Time is the most precious commodity
It is virtually indisputable that of the rare commodities a person could waste, time is the most precious. A sadhak living the lifestyle of a busy student or corporate persona must indeed carefully ration their time.
In this regard, I would like to present a modest help for those practising mantra yogis who find it difficult to incorporate a fixed time for japa in an unpredictable routine.
The ‘Easy’ Thousand
There is a short cut which is prescribed in scripture – if one cannot complete a full 1000 recitations of any mantra during an ongoing daily routine, then one is permitted to chant exactly 333 as an equivalent. This is known as the Easy Thousand.
Why does this work? First, like a teacher excusing a student from a rare indiscretion, know that for Vedic mantras and practices, the Devas are all-knowing and merciful in excusing the dedicated aspirant from exceptional circumstances. Secondly, it is noteworthy that 333 sums to 9 – a symbolic figure for infinity (read the prior post on Why 108? for more information). Therefore, it may be considered a sanctified count. In practical terms, it is a shade below half-way; thus freeing up more than enough time from meditation practices for the sadhak to complete whatever extraordinary duty they may have to.
When, where and how
Remember: this technique should be used on that rare occasion when one interrupts their usual nityakarmas due to some one-off time management difficulty. Straight after japa one should mentally prostrate themselves before the deity of the mantra and apologise for taking such a shortcut.
On the other hand, for a beginner of mantra japa moving to an intermediate level and looking to increase their count beyond 108x to a new plateau, chanting 333x daily is an easy stepping stone to 1000x later on.
There are often complaints which come in from time to time to the Masters.
They include: ‘I have seen very little benefit from this mantra,’ or ‘I have been chanting for a long time and yet I still have these problems,’ etc.
There are two cardinal rules when it comes to mantras:
- Benefits are proportional to effort.
- Karma is the greatest influence on your success.
Benefits vs. effort
The idea has been put forward a number of times on this blog.
If you are not feeling that you are advancing, then redouble your efforts – literally! Start afresh from an auspicious day and double the amount of times you are chanting.
If time is really a constraint, then redouble your concentration over the allocated time for meditation. A greater level of intensity of your prayer will deliver benefits more quickly than japa for the sake of it.
That’s not to say japa without the emotion behind it will not help – the mantra itself will help you either by directing someone to teach you how to chant it or to explain where you are going wrong in your efforts. Either way, stick with it for a proper period before considering another route!
Once the benefits start to flow, you should steadily increase your japa to see a steep improvement in your life.
The Law of Karma
Karma is called a Law of the Universe for a reason: it is immutable. One must understand that the effects of past actions will inevitably catch up with you in one form or another.
However, God has given us a powerful method to cope with this: free will. Current and future actions also accrue positive Karma, which can be used to offset the negative and create beneficial future events for ourselves.
The offset of bad karma is key. One can steadily erode (but not completing diminish) the negative effects of karma through mantras. The most general prayers (often also the simplest) offering prostrations to the highest deities in the Hindu pantheon will have the greatest effect.
If you find you are making little progress in your sadhanas, then undertake some karma dissolving sadhana immediately before starting a new anusthan or puruscharan.
If all else fails, there is no harm or shame in considering other options. Some souls are not due to take the path of mantra japa and it is more appropriate for them to follow other paths of Yoga.
It is extremely difficult for anyone to be able to judge who should move on and when. That is for you with the help of your Guru to make such a decision. However, I would expect an aspirant to try any one method for a number of years before taking such a step.
Focusing between the eyes is difficult
A common practice in mantra japa is to focus one’s inner vision on the space between the eyes on the forehead.
If accompanied by a physical focus, this may result in eyestrain for many aspirants.
There is an alternative
An alternative method of focusing one’s mind is to control your breathing. This process is known as the concept of pranayama.
There are 5 pranas in the body (vital forces). It is not necessary to go into too much detail on their function but in essence they are the energy flows throughout the body which regulate bodily functions. When controlled, they allow one to tap into your inner power and open the gates of the mind during meditation.
In fact, it is this heightened level of concentration which leads to powerful siddhis manifesting in the aspirant.
Many methods, one goal
A simple method of controlling one’s breathing is simply to watch and regulate it consciously.
1. Relax and take deep breaths to calm the mind initially.
2. Start Japa and establish a rhythm.
3. Then attempt to say one or two mantras mentally while inhaling and 1-2x more mantras exhaling. Your exhale is longer than the inhale and so you will naturally end up reciting more mantras.
4. Repeat until the mind stills and then delve deeper into more focused meditation.
This is just one way. You can vary this as you wish according to your own needs but the point is the same – control your breath to control the mind.
I would strongly suggest you learn more advanced techniques through a qualified yoga instructor or with the supervision of a practising Guru.
The subconscious mind is a powerful tool. In combination with mantras, it can lead to quick siddhi.
The subconscious mind is fast
Subconscious thought processes actually run much faster than the conscious mind. It is not necessarily slowed by what is rational or by checks and balances as per the conscious mind. It is truly your consciousness untethered by reality.
Use it to chant
Implanting the seed of mantra into the subconscious mind is a powerful technology. Why? Because it allows you to continue to chant a mantra, uninterrupted, focused and with all concentration through the night as you sleep.
The benefit is that this adds up to another 7-9 hrs of extra chanting per day! You will also feel awake, alive and refreshed the next morning because you sleep deep in concentration and your brain straight away reaches what’s known as the delta wave level of sleep.
The method works particularly well after a long day of intense concentration at work and ideal for weekdays.
Your mind will require some rest during dinner, then sit to meditate with a moderate level of concentration on your chosen mantra. With practice, your mind will continue to chant it through your sleep.
You’ll know if succeeded if you wake up still chanting the mantra.
A mala is a powerful tool for accessing the Divine.
It is a storage unit for spiritual power and must be treated with an appropriate degree of reverence. It is a deeply personal artifact which must be kept away from others’ touch and investigation.
It much more than a decorative piece of jewellery! If you are wearing it, ensure that it is in direct contact with the skin and not worn over clothing.
Whilst I make no judgement on anyone’s lifestyle choices, it must not be worn to unspiritual places (clubs, bars, etc), lest the power within it dissipate. In fact, I would personally not even wear it into a restroom.
Those who worship certain ishta devatas may have certain preferences but in reality, a mala is a mala is a mala! There are actually no real restrictions on who uses which type.
- Tulsi mala. The Tulsi is the favoured plant of Vishnu and worshipped in its own right. Vaishnavites may prefer to use such a mala.
- Rudraskha mala. The Rudraksha comes in many forms with a different number of ‘faces’ (natural divisions). It is the favoured mala of Shaivites.
- Spatika mala. Spatika is crystal. Crystal has long been known to store subtle vibrations produced when mantras are chanted. It is this type of mala that should be worn to the temple, at yagnyas and during japa to build and preserve spiritual power. It can also be placed directly on to a deity’s idol or picture to build such power. One can do japa for another on such a mala then gift it as an extra karmic booster!
Dreams are powerful instruments to the knowledgeable sadhak. Once one has drilled mantra japa into the subconscious mind, dreams become visions.
In very general terms, there are three main types of spiritual dream:
- Blessings. The most common dreams are those where you see your ishta devata or any other divine beings, saints or your Guru blessing you. It may not be spoken and you may not have a chance to interact with them, but know this: the message is that you are on the right path. If your Guru appears, it is possible that they are saying: “I am ready to guide you; are you ready to be led?”. You may also see dreams where you sing bhajans, participate in yagnyas or sit in discourses; these are to encourage you to continue on these paths.
- The future. The second most frequent in my personal experience are visions of the future. This is especially the case if one has a particular yearning for siddhis; one fervently worships Ganesha; or one is desperate to attain something in their lives. One of the most confusing things is to try and discern whether you are experiencing a fantasy of what you wish to happen or whether this is indeed going to become a reality. It is genuinely hard to know, but inevitably, the events will likely come to pass if they are real within a few weeks, perhaps months.Interestingly, the dream may well end at the point at which you are offered a choice. This may become a key fork in the road of your life. It ends there because the future is yet unwritten and beyond that point, it is your choice as to how you proceed. In general, knowing the future is not particularly helpful, but knowing that a major choice is coming up will allow you to mentally prepare. Listen to the council of the wise and make a decision.
- Guidance. One of the most rare type of spiritual dream is when you are instructed. The dream is not passive, it is clearly active. A dialogue will be established with a spiritual guide that appears; you may or may not recognise them. They will instruct to you take a certain path, recommend a certain mantra or go on a certain pilgrimmage. Your specific disposition and preference will likely decide this. Take heed of these words and ask questions as to how this will help and the specifics. They will be as helpful as they can be.
A word of caution
When spiritual entities arrive in your dreams, they can be questioned. Take a proactive stance and do not be afraid to say what is on your mind; however, you generally receive what you ask for! This is both a blessing and a curse. As short sighted as we are, it is difficult to see the repercussions of what we ask for. You may regret your choice in due course!
Try to be humble, general and orient your questions around the most helpful guidance for your spiritual advancement and the peace of the realm.
Truly, the best prayer you can make is to give thanks; the best boon you could ask for is to become a channel of God’s peace.
These are some thoughts on mantra chanting and errors; they are very much intended as food for thought.
Real mantras are not human concoctions; they are heard (Sruti) meaning they are of divine origin. Rishis (ancient seers) were merely the instrument through which the Divine communicated. This means they interact on a spiritual level with the body mind and soul – not just the physical.
One interpretation of the method by which mantras interact with the subtle body is akin to medicines in the field of biochemistry. They have been constructed with a precise detail with a specific effect to unlock energy currents within the body and vibrate chakras.
An enthused amateur is not qualified to self-prescribe complex medicines, nor wise to concoct his or her own pharmaceutical medicines in their kitchen! Therefore, it is advisable to adhere to the original, precise pronunciation, hopefully learned from a scholar or Guru.
For most mantras, there are no adverse effects for incorrectly chanting mantras per se, but mistakes are more than likely to limit the impact.
Our spiritual history shows us that there are always exceptions to ‘the rules’. Viswamitra (Kaushika) became a Brahmarishi despite his warrior heritage, Valmiki prayed with the words ‘Mara Mara’ instead of ‘Rama Rama’; Mara means death! And yet both represent incredibly inspiring stories of the human capacity to overcome all obstacles to succeed against all the odds.
Secondly, one would argue that the very existence of mantras to ask for forgiveness at the end of every puja , stotra and parayana (for example – Kayena vaacha – see the Satvika on this page) implies that the benevolent Gods are ever willing to put aside practice when considering an aspirant’s sincerity and devotion in prayer.
My personal view is that in the West, we unfortunately live in a ‘try’ culture. We half-heartedly attempt things only to fail. Too many excuses are made by children, adults, students, workers as to why their achievements have been hindered by external forces, such as discrimination, a lack of time, other responsibilities etc. Ultimately, the absolute responsibility you have is to your own conscience.
The basis of sincerity and good judgement is to adhere to the original method with full enthusiasm and devotion, and then humbly ask forgiveness for any mistakes we have unknowingly committed.
Understand that effort (sometimes spanning several births and lifetimes) is always proportional to the benefit. That is the very infrastructure on which the universe is founded.
…lies in yourself
Of course the ‘answer’ is entirely idiosyncratic. Hinduism (more accurately, Sanatana Dharma) is flexible enough to allow its aspirants to have a spirited debate and agree to differ.
Above all else, let us remember that all paths lead to the same goal.
The internet is a wonderful technology, freeing information to flow unhindered over borders and across languages to allow anyone with an intense appetite for spirituality to gain their fill.
There are many sources of mantra on the internet. Unfortunately not all are reputable. The three most significant problems are as follows:
This is probably the biggest issue with internet media. Transliterations into English from Sanskrit are often corrupted by the writer attempting to recall the mantra or stotra from memory. If they have learned it wrong, it is inevitable that they reproduce it incorrectly.
Secondly, writing something from Sanskrit – a language with an alphabet with twice as many letters as English is often a difficult to impossible task. Certain sounds in Sanskrit simply DO NOT EXIST in English.
These problems make it critical that the aspirant to gain an audio recording of any mantra they are attempting to learn.
Confusing personal interpretations with a translation
The greatest difficulty I have seen for the beginner is in obtaining an accurate translation of a mantra or stotra. Even searching for the word by word meaning often turns up conflicting and completely different versions! One of the biggest victims are the Gayatri and Maha Mrityunjaya mantras. What is incredible is that words are often introduced into translations that do not actually occur in the original text!!
To make the distinction clear, the posts on this blog attempt to provide the purest semi-literal Sanskrit translations with minimal interpretation. Why? Because self contemplation of any mantra is critical to its understanding. Aspirants are provided with the words and through meditation should actively contemplate its proper meaning.
Secondly, a huge amount of the beauty and meaning of a mantra is lost in translation. The Vedas and Puranas have often been written in poetic script with a huge scope for metaphorical, literal and esoteric meaning to be inferred from each and every line. It would be incredibly arrogant and disrespectful of anyone to dare to limit even a single verse, which is pregnant with meaning, to their own limited understanding.
Sing the mantra to cultivate bhakti
Sanskrit mantras are loaded with incredible power. Why? Because each and every single syllable, intonation and pause in a mantra is the product of thousands of years of meditation to channel the very voice of God.
To achieve the purpose of the mantra, one always should endeavour to stick to the correct pronunciation. Whilst many popular mantras have been set to beautiful and inspiring melodies in recent times (and even introduced into cine songs!) it is doubtlessly a material deviation. A mantra is not a simple prayer and should be treated as such.
There are many reasons as to why singing mantras is not as powerful as chanting them, but here are two: (1) hearing a song over and over is unlikely to be as conducive to meditation as chanting is; (2) it will not have the same effect on the subtle body as its original conception. The reason is that anything conceived of by the ordinary human mind is limited by its very nature. Why constrain divine words in a human construct??
One of the key pre-requisites of preparation to chant a mantra in which you want Siddhi is the Gayatri Maha Mantra.
The foundation of all
The Gayatri is an incredibly flexible and unbelievably powerful mantra.
One can build a tremendous amount of spiritual power through diligently reciting the Gayatri, then ‘spend’ this power through other mantras to focus on improving that particular part of your life. This will allow you to gain faster siddhi of any mantra and more spectacular results from your sadhana.
Typically, one should either recite the Gayatri at least 1008x daily in addition to any mantra, or finish an anusthan beforehand.
Read my prior post on supercharging your prayers with the Gayatri by clicking here.
It is inevitable that the early stage sadhak (spiritual aspirant) feels the effects of mental and physical tiredness during mantra Japa (chanting).
The most auspicious time to chant any Vedic mantra is during the Brahmamuhurtha (the time of Brahma) – 2 hrs before sunrise. In India, this is between 3-4am. In the Western World, and more northern territories in general, the change of climate means that sunrise timings are variable between Summer and Winter and daylight hours change significantly, so some adjustment must be taken into account.
Western Culture is not oriented around early rising; in fact it is almost the opposite – most social activity for adults occurs in the evening. In this regard, it is incredibly difficult for those accustomed to such regimes to change.
The mind is a powerful device but the beginner will find it difficult to access its full potential. Sadhus (holymen) have long shown us that it is possible to go into deep trances of meditation for hours to days on end and go without sleep! But this is a stretch for a beginner and the initial problem is more that enthusiasm will begin to wane and thoughts wander, resulting in mental tiredness. Note that this is effectively the same for any mantra japa – whether bija or longer verse.
Here are some tips to stave off tiredness
- Eat lightly! A heavily meal will often send the sadhak to sleep while digestion kicks in!
- Stretch your muscles before sitting. This gets the blood flowing and avoids unnecessary fidgeting or physical discomfort.
- Get a good nights sleep. Needless to say, one must balance japa with the requirements of the day. Proper rest is essential to maintain both.
- Vary the speed of Japa. This helps to cut through the monotony. Slow down when you feel your concentration deepening. If you feel enthusiastic and more motivated toward your goal, then by all means speed up! The goal is to increase the intensity of japa to your own limits of concentration and focus; if you are inclined for a fast rousing speed then use it – eventually the mind will find a stillness on its own and you will automatically enter silent mental japa.
- Stand up! Do not feel that you must maintain one specific posture (asana) through out. If you’re tired and find yourself actually falling asleep, stand up! Move your body, rengage your enthusiasm with some japa out loud then resume as your previous asana once vigour returns.