Monday is AUM-day; in search of meditation.
For the next stage of our investigation on meditation, we are going to study - and practice! - japa as a means to tame the mind and we shall investigate the Gayatri Mantra.
By now, if you are reading this, it is hoped you are already starting practice. It may be worth mentioning that another way to count is to have 108 beads loose in a bowl and another bowl to the side. A bead may be picked up and rolled as the mantra is recited then dropped into the other bowl. They would ideally be placed on the altar at waist to chest height. This method, though, is better for use in pujas and can be a tad distracting when working towards meditation. It is a place to start though.
Now then… mantras. A mantra can be considered as a verbal symbol. It may consist of a single word (AUM) or several words/syllables. You will have gathered by now that Sanskrit is, apart from much else, a very tonal language, therefore it sits well in rhythms and pitches. In many ways it is closer to things like plain chant in the Western tradition that it is to straight prayers, which are generally only spoken and do not have any requirement of voice pitch or beat. In the Western focus, there is a tendency to perceive God as 'other' to which we must make supplication for boons, whilst in the East it is that the 'me' who is chanting or praying has become separated and is seeking to unify with the Divine once more. When praying or chanting in the West, the words are all from individuals and, although reference may be made to scripture, rarely contain actual scripture within them. In the Sanskrit tradition, all chants/prayers which are classified as 'mantra' arise directly from shaastra. Nothing of the individual using them is permitted to taint the word-symbols.
In the Western tradition the focus tends to be an attempt to bring God to ourselves; in the Eastern, it is that we seek to rise to God.
This is why the mantras are often personalised for the shishya by the Guru. There are many mantras which do not require 'permission' to use, though; given mantras are for advanced and fully-focused saadhakas. The key thing is, there is a method of reaching to the Higher for everyone, for every temperament and for every walk of life. For those who struggle with focus, the use of murti, cross or crescent form is useful, until such time as practice permits the seeker to at last meditate upon the formless.
All mantras are available to be seen within the shaastras, but it is when we change the usage (as we do in japa for example), the emphasis and pertinence of the words takes on a different 'chemistry', as it were. Much is made, in some circles, about 'Guru initiation' - this is fine in its place, but do not be put off japa or meditation practice simply because you are not yet in the presence of a true mahatma! Begin now! Delay not! Be the flower attempting to reach out to the sun in order for your petals to open… when truly available, the 'pollinator' will arrive to ensure your progress. There are plenty of mantras which can be taken up by the novice. This has been written about before (click here for post). ...indeed japa and mantras, including Gaayatri have been discussed prior; with each text and review of the procedures and techniques, however, we can either correct our current practice, or find that we learn something new. Never fall into the trap of thinking 'oh I know all this…'! Repetition and review is the essential part of learning.
Till now, also, many of you who are starting this strange new spiritual technique will have been focusing on the act itself, less than the connection it can afford with the Higher. This is perfectly normal. Important to remember, though, as you progress with practice, that the aasana, the beads, the Iishta devata even the japa itself are but 'levers'. They are tools to aid the process of tuning the mind to the Divine. Let not the actions become the only thing happening in japa meditation. Be warned, it is all too easy to fall into habit and 'lip service'. Chanting can become automatic whilst monkey mind is off playing elsewhere!!!
Japa must be an all-out, full and intense exercise in focus on one thing and one thing only. Brahman/Yeshu/Om. Pour your whole being into the exercise. Permit no distraction within. The ironing and washing up must not become the excuse for failure in focus.
Take aasana, settle praana, lift the mala and call upon the Divine. If you have not already done so, select a mantra with which you are comfortable (see that link above) and get started! Remember, rather do little and often, than make big attempts only when you think you have time. One mala done daily will have more benefit long-term. Set yourself that goal this week - rise fifteen minutes earlier, bathe, sit and roll one mala with fully dedicated focus on the chosen mantra. Don't forget to log your own progress and observations in the little note book.
Furthermore, do not forget to review all previous writings on the subject; use the labels host on sidebar for 'mantra', 'japa' and so on; some posts will be available in more than one label, but some will be dedicated. Build your memory and the wider picture. Review, review, review - do, do, do!