Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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Mala Usage

Hari OM

Application - that is what 'Workings-days' are about!

We are now undertaking basic technical discourse on Vedanta. The text forming the basis of these posts is 'Kindle Life'. Please do reread previous posts using the labels 'Workings-days' or 'Kindle Life'.

Ch. 27 JAPA YOGA, continued.

This post is actually outside of the KL text - but necessarily so, as the text assumes an audience already familiar with the mala and the practical saadhana known as japa. This if to fill that gap.

If the two bowl system mentioned last week is your choice, then the movement of one bead/coin from the full bowl into the empty bowl, causing that bowl to become full, is a straight forward action. The symbolism of emptying yourself in order to allow the flow of Pure Consciousness to enter you is fairly obvious. With each movement of a bead, don't do it on 'autopilot'. Each bead has a chant uttered over it as it moves; feel it as it is transported and release it with care and acknowledgement into the other bowl. At no time touch it with the index finger (more on this follows).

The preferred method for the dedicated saadhaka though, is use of the stranded beads known as a mala. The full saadhana length is 108 + meru. However, it is possible to use the wrist form which is made of 27 + m, so four circuits = 108 chants. Occasionally, the half mala can found also, 54 + m.

Some key points apply regardless of which mala (or if bowls) are used.
The items are being used for a sacred act, so must themselves be treated as sacred.
Do not allow them to fall on floor.
Keep them by the altar when not in use, preferably wrapped in a clean cloth or pouch.
Give pranaams (prostrations) to them before and after use. If you are unaccustomed to bowing before an altar, than at least touch your brow to the focus point and the bowls/mala. This is to acknowledge your desire to open your ajna through their contact. If you are not prepared in yourself, their purpose will be lost.
At all times use your right hand only. Many talk of this as being due to the toileting habits of places and times… not necessarily wrong, but extremely limited in explanation! The right hand is operated by the left brain and, as we are clear about in these modern times, this is our 'logical' mind at work. It is very important to not be overcome with emotion or to risk fantasy in spiritual practice. Even if one is a left-hand dominant individual, training the right hand for this purpose is very balancing.
In this same context, the index finger is to be kept away from the beads/coins during japa. Those who are familiar with chirology will be familiar with the concept of the index finger being related to the ego. In daily use we know it to be so - even if mostly unaware of it; for the index finger is what is used to point to 'the other', to accuse or reprimand or emphasise; all of which is about duality and the opposite to the purpose of yoga.
The mala is not to be worn as if a piece of jewellery. By all means have a wrist mala to wear so japa can be practiced outside of the home. The full mala, however, ought to remain in your sacred space. If at all it be worn (and fully dedicated saadhakas may wish this), it ought to be with the meru at the nape of the neck and the rest of the mala kept under the clothing, not exposed to the world.

All this is about 'mindfulness'. Taking conscious and deliberate action. Having a routine of when and how to approach your daily saadhana is as important as the saadhana itself. This is the true purpose of 'ritual' - to keep the mind centered on the sacred.

Mala. How to hold and use? When lifting the mala from its pouch or place on the altar, raise it so that it can drop its full length without touching the floor. Generally this means that your forearm is extended at right angles from the elbow and perhaps a little higher - essentially, the operation hand is likely to be level with the heart chakra. Indeed, if comfortable, you may perform japa with the hand only a little away from your heart centre. Mostly, though, the hand will hover above the knee, where any excess length in the mala can also fall.

Locate meru. This is to be considered the head of God. After one rotation of the mala, on reaching meru, the mala will be swung round and rotated in the opposite direction - at no time is meru crossed over.

Hold the first bead with meru 'behind'. The mala can rest on either of the middle or ring fingers. Rotation of the mala is performed with the thumb if using the first method, or with the middle finger if using the second method. The ring finger method is a little more tricky to adapt to, but has the distinct advantage that if the index finger relaxes (which means the mind has too!) it will rest on the middle finger and not touch the mala. Majority people use the thumb method to draw the beads over though, as it does give a better control of the beads. Experiment and find which suits you over the length of the mala.

With each bead, sound your mantra. For those who do not have a given mantra, AUM is universal. Hold each bead for the full duration of the sound, only traversing to next bead during the turiya (silence and inhalation).

Be in no hurry. Express the mantra, albeit the single-word AUM, with all the Love (capital 'ell'!) that you have within you. When you reach meru, you have completed a full 108 reptitions. If you wish to continue japa, then, as stated, do not cross meru, but rather bring the lower fingers round behind the string and spin it round, then proceed as before. Obviously, if using wrist mala, then this turning must take place three times for each 108 to complete.

If you are taking up this practice for the very first time, it is possible to feel self-conscious, clumsy, even a little scared. Take heart! This is one of the most powerful and meaningful acts you will ever undertake. It is clarifying, focusing, relieving, pacifying… The first 108 chanting can seem endless, because the mind is sitting in the mechanics of the practice. Do not worry, this is perfectly normal.  Practice brings familiarity. The mala becomes your friend and travelling companion in the chanting.

Practice a single mala of AUM chanting each day. Note the effects. 

Image result for mala pouches

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