Japa (Sankrit for chanting) is one of the techniques advocated in our scriptures to primarily help one develop the ability to focus the mind. One can pick any mantra for Japa, and the reasons behind the preferences could be any – preference for a
particular manifestation of God over the others – thus those who conceive Isvara (Supreme Being) as Vishnu / Narayana, the favored mantra is ‘OM namo Narayana’; for the Siva tradition, ‘OM namah Sivaya’; and for the Krishna traditions, ‘OM namo bhagavate Vasudevaya’ or the ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ ; or one pick up a mantra that they simply like the sound of or how it rhymes. Those who are into classical music can also use the ragas, talams; or one can take a simple mantra like ‘OM’.
With the help of the Japa and reflecting on its meaning or just focusing on the musical tones, one slowly starts to focus the mind – one pointed. In other words, through Japa we to get to the mind. The beauty is that once the mind gets to that state of one-pointed focus, then that in-turn enables the Japa to be now performed to perfection. So, the Japa needs focus, sincerity, commitment to start with, and then once the focus is attained, that focus, now helps to perform the same task (Japa) with Bhakti, devotion and perfection. This is the power of Japa when performed with the right attitude.
It helps to develop the one-pointedness of the mind, when the mind is stable, the intellect (buddhi) is strong, and it is able to function effectively. A healthy intellect then helps one to connect to the Spirit (atman) within. And finally, our scriptures say, when one is able to connect to the Spirit (atman), both the mind and the intellect, that enabled to get to the Spirit, now fade away. This is the highest state of bliss and true joy that one is capable of attaining and should try attaining.
While it is good to know what a Japa is, it is equally important to know as to ‘What is not Japa? Japa is not reciting something just for name sake, Japa is not chanting something in anticipation of a return, japa is not doing something fancy, japa does not need any gadgets and devices, beads, dress code, or any fancy settings. Japa need not be loud; the goal is not to hit a fixed number every day or month or year; the goal is not keeping tracking of how many times in a day…the goal is to pursue with sincerity.
For one who is committed to it, one can feel it always playing in the heart, in the mind. Enjoy the Japa. Teach your children. Start early.