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.
Be sure to review last week's post. Is there now a dedicated saadhana space in your home? Have you practiced aasana? The breathing and settling? Of course, it is not impossible to proceed exactly as you wish to and ignore all the evidence and guidance of the teacher, and there will still be some benefit in terms of karmic 'points' and sense of well-being. However, it is the simple case that as much as you put in, only so much you can get out. The closer you get to the discipline advised, the more likely you are to gain fullest benefit, and that too sooner rather than later.
Let us pick up the instruction. It was left at the sitting in preparation and doing the settling and regulating the breathing. Clear all mental clutter and distraction...
This having been done to your satisfaction, it is time to begin chanting your chosen Iishta-mantra as indicated last week also. Do this slowly and steadily and fill it with intent and all the Love you can muster. In this way you are invoking the bhakti element of the practice. As the rhythm builds, pick up the mala. Remember that Meru is the head bead and represents God/Brahman/Om, so it is not used as such in the japa. It serves as a marker as the mala is turned - but also can be thought of as the whole from which we move away in our incarnation and then return to through right action and experience. Thus we select the first immediate bead next to Meru. Note that the right hand alone is to be used for japa. Whilst in current times we have strong hygienic practices and the notion of a 'toilet' hand is not so much necessary now, it is still a matter of respect to observe the tradition.
Settle the mala first bead on the first joint of the middle finger, keeping the forefinger ('ego') pointed away. It is held in place with the thumb and Meru lies just below the thumb as we begin. The thumb will roll the bead as the mantra is repeated and then pull the bead down and thumb moves immediately to next bead where again the mantra is recited. This is continued until Meru appears, showing that 108 chants have occurred. If doing more than one mala, do not cross Meru, but instead, bring the thumb and middle finger together to form a loop, shake the mala onto the thumb, bring middle in under the mala and slip it back onto that finger, the thumb reaching for the first bead after Meru once more. The mala has thus been reversed and at no time do we cross the Meru. There are those who prefer to use the ring finger, keeping the thumb closed to it in loop and using the middle as the rotator. Same method is used for switching past Meru. Practice a little of both for a while and find which is most natural for yourself.
The forefinger (or 'index') is considered the 'ego' representative because it is the most used in language; it tends to come out when we want our point of view to be taken seriously, it gets shaken if we are irate, it gets pointed if we are being critical or accusative. In short, it emphasises our self-identity as well as enforcing the fact that we perceive 'other'. The aim of japa is to find unity and not exaggerate duality. Therefore be sure to keep forefinger away from mala. Remember also that the mala ought not to touch the floor. Ideally you will have adopted the 'heart centre' method, keeping the elbow bent hand level with the upper chest - if your aasana is fully balanced, this will not be difficult at all.
It is to be expected that if you have never used any form of mala or rosary before, this will feel strange and even clumsy at first. Keep at it!
Incorporate the mala into daily practice now. The keyword here is 'practice' in the fullest sense. This is just the beginning - or a renewal after long absence perhaps. Any exercise requires that we build up our stamina within it. Do only one mala each session this week in order to get the body and mind used to the idea. If you find things are going very well, then by all means practice the mala switch and do a second. Do not overdo things though. Japa must never become rote, or so repetitive that it becomes a chore as a result. Japa built well becomes a 'sweet', a little reward to ourselves for getting other things in order.