Japa is repetition of mantra. Mantra (man + tra) means liberating the mind. There are hidden powers in the human mind. These powers are located in Chakras that are present in seed form in every human mind. Mantra when energised by a competent spiritual Guru can activate these Chakras through some kind of resonance effect and hence liberate these hidden powers. Of course given the state of one’s mind mantra may need to be repeated millions of times to get the full effect. A small part of any mantra is called bija or seed. The bija mantra varies with the Devata being asked to help liberate the mind. It is not necessary to know the meaning of the mantra to use the resonance effect. Of course it would be nice to know the meaning.
Swami Swahananda in his book writes:
Among the Vedic sacred formulas, the Gayatri has been prescribed for repetition from ancient times. The Vedic people had great faith in the efficacy of mantras. The Mimamsakas considered mantras to be the embodiments of deities. In fact, they accepted no deities other than the mantras at all. To them Brahman is nothing but sound (shabda), and sound produces form. Thus, the name embodied in the mantra is more real than the form of the deity. …. Forms are made up of nothing but fine vibrations, and vibrations are produced by sound only, so these ancient conceptions are tenable.
From another point of view, a mantra gains spiritual potency through many years of being associated with holy men who have repeated it and attained realization through it.
The concept of the mantra is based on the psychological fact that much of our thinking depends on auditory symbols. Repetition of the mantra creates a chain of thought which induces the mind with the thought of God, and this is the aim of all spiritual practices.
Every Vedic mantra has a rishi who first intuited it, a particular metre in which it is composed, and a deity to whom it is addressed. In Tantric mantras the most important element is the vija, a sacred syllable considered to be charged with spiritual potency, as also Shakti or power and a kilaka, a pillar (inner syllables on which the mantra rests.) All the letters of the Sanskrit alphabets are considered as different matrikas, minor deities around the main deity.
The mantra is charged with a special potency, so much so that the Tantrikas believe that when offerings are made to the deity with the appropriate mantras, the deity accepts them immediately.
The Chandogya Upanishad I.1.10 says about the efficacy of the repetition of Om: Both perform spiritual practices – he who knows and he who does not know. But knowledge and ignorance are different in their effects. Whatever is performed with knowledge, faith and meditation, becomes spiritually effective.
Meditation and other spiritual disciplines by Swami Swahananda
Some people believe that mantras are not effective unlike meditation. Of course meditation is the most powerful spiritual method known to man. However, mantras can also lead a practitioner to moksha as testified by sages and saints.
Japa means repeating the Name of the Lord silently, sitting in a quiet place. If one continues the repetition with concentration and devotion, one is sure to be blessed with Divine visions ultimately – one is sure to have God-realization. Suppose a big log of wood is immersed in the Ganges with one end attached to a chain, which is fixed on the bank.. Following the chain, link by link, you can gradually dive into the water and trace your way to it. In the same manner, if you become absorbed in the repetition of His holy Name, you will eventually realize Him.
Sri Ramakirshna quoted in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
As wind removes the cloud, so the Name of God destroys the cloud of unworldliness.
The Holy Mother Sarada quoted in Meditation and other disciplines by Swami Swahananda
Swami Brahmananda, the first head of Ramakrishna Mission, says that combining meditation with mantra japa is the most effective way to make spiritual progress.
More posts by this author:
- Why is Sanskrit considered a Divine language?
- Conceptual difference between the Vedantic and the Semetic God and the reason for the difference
- Gita on sameness of god
- Speculations regarding Jyotish
- Does God care about us?—A Hindu view
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.