Monday is AUM-day; in search of meditation.
By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God. Begin all your prayers in the presence of God.
(St Frances de Sales)
Prayer acts as a focus upon the Higher. Prayer, as such, implies a deity. At the very least, an energetic influence to which we can turn for solace and guidance. It is powerful and cathartic. However, not everyone can accept the concept of a pontifical being to whom one must make supplication. In this case, an alternative is जप/japa. This involves the repetition of a mantra.
Prayer lends it self to the externalisation of spiritual need. Its power lies strongest where it is utilised in groups, congregations, and its effects are often profound. The sense of unity it brings and the love it engenders are treasures indeed.
Japa expands the internal focus. For this reason it is also a useful tool in meditational practice as a solitary being. It can help still the mind and give a defined set of thoughts in order to keep all else at bay; it can help activate the mind after quiet time, to bring balance before going out into the world once more.
Prayer is made for oneself or on others' behalf, with expectation of some response, however subtle. Japa is performed without need or expectation.
Anyone who has ventured at all down the paths of meditation or physical yoga will have heard about मन्त्राः/mantraaH, the Sanskrit chantings of many and varied lengths and each attributed certain powers, like alchemical formulae. At advanced levels, there are certainly some bases for these apparent myths and rumours. To pursue mantras as if they will act like spells and potions to life's ills, though, is error indeed.
The power lies within the focus achieved by the chanter. Single-pointedness alone is the magic!
Sanskrit language itself has a quality like no other. Every अक्षर/akshara (letter) has a tone, a balance and an effect. This is why there are mantras which no one but the most advanced and skilled sadhus undertake. The sum of the akshara-s will often be powerful beyond all expectation - think of the plain chants of the ancient Christian monks and how the combination of tones can draw you in, raise you up and leave you elated and calmed. Then multiply by ten…
All beginners and all non-initiates of the tradition have one mantra which can be used without hesitation or fear, though.
Yes it is the beloved A-U-M.
Revisit the articles on A-U-M given earlier. Be sure that all is understood. Ask your questions if not! Look for, or make, a माला/maalaa - a string with either 27, 54 or 108 beads on it. This is not essential, but can aid the process well. It is quite possible that you will be able to obtain one online; if you do this, look for one made of 'tulsi' beads. Be not caught up in 'shopping' and whether rudraksha woud be 'better'... all novitiates begin with tulsi or a simple string, which has been tied with knots in it, with a quarter inch between each knot. There is one at the 'head' (सुमेरु/sumeru) making 109 in total - this one is not touched during japa. More will be explained next week.