Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

45 What Is Japa?§


A devotee sits quietly in a forest and holds a mala of rudraksha beads between his thumb & middle finger. He will chant the “Namaḥ Śivāya” mantra 108 times, keeping track of his progress on the beads.§


A mantra is a sacred Sanskrit word or phrase, and repeating one’s mantra while counting on beads is called japa, or mantra yoga. Such a magic chant forms a kind of spiritual affirmation that we repeat mentally or aloud to draw close to God. It helps us feel in perfect harmony with everything. There are many mantras. Each one honors God or one of the Gods. One of Ganesha’s mantras is “Aum Gaṁ Gaṇapataye Namaḥ.” It means “Praise to the Lord of devas.” Murugan’s special mantra is “Aum Śaravaṇabhāva.” It describes the mind as a peaceful, undisturbed lake. The supreme Saiva mantra, found at the center of the Yajur Veda, is “Namaḥ Śivāya,” which means “adoration to Siva.” Because it has five syllables (Na-Ma-Śi-Vā-Ya), it is called the Panchakshara Mantra, or “five-lettered chant.” One of your goals as a youth should be to qualify yourself for Namaḥ Śivāya initiation from your guru. This will give the mantra special power for you. After that ceremony, you will repeat it every day 108 times. Chanting Aum Namaḥ Śivāya connects you with millions of Siva’s devotees. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya feeds your soul, brightens your intellect and quells the instinctive mind. Until you are initiated in Namaḥ Śivāya, you can chant “Aum Śaravaṇabhāva.” Here is how to perform japa. Sit quietly holding a strand of 108 prayer beads in your right hand. Repeat the mantra, verbally or mentally. Each time you repeat it, push a bead over the middle finger with your thumb. Concentrate on the sound and its meaning as you have been taught. Keep your mind from wandering. As you chant, the devas send divine rays of blessing. Perform japa anywhere: in the temple, in your home shrine room, under a favorite tree, on the banks of a river, or in a remote cave.§


GURUDEVA: One who performs japa properly will realize what he knows. You see, japa opens up the inner mind and focuses the energies of certain chakras, which are consciousness encased within the psychic nerve ganglia of the nadi network.§