If there were ever a meditation technique perfectly suited to today’s busy world, it would be japa. This ancient practice that has roots reaching back thousands of years to the Vedic texts, is simple to learn, takes as little as 20 minutes a day and has deep and profound benefits.
“Japa is a spiritual practice involving the meditative repetition of a mantra with the use of a mala or a set of beads,” says Gayatri, a meditation and yoga teacher with the Australian School of Meditation & Yoga in Brisbane. She first learned the technique 20 years ago. “In my first class I felt immediate relief from the pressures in my life,” she says. “The mantra touched my heart and I was finally able to find some real peace within.”
Renowned kirtan artist Sri Prahlada also has a dedicated daily practice, having first been taught japa as a five-year-old boy. “From my dad I learned to chant the maha-mantra,” he says. “This is the mantra that Sri Chaitanya—who 500 years ago pioneered the kirtan revolution in India—used to chant daily.”
Today, japa is taught in yoga and meditation schools around Australia. Mantras are generally given in Sanskrit and students chant them softly or silently many times over. “A mantra is a transcendental sound which helps draw your mind away from the material dimension with all of its hassles, stresses and worries,” says Gayatri. “Through regular practice, japa meditation has the effect of clearing your mind and clearing your heart of unwanted things like anger and envy and hatred. You start to develop more insights into the meaning and purpose of life.”
Practitioners keep count with a mala, a garland of beads that generally consists of 108 beads plus a head bead. Counting all the beads on the mala is considered one round. Practitioners then begin a new round by reversing direction on the mala, never crossing over the head bead.
“Serious japa practitioners decide on a minimum number of rounds they want to chant each day,” says Sri Prahlada. “It is about commitment. If you want to be proficient in anything, then a regular dedicated practice will support you in that.”
Traditionally, malas are chosen depending on the deity worshipped in the mantra. For example, those chanting the name of Shiva use rudraksha beads, those chanting Brahma use lotus beads and those devoted to Krishna choose tulsi beads. Malas are also available in crystals or semi-precious stones such as amethyst and pearl.
Whichever mantra or mala most resonates, the benefits of japa only increase with practice and intent. “When I pay more attention, I feel the benefits more strongly,” says Sri Prahlada. “When my japa is true and focused, my life shines and sparkles.” CATHERINE MCCORMACK
Start with a mantra and your own mala.
“We generally encourage people to practice 15 to 20 minutes of meditation a day, this would translate as two rounds of the 108 or 4 rounds of the 54 mala beads,” says yoga teacher Gayatri. Embark on the journey of japa with one of the mantras below.
1 Om Mani Padme Hum
2 Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana
3 Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
4 Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti