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.
The instruction on the practice of japa is complete, for now. Indeed, any further words which might be given could only ever be variations on the theme and designed to encourage the setting of discipline. As with anything, it is only in the doing that you can gain experience; it is only with trying out the things NOT to do that you will come to understand why the things given as DO dos make sense. Any student of literature cannot automatically make a published and popular author, they must spend long hours in learning the craft of writing, which cannot be given out by the words of another. The student of any of the sciences must recreate the experiments of their subject in order to understand what the originators of the science understood. No amount of reading the words in texts can replace that direct experience.
Be it pure meditation, or the use of japa as a platform towards it, only you yourself can take you through the stages of improvement and gain.
There is no getting away from the fact, however, that as human beings, we require constant intellectual stimulus in order to fund the desire for those gains and improvements. This is why we have teachers and Professors; aachaaryas and Gurus. Indeed, it’s the very fact of our being human beings that we even have abstract curiosity and seek a spiritual dimension to our existence.
Along the way we need tools and supports. Japa is one such. Japa, though, is nothing without something to chant. Twirling the beads is not japa - it's merely bead fidgeting! The beads (or coins or flowers etc.) are simply an instrument of keeping count. The japa itself is the words which are used for devotional focus. Repetition of sacred words is called 'maantra' (as this word is well-known even in the West, it will be written from now in standard 'mantra', but be fully aware the first 'a' is extended as in 'Man').
The Rsis were the 'seers' of the mantras, men of wisdom who perceived the deeper significance of sound and tone, as well as meaning, within words and how they are put together. Without wishing to appear too dramatic, it may be considered that mantras are a form of 'spell'. Certainly there is a ritualistic aspect. Just as spells, to the uninitiated and disinterested can lie dormant and are a mere collection of words, to those who have taken up their purpose and know how to focus appropriately and treat the words with respect will find, over repeated use, that some benefits begin to show. Unlike spells, this is not about material gain or to work on the external world. No. This is a full 'magic of the interior'! Mantras are for those who know how to fund faith and who have a strong sense of focus. Each mantra will have an associated deity to which we can turn that focus. Deity does not necessarily mean a human-like form; it can be the form of flame, or OM. These hold deity for spiritual practice.
Whichever mantra we make use of, it is likely to have a dhyaana shloka - meditation verse - preceding it which describes that deity.
There are those in orthodox Hindu practice who will say that japa does not sit alone and that one must extend other practices from it as laid out in the upaasanaa (approach to Higher) sections of the Vedas. Things like homa (fire ceremony), tarpana (offering libations of milk and ghee), bhiksha (offering food to sadhus and numbers of others) are considered essential as part of japa yoga. Certainly these things allow for humility and charity to be funded, but they are not actually useful in the practice of japa itself. For that what is required is a pure sincerity and faith, a clean heart and mind and, indeed, a freedom from ritualistic adjuncts. It is seen that such rituals can become their own hurdles as people fall into competition and jealousies over who has done most homa, given most or best food and such like. This happens within the Christian church also. Do we not all know those who are so identified with 'doing good' or 'getting it right' that they lose sight of the spiritual need? By all means make offerings and provide charity, but do so without attachment or expectation. Know also that such acts cannot of themselves assist in prayer or japa. Those depend solely on your own intention and level of surrender.
Continue with your daily japa practice as it has been developing. Keep checking your intention and focus. As this is a busy time of year for festivals, by all means observe them, but see them in context of the greater spiritual purpose and do your best to not fall into the material and physical aspects to the extent that your saadhana is compromised. Seek to keep the spiritual front and centre.