Japa and Mantra-Dhyana

malaQ & A with Sri Narasingha Dev-Gosai

Q: There have been some recent discussions about techniques for meditation and controlling the mind while chanting japa. It is often said that we are doing mantra meditation, so I was wondering if our acaryas or the sastra have recommended any particular techniques that we can use while doing mantra meditation?

A: The mantra meditation that you speak of is called mantra-dhyana, which culminates in the stage of samadhi (trance). This is a developmental process and one has to pass through many stages before reaching perfection. But why we are faced with the difficulty of being unable to control the mind while chanting japa should first be understood.

The very nature of the mind is flickering and restless like the wind. For this reason it is sometimes seen that a person will adopt the yoga practices of pranayama and asana as a means to control the mind. In Sanatana Goswami’s Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the processes of pranayama and asana for a bhakta is mentioned in the fifth chapter, as performed with pranava (omkara) or kama-bija. There it is said that while sitting in either padma-asana or svastika-asana one should chant the mantra sixteen times while inhaling, chant the mantra sixty-four times while holding the breath and chant the mantra thirty-two times while exhaling.

Sanatana Goswami also recommends that the practitioner meditates upon Vishnu [Krishna] and states that one should remember Rudra as the out-going breath, Brahma as the in-going breath and Visnu as the breath that is retained within.

After explaining thus, Sanatana Goswami relates the glories of pranayama by citing a verse from Padma Purana wherein Devahuti and Vikundala glorify the process of pranayama.

Sanatana Goswami suggests that one perform pranayama before taking bath (within the confines of one’s house), before performing arcana (deity worship) and before chanting gayatri (japa).

As for the process of yoga, in and of itself, one should remember that many great yogis in ancient times, who were expert in yoga meditation again became mentally disturbed and fell down from their position. In Bhagavad-gita also, Arjuna is seen to reject Krishna’s instruction to follow the yoga process.

O Madhusudana, this system of yoga which You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady.1

In Prema-pradipa, Bhaktivinoda Thakura says the yoga system with no connection to Krishna prema is effectively a waste of time and energy.

The domination over material nature attained in the practice of yoga is only a temporary result. In that position the ultimate result may be far off in time and again impediments are observed. In the path of yoga there are hindrances at every step.

First, at the time of practicing yama and niyama, religiosity is awakened, and as a result of attaining this insignificant result one becomes known as religious-minded, even though no attempt has been made to achieve prema.

Second, during the long period of practicing asana and pranayama, one achieves a long life free of disease by controlling the breathing. But if there is still no connection with prema, then one’s long life free of disease becomes a source of trouble.

Third, although by the process of pratyahara one achieves control of the senses, if prema is lacking this is called dry or insignificant renunciation. The reason is that for attaining the ultimate goal, enjoyment and renunciation give equal results. Useless renunciation simply makes one stone-hearted.

Fourth, during dhyana, dharana, and samadhi, even if material thoughts are removed, if prema is not awakened the living entity loses his individuality. If the understanding, “I am Brahman,” does not awaken pure love, then that results in destruction of his existence.

Therefore, please consider: the ultimate goal of yoga is excellent, but the path is full of difficulties. You are a Vaishnava as well as a yogi, therefore you can understand my words without bias.”2

If we want to control the mind we should first understand why it is that the mind continues to wander here and there. The principle reasons are two, anarthas and aparadha (impure qualities and offenses to the holy name, respectively). This being the root cause of mental instability, the mind will again return to its wanderings when the artificial means of control (yoga) are withdrawn.

The chanting of the holy name itself is the principle means of bringing the mind under control while chanting japa. Only the process of self-purification, by the chanting of the holy name, will remove anarthas from the heart and release us from offenses.

gite namaparadhesu pramadena kathancana
sadasankirtayan nama tad-ekasarano bhavet

If one may sometimes, because of foolishness or immaturity, commit offenses to the holy name, then the remedy for such offenses is to continue one’s regular chanting of the holy name, and take shelter of him with all earnestness.

namaparadha-yuktanam namany eva haranty agham
avisranti-prayuktani tany evartha-karani ca

If one becomes determined, and continues his chanting of the holy name, and does not give up the process of chanting, the holy name will remove all his sins, and grant to him, the most valuable spiritual benefit. ((Padma Purana))

With this in mind one will have to do whatever it is that is necessary to rigorously begin the concentrated and prolonged chanting of the holy name. Bhaktvinoda Thakura recommends that if the mind is distracted then one should cover ones head with a blanket.

Another effective method for ridding oneself of apathy towards the holy name is to sit in a closed room alone and meditate on the name as did the previous sages. Or one can cover the head and face with a cloth and concentrate on the sound of the holy name. This will immediately fix the mind firmly on the holy name; slowly, one develops attraction for the name, and the offense of apathetic inattention will vanish. (Harinama-cintamani Ch.12)

Other recommendations for effectively chanting of the holy name are given by Bhaktivinoda in Harinama-cintamani as follows:

One must make it his daily routine to chant for an hour in the company of saintly Vaishnavas in a sacred, undisturbed place. Taking note of the Vaishnavas’ devotional attitude and their relish for the holy name, the neophyte should try to emulate this mood and gradually rid himself of his apathy to chanting. Step by step, his mind and attention should become fixed in the holy name. By constant chanting, the sweetness of the holy name makes him anxious to taste more of that nectar.”

Advanced Vaishnavas advise that chanting is best performed in the presence of Tulasi-devi and in a place of Krishna’s pastimes. The chanter should always seek the association of saintly devotees and emulate their discipline. He must follow in the footsteps of previous iin the joyful method of worshiping Krishna through his holy name. He may begin with an hour of such chanting, then two, then increase it to four until finally he will chant not less then three lakhas (192 rounds of japa) of holy names a day. This helps him to soon sever his links with materialism.”

One must diligently complete the chanting of the daily prescribed number of holy names according to one’s vow. But another kind of distraction occurs when one is too eager to complete the fixed number of holy names even at the sacrifice of quality. One must therefore always insure that he chants his rounds sincerely. Also, one should better improve the quality of his chanting rather than try to increase his daily number of rounds for show. The name of God should always be pronounced distinctly. Only by the grace of the Lord can this be achieved. Thus one should pray to that he never falls victim to the wiles of the illusion of distraction, and that he can continue to taste the full nectar of the holy name.”

The order of discipline (sadhanakrama) for realizing the identity of the holy name with the Lord is as follows: The devotee must in the beginning discard the ten offenses and simply absorb himself in the holy name by chanting constantly. He should distinctly pronounce the holy name and meditate upon the transcendental sound vibration. When his chanting is steady, clear, and blissful, he will be able to meditate upon the Syamasundara form of the Lord. With chanting beads in hand, he should thus seek out the transcendental form of the holy name, which will appear when his vision is pure.”

Another method he may employ to see this form is to sit in front of the deities, drink the beautiful sight of the Lord with his eyes and meditate upon the holy name. After reaching the stage where the holy name and the form of the Lord become one, he must then absorb the transcendental qualities of Krishna into his meditation. Thus the holy name and the qualities of Krishna merge to become one through constant chanting.”

Next, he goes on to practice the remembrance of particular pastimes of Krishna. This remembrance, called mantra-dhyana mayi upasana, facilitates further absorption into the holy name. This lila-smarana, or pastime-meditation, also gradually becomes one with the holy name, form, and qualities.”

At this point, the first rays of nama-rasa, or the transcendental mellow of the holy name, dawn on the horizon of perception. Chanting the name in great delight, the devotee sees Krishna surrounded by cowherd boys and girls under a desire tree at the Yogapitha. Progressively, the devotee’s practice of lila-smarana intensifies to the point where he begins to meditate on the most confidential pastimes of the Lord known as the asta-kaliya-lila, or the eightfold pastimes of Radha and Krishna. When he reaches maturity in this meditation, rasa rises in full glory.3

The sound of Krishna’s name is non-different from Krishna therefore meditation on the holy name means to concentrate on the sound of Krishna’s name, his guna (qualities), his rupa (form), and his lila (pastimes).

The neophyte [kanistha] devotee may try to employ yoga techniques and other such practices while chanting the holy name, but for the madhyama-adhikari devotees no such techniques are required. Avoiding the ten offenses to the holy name the madhyama-adhikari devotee becomes absorbed in the holy name thru proper association (sadhu-sanga), service (seva), hari-katha (philosophical discourse) and accepting responsibility (sannyasa) under the guidance of sri guru, the spiritual master.

Association and service quickly absorb the mind of a devotee and all wandering tendencies are easily checked. The path of the madhyama-adhikari is long and strenuous. During this period of spiritual development it is imperative that the devotee pay close attention to the devotional philosophy and the opinions of sastra and sadhus.

Madhyama-adhikari means proper adjustment and proper conception—accepting and rejecting those things favorable and unfavorable for devotional service. To this end a proper understanding of Vaishnava philosophy is crucial. Mental speculation and dry philosophical arguments have no value in progressive Krishna consciousness, but Vaishnava siddhanta, axiomatic truths received through divine revelation, are essential for understanding.

The uttama-adhikari devotee is always absorbed in the holy name of Krishna due to his spontaneous attraction for the all-attractive name of Krishna itself. Krishna’s name is complete with guna, rupa, and lila, therefore the uttama-adhikari, or the pure devotee of Krishna, finds complete fulfillment of Krishna Consciousness in the holy name itself.

Personal (as opposed to impersonal) meditations sometimes begin with meditations on the universal form (virata-rupa), then meditations on the supersoul (Paramatma) and then meditations on the Personality of Godhead (Bhagavan), his guna, rupa, and lila—as explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Throughout the Vedic literature, Krishna’s guna, rupa, and lila in Vrindavana are proclaimed as qualitatively and quantitatively greater than those of his other incarnations such as Narayana, etc. Therefore the devotees of Krishna choose places such as Mayapura, Jagannatha Puri, and Vrindavana as their preferred place of bhajana (practicing devotional life) and absorb themselves in Krishna’s nama, guna, rupa, and lila in such places.

In the event that one cannot live in such holy places one should then reside in a place made holy by the presence of the Deity and advanced Vaishnavas—but living alone in an unholy place is never recommended by those who know the science of Krishna Consciousness.

Although japa is certainly an important aspect of the practicing life of a devotee, the equal and even superior process of kirtana and sankirtana should not be overlooked or underestimated. Kirtana and other such forms of congregational chanting (such as preaching, writing, and book distribution), when led by a pure devotee, are fully absorbing and purifying. Kirtana is highly recommended by our acaryas and in kirtana the mind is easily controlled.

kirtana prabhave, smarana haibe se kale bhajana-nirjana sambhava

Internal remembrance (smarana) can occur by the power of kirtana, and only then is solitary (nirjana) service possible. ((Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, “Vaishnava Ke”)

In fact in any stage of Krishna Consciousness—whether you are a kanistha, a madhyama or an uttama-adhikari, the process of kirtana and sankirtana is recommended and highly fulfilling.
_________________________________

This article was originally published as Krishna Talk #63 and can be seen online at Gosai.com.

  1. Bg 6:33 []
  2. Prema-pradipa, Second Ray []
  3. Harinama-cintamani chapters 12 and 15 []


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19 Responses to Japa and Mantra-Dhyana

  1. In Sanatana Goswami’s Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the processes of pranayama and asana for a bhakta is mentioned in the fifth chapter, as performed with pranava (omkara) or kama-bija. There it is said that while sitting in either padma-asana or svastika-asana one should chant the mantra sixteen times while inhaling, chant the mantra sixty-four times while holding the breath and chant the mantra thirty-two times while exhaling.

    This is a very interesting discovery that seems to have been missed by most of the Hare Krishna devotees including many Swamis and Gurus.
    Before I found KC I was studying yoga and pranayama as taught by Theos Bernard who was one of the greatest yogis ever that came from the USA to India.
    I used his instruction to formulate my own system of pranayama-japa that I used at certain times in my devotional service life. I found it to be very potent and effective.
    However, considering the numbers mentioned above I am somewhat confused.
    Obviously, if one is inhaling he cannot chant the mantra out loud but only in the mind. You can’t inhale and chant vocally at the same time. So, on inhaling one must chant in the mind only. Such is true for the holding of the breath. My personal standard was that I would not count those mantras on my beads in my daily quota, but only counted on beads the vocal mantras chanted on the exhale.
    Also, the lungs should never be “locked” on the retention. An inhaling pressure should be used on the retention.

    The numbers above don’t seems to jive with my personal experience.
    On the inhale, it is more likely that one will be able to chant 4 or 6 mantras. One the holding retention one will be more likely to do 8 or 10 mantras. On the exhale it will be the same as the inhale.
    The numbers I find in the quote don’t seem realistic for a novice.
    The numbers given above would be for a very advanced yogi.

    In pranayama there should never be any sound of wind made by the nose on the inhale or exhale. It must be done very slowly.

    Yogis use pranayama to control the mind and focus on spiritual mantras.

    • “In Sanatana Goswami’s Hari-bhakti-vilasa, the processes of pranayama and asana for a bhakta is mentioned in the fifth chapter, as performed with pranava (omkara) or kama-bija. There it is said that while sitting in either padma-asana or svastika-asana one should chant the mantra sixteen times while inhaling, chant the mantra sixty-four times while holding the breath and chant the mantra thirty-two times while exhaling.”

      Thus a different mantra is used here, not the Maha-mantra, and so the time intervals are realistic.

      Otherwise good comments and observations, KB.

      • That is a good point, but I was responding to this statement in the beginning of the article.

        Q: There have been some recent discussions about techniques for meditation and controlling the mind while chanting japa. It is often said that we are doing mantra meditation, so I was wondering if our acaryas or the sastra have recommended any particular techniques that we can use while doing mantra meditation?

        So, at the onset, the response appears to deal with the matter of mantra-japa as well as mantra-dhyana.

        The figures above as apparently concern the chanting of Om or the Kama-bija mantra.
        That formula certainly would be complicated if tried with the Saraswata Gaudiya diksha mantras.

        I have always found japa to be the most powerful process, so I think that applying the pranayama principle to chanting the Maha-mantra is quite reasonable.

        Undoubtedly, the pranayama process has to be customized to whatever particular mantra one is worshiping.

  2. Avoiding the ten offenses to the holy name the madhyama-adhikari devotee becomes absorbed in the holy name thru proper association (sadhu-sanga), service (seva), hari-katha (philosophical discourse) and accepting responsibility (sannyasa) under the guidance of sri guru, the spiritual master.

    I’m wondering if sannyasa is meant here in the broader sense that every practitioner must internally renounce sensual enjoyment and that the madhyama adhikari is internally renounced by dint of absorption in Sri Nama. What is not clear to me is how sannyasa translates as “accepting responsibility.”

    • Hopefully the author may respond, but I can see sannyasa translated as “accepting responsibility under the guidance of sri guru” in the sense of the transference from selfish desire/work to execution of the will of sri guru. This renunciation (for any practitioner in any status of life) combined with sadhu-sanga, seva and hari katha absorb the madhyama devotee in sri nama.

      • I can see it that way as well but it seems a bit redundant to me because I consider “accepting responsibility under the guidance of sri guru” to be the definition seva.

  3. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi

    PRACTICE OF YOGA AND DEVELOPMENT OF SPIRITUAL QUOTIENT

    Religion and Yoga reflect identical meaning. Religion (re-ligare) means union again with Ultimate Reality or binding back to Absolute. Yoga is the derivative of Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means yoking of power of body, mind and soul. Yoga primarily consists of concentration, meditation and realization apart from practicing asans, mudras and breath control which help to achieve concentration and physical and emotional well-being. Yoga is experimental technique of spiritualism. Religion is blend of ritual and spiritual. Rituals dominate religion these days. Whereas rituals are altogether not necessary for practicing yoga.
    Yoga in India has been practiced since the dawn of the human civilization, according to Hindu mythology millions of year back.
    In Bhagavad-Gita Lord SriKrishna says to Arjuna:
    “I taught this immortal Yoga to Vivasvan (sun-god), Vivasvan conveyed it to Manu(his son), and Manu imparted it to (his son) Iksvaku. Thus transmitted to succession from father to son, Arjuna, this Yoga remained known to the Rajarisis (royal sages). It has however long since disappeared from this earth. The same ancient Yoga has this day been imparted to you by Me, because you are My devotee and friend, and also because this is a supreme secret”.
    At this Arjuna said: You are of recent origin while the birth of Vivasvan dates back to remote antiquity. How, then, I am to believe that you taught this Yoga at the beginning of creation? Lord SriKrishna said: Arjuna, you and I have passed through many births. I remember them all, you do not remember.

    Famous historian Romila Thapar has described in her book A History of India about the status of Yoga in 300-700 A.D. She writes: “Yoga (Application) which was based on the control of the body physically and implied that a perfect control over the body and the senses led to knowledge of the ultimate reality. A detailed anatomical knowledge of the human body was necessary to the advancement of yoga and therefore those practising yoga had to keep in touch with medical knowledge.”
    As far as anatomical knowledge of human body is concerned it is very much required for the optimum result during practice of Yoga. Yoga system has very close connection with the human anatomy i.e. chakra or nerve centres distributed along the spinal column and in brain region.
    Besides, connection chakras with the practice of Yoga, chakra has also great role in the development of personality. People do not realise that personalities can grow to include a balance of all the six chakras. Jung referred to this growth process as “individuation”, and associated it with life’s spiritual dimension. Danah Zohar evolves a model of spiritual quotient (sq) based on the six petals of a lotus and its centre, corresponding to the seven chakras described by the Hinduism’s Kundalini Yoga, as an aid to the process of individuation in the mid-1990s. Contribution of Danah Zohar for coining the term spiritual quotient for the first time is immense. But she did not establish any mathematical relationship, which is very much required, for this quotient.

    Deepak Chopra has given a formula of spiritual quotient in terms of Deed (D) and Ego (E). According to Deepak Chopra S.Q. =D/E. He (2006) writes: If Vedanta is right and there is only one reality, then all desires must follow the same mechanics, desires arise and are fulfilled in consciousness. Making yourself happy involves ….. I have a ” Spiritual Quotient” where SQ = D/E. Where D = Deeds and E = Ego. Now you can ONLY have an SQ = infinity when E = 0. If E is little even then SQ is approaching infinity (or one is close to be a “Great Master”) but not actually “Pure .This appears to be very fascinating but it is highly abstract which cannot be measured experimentally, accurately and precisely. However, this formula has immense value to understand S.Q.

    I have also discovered a mathematical relationship for S.Q about eight years back in 2001. I have used physiological parameters which can be measured accurately and precisely and can be tested and verified experimentally. According to this formula S.Q. can be expressed as the ratio of parasympathetic dominance (P.D.) to sympathetic dominance (S.D.). Parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) are the two parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is largely under hypothalamic control. Hypothalamus is situated very close to the Sixth Chakra. During practice of meditation at Sixth Chakra these centres are galvanized which has very positive effect on practitioners spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical well being.

    According to this relationship spiritual quotient can be written as:
    S.Q. = P.D./S.D.
    If the value of S.Q. comes >1 (greater than one), it can be assumed that the person is moving towards self-realisation and if the value of S.Q. comes <1 (smaller than one) it can be predicted that the person is living under stress.

    There are various types of meditation available, which are being practiced by sages, saints, seers and others. The difference in various versions lies in the fact that these practices involve concentration to meditate at different centres known as Chakra in Yoga System. These chakras are, in fact, energy centres which correspond to nerve centres distributed along the spinal column and in brain region.

    Some practitioners start to meditate at Basic/Root Chakra (Muladhara) – situated at the base of spine, some at Heart Chakra (Anahata Chakra), some at Ajna Chakra – Optic Chiasma – Master Chakra and some from even higher centres situated in the brain region. Among all these types of meditation, practice at sixth chakra is considered to be the most ideal which brings about optimum results.

    Sixth Chakra is situated very close to hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a portion of brain that contains a number of small nuclei with a variety of functions. One of the most important functions of the hypothalamus is to link nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary glands.
    Autonomic nervous system (ANS) is largely under hypothalamic control. ANS consists of parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). PSNS is activated during meditative calm and during stress SNS is activated. When PSNS is activated, heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure decreased. Supply of blood in the digestive tract increased. When SNS is activated heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure increased. Supply of blood to the muscles and exterior organs increased and to the digestive tract decreased. In addition to these, there are many other parameters which can be compared. Parasympathetic Dominance (P.D.) is the state of PSNS activation and Sympathetic Dominance (S.D.) is the state of SNS activation. Instruments are available in medical science to measure these parameters.

    Now we can assign numerical value to each parameter. Then put the value in the formula for S.Q. and see the result. We can show the calculation as mentioned below:

    S.Q.= P.D./S.D. = Σ X / Σ Y
    Where X=x1+x2+x3+ …….
    And Y=y1+y2+y3+…….

    During PSNS activation (P.D.), we assign ‘1’ to each parameter (x1+x2+x3+…..) and ‘0’ to each parameter (y1+y2+y3+…..). During SNS activation (S.D.), we assign ‘1’ to each parameter (y1+y2+y3+…) and ‘0’ to each parameter (x1+x2+x3+….).

    By putting the numerical value, thus achieved, in the above formula for S.Q. we can calculate the Spiritual Quotient of an individual.

    • I have my doubts that the “spiritual quotient” is an indicator of spiritual realization due mainly to the fact that the ability to meditate on a given cakra and bring about positive changes in the nervous system does not necessarily have anything to do with spirituality. No doubt meditation has beneficial effects on the nervous system, but how assigning numerical values for the activation of a given branch of the nervous system can be viewed as evidence of spiritual insight is beyond me. It may indicate that one is in a state of psychophysiological coherence, which is a good thing to be sure, but spiritual? I must disagree with the idea, for we find in the Gita that both the mind and body are different from the soul. Since cakras are centers in the subtle body they exist withing the realm of matter (time and space) while the jivatama exists outside of time and space. How is it then that meditation on a material phenomenon can bring about a nonmaterial result? In the bhakti tradition the practitioner invokes the name of Bhagavan and in doing so elicits the mercy of Bhagavan to bring about the ego effacement that is required for genuine spiritual life. This is, to me, a far more effective means.

  4. Yoga is a way of life, a conscious act, not a set or series of learning principles. The dexterity, grace, and poise you cultivate, as a matter of course, is the natural outcome of regular practice. You require no major effort. In fact trying hard will turn your practices into a humdrum, painful, even injurious routine and will eventually slow down your progress. Subsequently, and interestingly, the therapeutic effect of Yoga is the direct result of involving the mind totally in inspiring (breathing) the body to awaken. Yoga is probably the only form of physical activity that massages each and every one of the body’s glands and organs. This includes the prostate, a gland that seldom, if ever, gets externally stimulated in one’s whole life.

    Meditation Techniques Yoga

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