This article is a chapter from the book “Yoga”.
It is the concentrated mind that is able to pierce ‘matter’ and perceive the spirit. Its dissipated rays are powerless. We do have periods of one-pointed mind, but they are determined by external forces. For instance, when we are witnessing an exciting movie film, the mind seems to be one-pointed; but then it is not in our control and it is extrovert. On the other hand, when we wish deliberately to control it, it is more restless than the wind.
The mind moving with the speed and power of the wind itself is the conqueror of the whole world. Everything in this world has been achieved by the mind. Every great action and achievement in this world has had the mind (thought) behind it. Mind has conquered matter; mind governs matter. Who is to conquer the conqueror? The yogis have a simple answer: japa (repetition of a mantra or name of god). Unfortunately in this world of complexities, the very simplicity of the answer makes people disbelieve in it. In all our spiritual practices, japa plays a vital role. This was our master’s forte. It is a solution to all our problems. It does not merely solve the problems, it dissolves the creator of problems, viz., the mind! All our problems are created by the impure mind. Repetition of a mantra is the best purifier of the mind and tranquillizer, too. The effect is best illustrated in the following story
A yogi spent some time in the house of a devotee, and the young son of the poor family served him devotedly. While departing from the place, the yogi volunteered to fulfill any of the boy’s wishes, as he had control over an invisible spirit. The boy, however, wanted the spirit to be loaned to him for some time, as he had many ‘wants’. Reluctantly, the yogi gave the young man command over the spirit with the warning that if he found any difficulty in dealing with it, he should think of the yogi. The latter then went his way and the young man called up the spirit. The spirit agreed to do anything for him, provided he would keep it busy always–failing which it would eat him up. The young man had all his desires fulfilled in a few hours–had a palace built and furnished, a car made, etc. and he was at a loss to know how to keep the spirit busy any more, as otherwise his life was in danger. In keeping the spirit busy, he could not even enjoy the wonderful things it had provided for him. Here is an exact parallel for the situation in which the modern millionaire finds himself (he has all the good things in the world, but has neither the time nor the tranquillity to enjoy them, as the ghost of ambition keeps him working all the time). The young man thought of the yogi, who appeared and gave him some secret advice. As soon as the spirit appeared after the last mission, the young man asked it to erect a big pillar in front of the house, and to climb up and down till he asked it to stop. That was the yogi’s solution; and that defeated the restless spirit.
We have such a restless spirit in us, and it is the impure desire-filled mind. If we do not keep it busy with some good activity continuously, it will create impure desires and thoughts and destroy us. The best way to keep it constantly busy, without obstructing our daily work, is japa of god’s name or a mantra. This will not only keep evil thoughts, emotions and desires away, but it will enable us to enjoy righteous pleasures as only a peaceful mind can.
What is a mantra? This word has several meanings. It has been defined as ‘anything that protects when the whole mind is saturated with it’. It may even mean ‘a wholesome advice’ (like the one the yogi gave the boy in the story). Popularly, it is a formula, a phrase or a word which has mystical if not magical properties: usually the name or a word-symbol of a deity is woven into it. Many of the mantras have an interesting and significant feature–as in the mantra om namah sivaya (salutation to Siva), there is no ‘I’.
Here are a few popular mantras: om, om tat sat, soham, om namah sivaya, om namo narayanaya, om namo bhagavate vasudevaya, om sri ram jaya ram jaya jaya ram, hari om, kyrie eleison christe eleison, om jesus, jesus est avec moi, ya Allah, allah-u akbar, adonai elehaino adonai ekhad, om mani padme hum, la ilahi ill-allah-u. Select any you like, according to your taste, temperament and tradition.
As soon as you wake up in the morning start repeating the mantra, even in bed. Then, after having a quick wash, sit down and repeat the mantra for half an hour. During the day, every hour or so, close your eyes for just a few minutes and repeat the mantra.
The greatest secret in mantra-repetition is to associate the mantra with the breath. If yours is a short mantra repeat it once while you breathe in and once while you breathe out; if it is a long one, repeat half while you breathe in and half while you breathe out, but without ‘breaking’ into two. If you do this deliberately for a little while a conditioned reflex will be formed and the mind will enjoy the habit of mantra-repetition. You will soon create a habit this way and ultimately the mind will go on repeating the mantra along with your daily activities, as a sort of undercurrent. Even during sleep the mind will involuntarily go on repeating the mantra. This purifies and steadies the mind and enables you to enjoy great peace and happiness. Before going to bed repeat the mantra for about half an hour. You will have sound sleep and the ‘current’ will be kept up during the sleep too!
There are at least three ways in which japa is done. (1) The mantra is repeated audibly. (2) It is uttered silently but with a slight lip-movement. (3) It is repeated mentally. The masters declare that mental repetition is the most powerful, obviously because it leads to deep concentration of the mind.
All these mantras can also be sung aloud. Then it is known as kirtan or sankirtan, especially when several devotees sing in chorus. (Kirtan also includes singing the praise of the lord, singing the psalms and hymns, and not necessarily mantras only). Many holy men are great votaries of this mode of devotion. Some of them sing and dance themselves into rapturous ecstasy.
My master Swami Sivananda lays the greatest emphasis on the repetition of the lord’s names. This is also a great blessing to all who experience the stress and strain in the modern world. The strain is built up as we carry it over from one activity to another, from one piece of work to another. My master did not do that. As soon as one task came to an end he withdrew himself into this background of japa and rested in it for a few seconds before turning to another task. Thus the carry-over is cut off, we do not suffer the least strain, and we do not have a nervous breakdown. When the limbs are worked out after a period of activity they naturally ask for sleep and rest; and since the mind has been trained to withdraw into the background of mantra, the moment the last task of the day is done it immediately slips into the background, and we enjoy sound sleep.