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


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In and Out

Hari OM
'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.

We now explore the Sri Adi Shankara text, "SadaachaaraH". To obtain your own copy, click here.

The most natural thing for a living being is to breathe. It is essential, in fact. We are inclined to think that it happens by default - but actually, it is a function of the parasympathetic system of the body and, therefore, we have control over it. This means we can work with our breath to improve our physical condition and even our mental state to a degree. Is there, then, a spiritual practice which enhances our philosophical well-being in a similar manner? One which can become second nature to us and nourish all corners of our being?

svRÇ àai[na< dehe jpae _avit svRda,
h<s sae=himit }aTva svRbNxEivRmuCyte.10.
Sarvatra praaninaam dehe japo bhavati sarvadaa,
Hamsa so'hamiti jnaatvaa sarvabandhairvimuchyate ||10||
The japa "I am That, That I am" happens at all times in all (bodies of) beings. Having known thus, one becomes liberated from all bondages.

It has been mentioned before, but here now under the guidance of the ultimate Guru, Shankaraachaarya, we are told that japa is a supreme technique for carrying us through life and to the final Truth. This is the 'breath' of all Vedantins! There are many mantras or names of the Higher which can be used - but equally, stating an identification with the Truth we seek is powerful, and that is what is advised here. Japa, remember, is the repetition of a single mantra - recall the purpose of a mala.

With the right instruments and sufficient resources (yantra), the proper procedure and skill (tantra) and the mental application and knowledge (mantra), anything can be achieved. In fact, mantra has the power to produce the yantra and activate both it and tantra.

We saw last week the repetition of the Gayatri mantra is a particular part of sandhyaa. However, what is being said here is that japa can stand independently of prayer practice. It can, indeed, be practiced continually - any who undertake regular practice will find that, eventually, japa never leaves and in any moments where the mind is not being employed in daily tasks, it falls naturally back to the japa of the day - just as breathing is natural. The mala can get us started in the day, the mind will typically take it up ongoing, if we put sufficient focus on the early days of practice. (It must never become 'rote' though - at all times in japa, be focused upon it.) Counting your japa by the auspicious groupings of 11, 27, 54 or 108 and multiples thereof, is how to begin, but constant practice does not necessarily require counting unless there is a specific purpose (such as a prayer for health or for charity and so forth). HOW we chant can take three forms.

VAACHIKA; verbal japa. Chanting aloud, with proper intonation and clear pronunciation. This is the most commonly applied as it is also the easiest to monitor and we are less likely to lose focus. In early days of practice, this is recommended.

UPAANSHU; chanting doesn't have to be audible to any others if you are at work, just ensure your lips are moving, and you are breathing out the words. This is upaanshu - silent japa. It requires somewhat more concentration.

MAANASIKA; this is when the mantra is repeated only at the mental level - if using this, the expectation is that each word and letter is meditated upon as it is recited. It is the most challenging form of mantra and would not be carried out at work, necessarily, but could certainly be applied when travelling to and from, or in breaks. This is the technique most applicable before entering full meditation also.

Japa is a tool for all, a spiritual practice that anybody can do under any circumstances. If one has not been given or taught correct chcchandas (metre) for a mantra, then stick to the names of the Lord. NOTE - regardless of your religious identification, you CAN exercise japa. Indeed, the Catholic rosary is likely to have been inspired by the japa of the sub-continent. Simply call upon the saint or Christ or Abraham or Allah in a constant repetition of the name. This is japa, and it will yield physical, mental, emotional and spiritual results. This verse just read, though, offers us something just a bit more deep and meaningful again than the three versions of japa mentioned.

By providing the very mantra that he has, Shankara-ji is actually bringing us to a breath focus. In the Sanskrit, this mantra works beautifully with the breathing cycle. 

In breath = hamsa so; out breath = aham iti. Easy!

In doing this, we are reinforcing the connectedness of All and japa becomes as natural as breathing, ever present, ever life-giving and under our control. Program the mind to this and japa will indeed be always with you - even in times when the mind is dull, or we fall asleep. Regular practice, with faith and devotion, will make a mark upon our entire being.

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Hari OM
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