"Life is short. Time is fleeting. The world is full of miseries. Cut the knot of Avidya and drink the Nirvanic bliss. That day on which you do not perform Japa is simply wasted. Those who simply eat, drink and sleep and do not perform Japa are horizontal beings only."
There are many secret weapons in Sadhana that everyone, be it householder of recluse, can use and benefit from. But what more exalted practice than a vow, a vrata, to complete a mantra purascharana? This is a very specific task, and one which, however you look at it, takes up a lot of time to do. But many brothers and sisters are bravely setting forth...
(read Vishnupriya's excellent blog on this here at
I have included a link to Swami Sivananda's famous notes on japa from his guide that you can read here:
What is a japa purascharanaWhat is a purascharana? It is a way for the mantra you use to become enlivened, by the constant practice (abhasya) of repetition via the technique of Japa. A purascharana vrata involves the repetition 100,000 times (one lakh) of EACH syllable of the mantra (not each letter). It is also an intensive use of what is called japa naam, naam being "The Holy Name".
A puruscharana can manifest the deity for you, but at the very least it can cleanse you from the inside in ways that are staggering. All of us have a temple in our inner heart space in which dwells the deity, but for most of us this temple is inaccessible, the way to it covered by muck and filth. There's a legend from Ancient Greek mytho-history that neatly provides a metaphor: one of the 12 labours of the famous hero Hercules was to clean out the Augean stables, a truly Herculean task. Cleaning out the inner temple is essential, or otherwise we will never have the deep union with the Divine which our souls crave. Japa is a deeply effective way to do this cleaning.
If you undertake a purascharana for worldly reasons - success, job, wealth and all that, it does have an effect - but what a waste of energy and a sad comment on your own limited view on life. Doing a purascharana for a shiny new car or whatever it is you might want is just the essence of mistaken spirituality.But nevertheless this kind of effort is supported by the scriptures. If you desperately require a way to earn a living, a partner, freedom from debts and so forth, then some way to clear away the effects of prarabdha karma is required.
The effects of Prarabhda KarmaPrarabdha karma has no equivalent in western thought beyond the vague terms "fate" and "destiny" but in the Vedic world system it is defined as "past-life karma" or karma from earlier actions in your life which bear fruit. It often explains exactly why we stuck in difficult situations which seem to make no sense, which might cause us pain, sorrow or distress. It is the difficult stuff - the crop we are reaping from the seeds we sowed earlier, and normally we have no conscious way of knowing the whys, whens and wherefores.
We can endure this karma with fortitude but there is actually a way to mitigate it, and japa is the perfect weapon in this. It is, as Sri Ramakrishna's famous wife Sri Sarada Devi put it, as if japa turns the destiny of someone due to lose a leg into the same person simply suffering the prick of a thorn. Japa cleanses this kind of karma. It lifts the mire and the dirt we may have accumulated. It frees our bonds. But only if there is some devotion, it's not the insane gabbling of a name for no reason.
Concrete tapasyaBest is spiritual reasons and spiritual endeavour. A purascharana is concrete and real tapasya, done throughout the ages by great saints, great sinners, yogis, householders, warriors, the downtrodden, you name it and at the very least it will help you clear your karmic load and help destroy negative tendencies. it is not for the idle, the volatile, for those too lazy to make any real efforts in sadhana. It is tough.
Japa is the spiritual practice recommended for Kali Yuga, simply because it is so easy to do, requires no elaboration - although some follow a purascharana with various offerings and rituals, and others decide to do it over 40 days (which, depending on the length of the mantra, could be impossible if you have a job or a family).
A purascharana vrata involves the repetition 100,000 times (one lakh) of EACH syllable of the mantra (not each letter). Some schools of thought say all this has to be done in 40 days... Which in the case of some mantras seems mathematically impossible.
Much as we might love to devote 6 or even 16 hours a day to japa, unfortunately our jobs and occupation and responsibilities might not let us, so be severely practical and make this doable within the allotted time available. Different mantras have different rates of completion (Thus, OM on its own would be relatively easy to do).
Setting a very strict time-frame is less important that actually getting it done. But choose an auspicious day to begin! As the saying goes, "well begun is half done" and if you need a panchang to help you, try this one: http://www.drikpanchang.com/panchang/month-panchang.html?l=7191.
My own advice would be to set aside at least 2 hours a day for the japa, and aim to devote yourself fully in this time. If you live alone and have a place to perform this japa, you can do longer. The ideal mentioned by Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Sivananda is 6 hours a day. Sri Sarada Devi used to manage to recite her mantra 20,000 times a day, but I imagine her mantra was relatively short.
EquipmentYou basically need just three bits of equipment, ie:
1) japa mala
2) mala bag
3) a counting string of beads
Item 1 is easy to obtain. Traditionally you use a Tulsi japa mala for Vaishnava mantras, rudrakshas for Shaivite mantras, Lotus, crystal or rudraksha for Shakti mantras. All are easily obtainable. A mala bag covers and protects the mala and fits over your right hand. You hold it above the navel, don't let it droop!
The counting bed helps you count off each mala. You recite the japa in a particular way in the Hindu tradition, never crossing the "guru" bead, and not using your first finger or 4th or 5th. Easy technique once you get the hang of it. I have used many malas, but the smoothest and easiest is a good lotus bead mala. Rudrakshas are a little spiky to use...
A mala bag should never be placed on the ground. It should only be used on the right hand. And you should precede your mantra repetitions with some introductory prayers, especially to your Guru and to Lord Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles in sadhana.
Further japa considerationsFind a posture that is comfortable, seated on a dedicated mat of wool is best, with a mat of kusha grass beneath, and once your posture is set, stick to it from then on. You will find your right arm may get a bit sore after a while, which is why some Yogis had supports to help them - a pillow or cushion will help you rest the arm, the objective is not to torture your body unnecessarily, so be comfortable but never do japa lying down.
According to the Kalika Purana the following japa malas have particular purposes:
Ivory: Lord Ganesh
Corals: getting wealth
All desires: crystal
Tulsi: Vishnu, Krishna, Nrisimha
In case a rosary breaks, it is considered auspicious by some, but a sign of progress by others. If it falls down, to repurify it, chant Hrim and the Om Namah Shivaya 108 times.
If possible, face East or North if during day, or North if chanting at night.
Always if you can do one initial mala (ie 108 times) to Lord Ganesh, as the remover of obstacles, with his mantra Om Gam Ganapataye Namahah or some such formula.
Scriptural reminders of Japa's importanceIn the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells us: "Among the yajnas, I am the Japa-yajna." Yajna means in this context sacrifice, and there are many kinds of ritualistic yajnas that can be performed, but Lord Krishna chose to highlight japa. Why? According to the Linga Purana, all other yajnas ultimately involve, however subtly, some sort of injury. There is none in Japa.
Here is a definition also from the Agni Purana:
The syllable ja destroys the birth and death cycle and the syllable pa destroys all sins. Thus that which destroys all sins and puts an end to samsara andliberates souls from bondage is japa.
More from the Linga Purana:
"When you do japa in your home, the merit will be only as much as the count of japa. Whereas if chanted in a cow-pen (Goshala), the merit is a hundredfold greater. If the same japa is done on the bank of a holy river, the merit will be 100,000 more than the previous two. If the same japa is done in front of a holy image of God, its merit could not be counted. On the shores of the ocean, on mountains, in temples, hermitages, the japa brings untold merits. The japa done in front of the Lord's image or gazing at the pole star and the sun-god are very efficacious. The japa done in front of a flame, fire and cow are meritorious; likewise the holy mantra and japa done in front of the Guru."
Japa done in a garden of Tulasi, or Bilva trees, Rudrakshas and so forth controls the mind very easily.
PracticeYou should aim to do a sit number of repetitions in one sitting, at the same time every day, and in a place by yourself - ie not watching the TV, listening to the radio or sitting with your cat knitting. And you also need a picture of the deity to whom you offer your prayers. Once finished, sit quietly for at least 5 minutes.
Boredom and mental restlessness can inevitably set in, and for this reason the saints and sages recommend you vary things a bit - one round of japa you can speak, maybe one you can sing, one you whisper, one you do silently and so forth. Remember, your determination and humility are the key to unlocking the potential of a mantra. Every mantra has a "bolt" that locks up its power, a little like a hard casing of a seed, which only splits open when the right conditions come along. The water, in this case, is your courage and one-pointedness. This takes bravery! Do you have this? Be realistic and authentic.
There are some great tales of puruscharanas undertaken by saints. Less inspiring are those who set out to get great riches or powers. Gopi Krishna's autobiography about Kundalini awakening contains two salutary stories of people who tried to do that and ending up getting more than they bargained for.
But if your heart is pure and intentions noble, then have absolutely no fear. And in many cases, people want some help from what they see as bad luck... In getting a job, in helping cure illness and so forth. This kind of simple but deep tapasya is an ideal way to get Divine help in difficulty.
You will rapidly find that any irritation at doing Japa gives way to something much more engrossing and calming.
The ideal way is to link the mantra to the inbreath and the outbreath (Ajapa-Japa) , and this depends on the length of the mantra. I use 2 beads for inbreath/retention, 2 for outbreath/retention. But this soon gets extended. You can find yourself saying the whole mala just on the inbreath or in breath suspension. Japa becomes very blissful and a different experience altogether if you link in this way.
The other advice would be to turn gradually to "manasika" japa, ie mentally and clearly repeated, linked to the inbreath and outbreath. This is the royal way to do japa and is wonderful. Sometimes you may then vary to quiet movement of the lips and tongue. The great Manu tells us: "The oral japa is ten times more meritorious than ritual sacrifice. Upamsu japa is a hundred times better and mental japa is a thousand times greater."
A tune or hint of a melody also helps, one which differentiates between your inbreath japa and outbreath japa, so you instantly know where you are if you get a little spaced out.
What mantra, and what if I am not initiated?This is a very real concern for many, who have no access to a living Guru or a teacher, and are fearful of making a mistake and incurring bad fortune. Firstly, let me observe that this is a very Indian mind-set, a sort of needless terror of a wrathful deity who points a baleful finger your way and says "But you pronounced my name wrooongly..." with a clap of thunder. If this is what you fear, what image of God do you honestly hold in your heart? Because this is something the saints do not recognise! God is merciful, kind, loving, eager to lift you from misery and troubles. God will go to any lengths for a genuine devotee. This is the true experience of everyone who has progressed on the path of sadhana.
The image of an angry punishing God is simply a reflection of a tamasic and impure mind that projects their own anger, their own issues about mother and father figures, onto the universe. If you cannot believe God is Love and means you well then simply do not do a purascharana, it is not for you.
The best mantras to use are indeed the ones given in initiation, but if this is not practically possible, then many saints advise that you choose a mantra in good faith and use it, and stick to it. The Swami Sivananda link has a list of mantras you can safely use. There are many other teachers who advise this same route, so have no fears about this.
Some words from the Gurus and saints on japaShri Shri Bijoykrishna Goswami (a great saint from Ramakrishna Paramahansa's time):
"In a place of worship if one fixes one's eyes on a deity and repeats naam with total concentration, the God may actually be seen."
"Try to repeat the naam in every breath. There is no better way than repeating naam. I have got great results in my life by this practice. Just practice repetition of naam in the right manner and then see if you don't achieve results!Initially one may feel great irritation on repeating naam but it should not be given up. Prarabdha karma gets eroded by repetition of naam in every breath. Good and better states are also attained by it. There is no better way than eroding prarabdha than this."
"Everything is achieved only when one is habituated in repeating naam in every breath. Nothing gives as much benefit, irrespective of your doing japa otherwise 3 or 4 lakhs or 3 or 4 crores."
"One can be free by intense renunciation. Not a single inhalation or exhalation should be missed in naam because so many enemies can move inside finding that little hole! So many men, gandharvas, gods, create various obstacles on this path of desireless salvation. All test you severely on this path."
Shri Kuladananda Brahmachari, his disciple:
"Believing that due to my own flawed efforts I was not getting any benefits from sadhana, I was disgusted with myself. I vowed to pursue sadhana all my life and burn my body and soul to ashes in the process. I started non-stop japa starting from early morning till 11 at night except the time taken for bathing and sleeping."
"While coming and going, while standing or doing different jobs, one should chant the Divine name with great love. In this way one will not only become liberated himself but will be able to liberate others, too. Japa should become an addiction from which you cannot find a way out."
"Just as fire purifies gold of all its dross, likewise the name of the Lord, once it takes residence in one's heart, purifies that heart completely from the dross of impurities and sins. Another name for chanting is devotion.!
Sri Sarada Devi:
"One must experience the result of prarabdha karma. No one can escape it. But japa minimises its intensity. It is like the case of a man who is destined to lose his leg, but instead suffers only from the prick of a thorn in his foot."
"The more you repeat the name with Bhava, the greater the force generated and ultimately the time comes when the force that is hidden in the name becomes fully awakened."
"Japa is one of the most direct ways of Self-realisation. It removes the dirt of the mind, the anger, greed and lust and other impurities that hide the light within."
"Japa done with faith, devotion and purity augments the power of the aspirant bestyowing on him the virtues and powers of the mantra's presiding deity. Revealing God to his consciousness it confers illumination and spiritual bliss... if no Guru can be found, select any mantra that seems appropriate. It should be repeated with faith and devotion every day."
The blogger's puruscharana (begun 2014)I am undertaking a purascharana for my own very long Devi mantra, as a way of thanks to Divine Mother and as an inner house cleaning. This started on the right auspicious time with a simple ceremony on this year's Akshaya Tritiya, a most wonderful auspicious day for all new spiritual endeavour which in 2014 fell on 1 May in London UK. This vrata is a significant undertaking.
This purascharana is dedicated to each and every person who reads these words, . It is hoped this will inspire you to do a similar thing out of love for God, not out of material desire.
Blessings will flow to you, and I really hope you will feel the benefits of this simple tapasya done by a crazy tapasvin! I hope that you can plan a committment, too.
The Japa purascharana has continued, like a heartbeat, day in, day out, come sun rain hail, travel, moods month after month, reaching over 980,000 repetitions from 1 May 2014 until the end of June 2015. This should bring 1.6mn repetitions by two years - and hopefully ending on Akshiya Tritiya in 2016, which will be on 9 May.
Every day without fail, rain or shine, I have sat for Japa, and that means at home, at work, travelling to and from work, and on work assignments in Miami, St Petersburg, Sri Lanka, Cape Town, and so forth. Most of it has been unglamorous, steady effort. But it has been a promise made and promise kept, and the cause of such intense inner joy.
Sometimes Japa has been as smooth as silk. Sometimes as hard as pushing a boulder made of iron. For months an extreme weariness assailed me every time I sat for Japa. Then, sometimes, everything has been hushed and still, and plain sailing. The mantra unlocked after about two months, bringing a wonderful vision of the Devi... then for many months it snapped shut, and sadhana carried on under very testing conditions (my twin brother sadly died at this time). But still the effort went on.
Things became more lively again around April 2015, when I slightly changed and removed the "om" at every repetition, given the fact this was a Devi mantra. (Papa Ramdas did a similar adjustment to his own Rama mantra many years previously). The effects were unexpectedly electric. A bit like when you start a wood fire and it does not seem to catch at all.. so you pile on more fuel until finally whooooooooooosh. Well, this is what happened in this case. The mantra opened up, grew enormously vivid and alive, and at this point ajapa-japa began to be very marked, the mantra centred on the throat, the vishuddhi chakra, where seemingly a huge hole opened up, felt as a spacious physical sensation with me now at all times. From this hole gushes the mantra and other mantras as well.
Aside from the formal sitting, I also try to repeat the mantra through the rest of the day. as I still work for a living. Propped up in front of my computer screen (actually a double screen) is a post-it sticker with the words ajapa-japa on it. These informal repetitions make up for any gabbling or quickness of repetition in the formal sittings.
One important point is to make the japa meaningful and heart-felt, and not some mad impatient gabbling to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Vishnupriyas blog has a link to a good and common-sense piece of advice from Swami Sivananda, a man who was no stranger to purascharanas and tapas of every kind, but who also valuably lived in the world as a doctor before his life as a famous sannyasin and founder of a school of yoga full of integrity. So, if you are interested, read up some of the basics from him.
The conclusion to phase oneThe 1.6mn repetitions was reached within 2 years, after long months of repetition. The mantra assumed a life, a living 3D reality, and would remind me if I was late in saying it at formal sittings. Many wonderful experiences, but the ones that I honour the most are the days when nothing happened, like trudging along an empty road for miles and miles, with the mantra as a comfort. It was the one constant in a life of big changes, a beautiful practice.
ExperiencesThe kind of experiences that will come to you through intense japa will depend on your own purity. But remember that the mantra is the form of the deity, and also that the mantra is light. You will find that the mantra resolves itself into a point of light, and then the body of the deity or the yantra of the deity will appear to you.
You will also begin to be aware of the subtle chakras in your body, especially the point between the eyebrows, the ajna chakra, and the sahasrara, the crown of the heart. A spaciousness will open out for you, and you will begin to see visions.
The mantra repetition will also begin to shift, whether you wish it or not... down to the other centres of your body. It will take its own life and its own direction, because remember that all mantras are not just vehicles, they contain seeds, the famous Bija mantra, and these seeds begin to grow. Seeds do not remain static, they grow. And from their growth you will have extraordinary experiences.
Now these you may think you want, as a sort of cinematic entertainment. But this is not what we are talking about. What really happens is the start of inexorable transformation and deep change. You will never be the same again. Your foolish, selfish, impure and narcissistic self-pitying self will get to see its own gradual dissolution. This needs courage, virtue, wisdom and dedication to accept and encourage.
You will find too that pranayama will take place very naturally - sometimes your breath will go like bellows, as if you are giving birth, or your breath will be suspended for long periods.
When japa really takes off is when it starts to come automatically, very subtly, ringing in your body and mind.
Rapidly too, you will find, your asana becomes your point of refuge, or joy and bliss, as events unfold around you. Sometimes as you do prolonged japa it feels like you are on a raft in a stormy sea, but untouched by the waves and wind, or in the middle of a world of fire. As long as you stay on that asana you are safe. That is one of the beauties of japa: just sit and recite. sit and recite. sit and recite. All will unfold for you.
A bridgeWherever you look when you study the lives of great saints, you will come across the magic of purascharana (also anglicized as purushcharana by some). It's a bridge to cross from the land of sloth and spiritual inertia to a land of committed practice. It's a line in the sand. It's the planting of a flag and a sign.
Why this and not just spending more time meditating?
Japa is suited to the Kali Yuga era. Japa controls the tongue in a marvellous way - and control of the tongue and the genitals is said in the scriptures to be the way you can flourish even in Kali Yuga. And it is simple to do! Just japa.. mind wanders... back to japa... japa... japa.
JAI MATA DI!
Japa from the Dasbodh, the famous Marathi sayings of Swami Ramdas, Guru of Kabir:
One should have constant remembrance of God. The name of God should be repeated continuously. This will bring about freedom and contentment.
One should have the discipline to continuously remember the name of God in the morning, the afternoon, the evening.
One should not be without the name of God at anytime, whether in a state of happiness, sorrow, distress, worry or joy.
Remember god in times of enjoyment, in unfavourable times, auspicious times, festive times, at the time of rest, and at the time of sleep.
By the name of God, stones have floated, an unaccountable number of devotees have been uplifted, and even the worst scoundrels have become completely free.
Everyone, in all classes of society, has the right to chant the name of God. There is no such thing as inferior or superior when remembering God. Even foolish and materialistic people have reached the other shore by remembering God.
All types of troubles from ghosts, malevolent spirits from the astral world, problems arising from the incorrect chanting of mantras, to being haunted by the spirit of a brahmin can all be destroyed with faith in god.
The body of one who always remembers the name of God should be considered an auspicious body.