Japa Yoga is the path of Self-realization using repetition of sound vibrations, or mantras. Mantras (literally, "to protect the mind") are sound syllables representing aspects of the Divine. The identity of primordial sounds with God as the creative force of the universe is not limited to Yoga. It is a principle found in many spiritual traditions. The Bible declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John, 1.1) The Rig Veda, one of the most ancient scriptures in the world, contains a similar passage, “In the beginning was Brahman (God) and with Brahman was sabda (primordial sound) and sabda was truly the Supreme Brahman.”
Mantras are not just fabricated words used as labels for objects, and are not part of the language as such. They are the subtle vibratory essence of things, presented as sounds that can be repeated. Concentrated repetition of a mantra forms the basis of Japa Yoga, the Yoga of Repetition.
Sounds have the ability to soothe or agitate. Many people shudder when they hear a metal utensil scrape the bottom of a metal pan. At the same time, countless vacationers seek out the shoreline in order to lie back and let the sound of the waves soothe their tattered nerves. Mantras are sounds that calm and strengthen the mind, and for this reason they are ideally suited to serve as objects of meditation. The vibratory power of the mantra enhances the meditative experience.
Once a mantra has been chosen, practitioners generally make the best progress if they stick to it for life. Students may choose a mantra themselves based on trial and error, or because it is associated with a particular deity with whom they feel a strong connection. For example, OM Namah Sivaya is a mantra connected with Lord Siva. However, since the word siva represents auspiciousness, the repetition of this mantra is not restricted to devotees of Lord Siva. Mantras transcend these designations. They are sound formulas whose fundamental benefit derives from their vibration.
Some students receive a mantra from a master or adept in whom they have faith. In this case, they put their faith in the teacher to choose for them. The student is still making the essential choice in both scenarios. The difference is that in the former instance, the student chooses the mantra; in the latter, the student chooses the teacher who selects the mantra.
Japa Yoga is not limited to Sanskrit and Raja Yoga. Repetition of powerful sounds and prayers – Shalom, Maranatha, and Ave Maria, for example - are used in many spiritual traditions.
Mantra repetition is not the mindless parroting of a sound, but an attentive and informed act set against a background of enthusiasm. Steady mental focus and an understanding of the significance of the mantra are needed. In this way the meaning (or purpose) of the mantra will gradually unfold.
For keen seekers, each and every repetition is a moment of connection with the Self, an affirmation of the Truth of their own spiritual identity and a reminder of their intentions. When the mind “tunes in” to the vibration of a mantra, it becomes introspective and begins to awaken to Self-knowledge. Meanwhile, the distracting obstacles in meditation and in life, which are the product of a scattered mind, naturally dissolve.
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