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.
Kindle Life is a text of Chinmaya Mission which is given to those who have no background at all in Vedanta. It is there to address the questions and concerns of "if not 'God', then what?", "what is the point of religion?", "as a non-believer, can this philosophy address the state of humanity?"… It is worth mentioning yet again that Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda, was an atheist until he came up against Vedanta. It is a philosophy and spiritual discipline for the thinking person. It positively demands thinking!
That does not mean that there is not a place in daily saadhana for applying 'manual techniques', as it were. In order to engender the level of thinking required for the higher reaches of the philosophy, it is necessary to declutter the mind, declutter the heart and declutter life. The Rsis developed a formula for this and it has been tested over and over and over and over; for centuries, true seekers have proven the theory for themselves. This is what makes Vedantins 'spiritual scientists'. Whilst द्यानम्/dhyaanam (meditation) is the key prescription, this itself requires significant focus and discipline. For the seeker, even at advanced levels, this always remains a challenge. Athletes may run the big races and sometimes win them - but leading up to those big events, there has first to be endless and repetitive training. There is a method for training the mind known as जप/japa. Gurudev says,
"Japa is a training by which the ever-dancing rays of the mind are compelled to behave in some order and rhythm, bringing out their cooperative effort a single 'melody' of repeated mantra-chanting. In thus practising, the mind becomes extremely single-pointed. In fact, japa properly done can more effectively bring about a sustained focus than all the hasty methods of meditation. A mind seasoned with japa is like tinned food, which is ready for consumption after a few seconds warming on the stove. A short period of meditation can take a japa-conditioned mind to unimaginable heights in an impossibly short time."
In order to speak, there must first be a thought-form behind the words rising up. There cannot be thought without appending form and name to it. Try! Can you repeat the word "ball" without immediately knowing its form? The concept of नाम रूप/naama ruupa, name and form, is absolutely integral to the japa process. The human mind simply cannot have one without the other.
Japa is repetition of Lord's name or a sacred mantra. We form the most comprehensive relationships with those in whose company we are most present, is it not? Through thick and thin, good times and the bad, through sickness and health. Our relationship with The Higher can be formed in equal terms - through constant chanting of name - because then we also apply a form; this is why we require the symbols of spirituality, be it the murti of Sri Rama or the cross of Christ, the Om of the Vedantins and Buddhists or the Hu of the Sufi. The symbols can become very subtle, but will remain until such time as one attains union. The reason we attach to things and people is because we constantly think of them, or simply by their continued presence. Be sure to attach to the Higher! This dedication at first to 'form' through 'name' is bhakti.
Attaining union with the Supreme Reality can only take place through the avenue of dhyaanam and its various stages. However, getting into full meditation can be facilitated by the bhakti-focus of japa. To think that one can enter the full flight of meditation without having put in the training, without a full understanding of the nature of the focus, can be as foolhardy as suddenly deciding to sail around the world without having ever been in a boat before. It can seem fine as long as land is in sight. After that things can get very 'hairy' indeed.
Well this is where the basics of prayer room/corner and aasana come in. If you have not already done so, please read HERE… (or indeed, re-read all the AUM-day posts!) The link between japa and meditation is very close, so at the beginning stages the setting can be the same.
Setting aside a specific area of your home which you take to be sacred is itself a form of bhakti. Don't be mechanical in it. Give thought to arranging it so that you can truly want and enjoy being there. According to your background, you may decorate it with the symbol of your devotional focus. Some folk keep a simple image of OM, either as a picture on the wall, or a brass figurine; others have murti of their इष्ट देवता/ishta devataa (personal God); it can be an image of Yeshu or it can be a mandala, a picture of a diminishing point… the key thing is to have something upon which to focus. If you take full padma aasana, on the floor, then the 'altar' ought to be down at appropriate level. The focus point must be directly before the eyes… if using a murti, then the feet of the Lord are the focus point. This is to ensure that the aasana does not droop, as well as making that image imprint onto the आज्ञा/aajnaa, the brow chakra aka the third eye.
It has been said that this is a manual process. This suggests 'machinery' or at least some tools. The altar space is part of this. Another is the use of a माला/maalaa, the Hindu 'rosary'. Generally these are given by the guru to the shishya on commencement of study at gurukula. For those like yourselves reading this, if you do not already possess one, then the option is to make your own. Stringing 108 beads, each separated by a small knot in the string, then bring the two ends of the string together through a slightly larger 'head bead', (known as मेरु/meruu). Beads ought to be all of same size, and ideally not more than 1cm diameter.
Another thing which can be done is to have a small tray in front of you and place two bowls; one empty, the other containing 108 beads or coins. This, however, can remove the focus - so in this case the 'symbol' needs to also be on the tray, or the tray sitting just below the main point of focus on the 'altar'. In the short term as you adjust to the concept of japa, this can be okay, but you are strongly encouraged to take up mala.
Next week we shall look at the actual use of a mala. In the meantime, please give some thought to making one for yourself. This itself can be made a sacred and meditative act, as well as a sublime act of creation!