mindful recitation is not only an advisable practice, but has long been an ally to those on the yogic path. Fill and focus your mind on that which is good and pure, for it can unlock potential you never thought possible.
If you struggle with meditation, try mantra japa. You will be pleasantly surprised at how accessible meditation then becomes.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite mantras:
“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu”
“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”