From Return to the Source, Collected Writings on Spiritual Life
by Swami Bhajananada Saraswati
The goal of yoga and meditation is the purification of our consciousness leading to absorption in God. We have much in our hearts and minds that obscures rather than reveals sacred reality. Our natural loving sentiments towards God are distorted, preventing us from experiencing the all-blissful Self. Thought determines the quality of our lives. We sow a thought and reap an action. We sow an action and reap a habit. We sow a habit and reap a character. We sow a character and reap a destiny. Thought precedes and leads to action. Action repeated becomes established as habit. The sum total of our habits is our character.
Our character determines the end result of our lives.
Thought is all-important. We have created our present life and experiences by our past thoughts and actions, and we are creating our future life and experiences by our present thoughts and actions. Knowing this, we can transform our life and consciousness by deliberately filling our mind with the highest, most positive thought. This thought is God. For sadhana to be effective we must plant God in seed form. A seed contains the entire tree in potential form. All that we know of the tree and all that remains unknown about the tree is present in its seed. If we plant a seed in good soil and care for it carefully, then the tree will grow in all its glory. God’s name is the infinite God in seed-form. This God-seed is called mantra. By the sowing of this God-seed we spiritualize our thoughts. Spiritual thoughts give rise to spiritual actions. Spiritual actions develop a spiritual character. A spiritual character leads to ultimate absorption in God. Repeating God’s name is the easiest and surest method to effect this divine transformation. This process is known as japa yoga. Japa yoga is the conscious attempt to divinize our consciousness by repeatedly planting divine thoughts deeper and deeper into our minds.
The sages declare that God’s name is different than other names. God being absolute, His/Her name is also absolute. God’s name is God. All divine powers are contained in the holy name. The Lord and His name are the same! This is a revolutionary thought! It seems too simple. We want our spiritual life to be more dramatic and complicated than simple repetition of a holy mantra. Be careful not to throw away this great treasure because of its seeming simplicity.
Mantras have traditionally been handed down through the ages from guru to disciple and it is best to receive them through disciplic succession (guru-parampara). The guru parampara is the river of grace in our lives. Through the process of initiation, the guru mystically plants the mantra deep into the consciousness of the disciple. By sincerely repeating the mantra and following the guru’s instructions concerning the lifestyle and related practices that support its transforming influence, steady and sure progress can be made, and the obstacles that arise during practice can be overcome or avoided. The guru acts as a divine matchmaker, connecting the aspirant and the Lord through the medium of mantra.
Sri Ramakrishna taught that absolute existence, knowledge and bliss (sat-chit-ananda) is the only guru. God is the guru. God as teacher is called guru. This does not mean that our human teacher is God, rather our teacher is an instrument for God, as the guru-principle (guru-tattva), to flow to us. The human guru is our channel of grace. The person you accept initiation from should know the scriptures, be well established upon the spiritual path, be able to answer your spiritual questions, have no selfish agenda for teaching you, and be sincerely following and properly initiated in a traditional lineage. If you find such a person and feel drawn to him or her you can request initiation. Upon initiation, he or she becomes your initiating guru (diksha-guru). Gurutattva can also act through other pure souls to give us guidance, teachings and blessings. These teachers are known as instructing guru (shiksha-guru) and auxiliary guru (upa-guru). Our gurus should always be treated with respect and appreciation. The bond
between guru and disciple is sacred and must never be taken for granted.
If you have not yet found your guru, do not be discouraged. You should start by repeating the name of God that appeals to you most. All that is needed is sincerity and devotion—a yearning for God-experience.
The form of God you love most and are most attracted to is known as the ishta-devata. God is infinite and has infinite names and forms. Sometimes the guru reveals the ishta devata, but you will usually know within your heart which divine form is your own. Ultimately God chooses you. Whomever the ishta devata, always remember that there is only one God and try to see this God in all divine manifestations. Each ishta devata has corresponding mantras that sonically embody the deity. The guru chooses which mantra is best suited for the disciple’s practice. It is not advisable to whimsically change your chosen deity or mantra. There are many paths to God, but one must walk primarily on only one of them.
Preliminary Instruction in Japa Sadhana
What follows is the traditional method of planting God’s name deep into consciousness known as japa yoga or mantra yoga. Yogic adepts and devotees throughout the ages have experimented with different methods of meditation on the Lord’s names, and we should try to benefit from their experience. If you start by developing good habits in meditation, your progress will be steady and permanent.
If possible your morning sadhana should begin before sunrise. This is the holy brahma-muhurta, when spiritual practice is most effective. The environment is quiet and pure at this time. Whether or not you wake up for brahma muhurta, start the day with God by sitting for meditation first thing in the morning. Your evening meditation should be at sunset or as close to sunset as possible. If for some reason you cannot sit at this auspicious time, be sure to sit sometime before going to bed. At the junctures of the day (sunrise, noon, sunset and midnight) our life energies (prana) flow evenly, allowing deeper concentration of mind. By meditating during the early morning and evening, we also benefit from the holy vibrations of the sages, earth, elements, planets and divine beings released at this time. Always take a bath before your morning meditation, and if possible, before your evening sitting as well.
After bathing, dress in clean clothes used only for spiritual practice. This cloth will become infused with the vibration of your sadhana, and through mental and physical association your mind will become meditative simply by wearing such cloth. Special clothes for meditation are helpful but not absolutely necessary. It is best if you can have a separate room or corner of a room where you can daily practice meditation and worship. Mantras have much power and the place where they are chanted becomes charged with spiritual vibrations. By sitting in the same place everyday for your practice, you can benefit from this holy atmosphere. Your meditation room or corner should be arranged like a temple by establishing a shrine where God is invited to stay and be worshiped. We must make God the center of our life. Your altar should minimally have a picture, painting or image of your ishta devata and a picture of your guru. You can also have any other pictures or images of deities and saints that inspire you or with whom you have a spiritual connection. Before starting your meditation, bow to your guru and ishta devata, and light an oil lamp or candle and some incense. This purifies the atmosphere and helps focus the mind on God.
Sit in a meditation pose on your personal meditation seat (asana). This asana should be made of natural fibers such as cotton, silk, fine wool or kusha grass, and only be used for spiritual practice. Your asana will prevent the dispersion of the energies invoked during sadhana and will become highly magnetized with spiritual vibrations. No one else should use your asana.
We should gradually attain the ability to sit in one posture for a long time (asana-jaya). The lotus posture (padmasana) is the ideal position for meditation because the back, head and neck are naturally in a straight line, allowing the free flow of blood, prana and kundalini shakti. This posture also keeps you awake and makes the body feel firm. The natural locks (bandas) that are part of this posture also keep your energies from flowing outward, allowing for deeper inward concentration. Although you should sit upright, all your muscles should be relaxed and free from strain. If the lotus posture is not possible, you can sit in any comfortable upright position. Try to sit in one posture for as long as you can during meditation. If your legs get numb or your back starts hurting, then shift your position for a while and go back to your original posture as soon as you can. A small pillow under the hips can help.
Recite some elevating prayers invoking the blessings of Ganesha, your gurus and ishta devata. This uplifts and concentrates the mind. Always remember that devotion, meditative aspiration and spiritual realization come to us through grace alone.
Take three to ten deep, even and silent breaths mentally chanting “Om”. Pranayama balances the energies of the body and calms the mind. Pranayama also destroys sins, purifies the astral body’s 72,000 subtle nerves, awakens kundalini shakti and improves mental and physical health. Other forms of pranayama, such as alternate nostril breathing, should be learned only from a qualified teacher.
Sit quietly, relaxing your body and mind. If you spend a few moments quietly watching the mind, it will soon turn to you for direction. Visualize your guru seated in lotus-posture upon a twelve-petaled lotus resting upon the top of your head. Feel your mantra at the root of the tongue. Visualize your ishta devata shining within the lotus of your heart. Now visualize your guru merging into the mantra, and the mantra into the ishta devata in the heart. The inner light (antar-jyoti) is the Soul of your soul. The mantra, ishta devata, guru, and antar jyoti are different aspects of the same reality upon which you meditate.
Now begin to mentally repeat your mantra, keeping count on your rosary (japa-mala) or on your fingers. Repeat at least one round of 108 mantras in this way. This should be your minimum for your morning and evening meditations. Increase the number of malas you chant as you progress in your practice. You can also chant without counting by fixing a certain time period of practice.
The mala should be made of holy beads such as tulsi, rudraksha or spatik. Tulsi beads are carved from the wood of Indian sacred basil and are only used for chanting the names of Vishnu and His incarnations. Rudraksha beads are the seeds from a holy tree sacred to Lord Shiva and are used when chanting mantras to Shiva or forms of the Goddess. Spatik beads are made from Himalayan quartz crystal and are used for goddess (shakti) mantras alone. A japa mala helps stabilize the mind, keeps the mantra rotating in consciousness and keeps you focused. To use a japa mala, start by holding the first bead next to the meru with the thumb and middle finger of your right hand. The meru is the main bead, often larger with tassel. Repeat the mantra and move on to the next bead, and so on. Never cross over or chant on the meru bead. When you finish the mala and wish to continue, then turn the mala around and start again making the last bead your first one. The japa mala becomes spiritually magnetized and should be treated with reverence. Your japa mala should not be worn while passing stool or urine and should not touch your feet or the floor. Others should not touch it unnecessarily.
Purity of letters (akshara-shuddhi) is very important. When repeating mantra, mentally pronounce each syllable correctly and distinctly. Your attention should be on the sacred sounds of the mantra and their meaning. Loving adoration of the ishta devata is the goal. Over time, the mantra will move from the surface levels of the mind into deeper and deeper levels of consciousness. Feel that the sound of the mantra is divinity itself and is healing, transforming and illuminating your mind and heart. Strive to be conscious of your ishta devata shining within the heart and feel the loving presence of God showering you with blessings as you repeat the beautiful and sanctifying divine name. Whenever the mind wanders from the mantra, instead of trying to fight the distractions, simply bring your mind back to the sound and meaning of the mantra. Closing the eyes during meditation helps internalize the mind by shutting out external distractions and decreasing brain wave activity. You may, from time to time, open
your eyes and gaze upon your ishta devata and guru. This is especially helpful when concentration wavers.
Varieties of Japa
Mental japa is considered the most effective form of mantra meditation, but the mind likes variety. The mantra can also be chanted out loud or in a whisper. This is helpful when the mind is very restless or overcome with sleep, but do this only when there is no one near enough to hear you. Never reveal your mantra to anyone. It is between you, your guru and God.
Keep Mood Intact
Before getting up from your meditation, you can recite some prayers and spend some time singing the Lord’s names or simply praying in the language of the heart. As you bow and leave your meditation seat, it is important to keep the mantra going and the spiritual vibrations intact. The mantra should not be limited to formal meditation sessions. The simple rule of spiritual life is “always repeat your mantra”. This is all important. The mantra must become second nature. Start repeating your mantra upon awaking in the morning and continue to chant while falling asleep at night. As soon as you realize that you have stopped chanting, simply start again. The mantra will soon become the underlying reality of your life. Then God will become the underlying reality of your life.
Never forget that the real purpose of this human life is the realization of God. This can be gloriously attained through the constant invocation of God’s holy names, chanting the mantra with every breath, living in the name. Please start now. God’s name is infallible. May the compassionate Lord bless you with lifelong devotion to His holy names.