This is a picture of an example of mantram art I took at the retreat. Different people participated
in this and if you look closely you can see different mantrams including the Mahamantra, jai ram
sri ram jai jai ram, Jesus and others.
I recently wrote a post about how I was going to try out adding chanting with japa mala beads to my spiritual disciplines. Mantram repetition is one of the practices that Eknath Easwaran, a renown spiritual teacher, taught. His body is no longer with us but his teachings remain alive through his books and the institution, the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, that is dedicated towards sharing his methods with others. He's never suggested implementing the use of japa beads as a way to practice mantram repetition but after watching a few YouTube videos and reading more about their use I became intrigued and decided to engage in the practice myself.
I asked my instructor at the retreat I went to recently, hosted by the Blue Mountain Center, if this was something that Easwaran would have acknowledged as a valid practice. He didn't see why not. He didn't consider it as necessary but if it aided one in centering on one's mantram than it could be invaluable to that individual.
I learned some new things about mantram repetition at the retreat that I hadn't known before. One such example is that there is "mantram art", where one will create art by writing one's mantram in expressive ways. I was also under the impression from everything I had read thus far that mantrams were generally said silently to oneself , so never really knew if chanting was seen as an effective way of practicing repeating one's mantram. Our instructor said that chanting was certainly acceptable.
There was also another concept introduced that was new to me: writing one's mantram. Many practictioners will set aside time everyday to write their mantram repeatedly, usually in a particular journal or notebook set aside for that practice. My instructor had a journal specifically for writing his mantram and would always carry it with him using any spare moment to engage in the practice. He also mentioned that he would send his friends who also practiced mantram meditation cards where he simply wrote their mantram repeteatedly over and over again. It is said that where one repeats their mantram, whether vocally, internally, or on paper, that space or place is made a little bit holy. Easwaran would walk the shores that lined the Pacific near his home in California every morning and it is said that one can feel peace and the presence of holiness on the beach where his feet so faithfully tread while repeating reverently the names of God countless times.
Easwaran instructs practitioners of mantram meditation to repeat one's mantram as often as can be remembered during any time when one isn't engaged in anything that requires full attention. This aids one centering themselves in the present moment. Many other spiritual teachers have suggested similar practices of repeating mantrams continually throughout the day. For example H.H. Srila Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement, who brought the message of Krishna consciousness to the West. He teaches that in order to be centered in God one must practice repeating His holy names as often as is possible. This process helps purify one's heart as it removes superficial layers of ego that bind us to our desires for sense gratification and muddies our perception of God. So, this is a practice that is not only taught by Easwaran but by many others who have been instrumental in leading countless seekers towards more peaceful lives and God consciousness.
An example of when not to repeat one's mantram would be during a conversation or when reading. Given that, most times are perfect for saying one's mantram. For instance while in the shower, taking a walk, waiting in a line at a store or in traffic and performing household chores. So often our thoughts are scattered and diverse. Being steeped in the superficial and material they often bring us agitation, anxiety and suffering as they inwardly draw us to become fixated on recalling things in the past we regret and fretting about perceived events in the future. Almost sealing our fates we commit ourselves to doom and spend precious time and energy contemplating various scenarios of ruinous moments that haven't even taken place yet nor necessarily need to. By slowing down and simply not clinging to those thoughts when they arise but using our mantram as an anchor tethering us to the present moment we can gain much clarity and peace and begin to shed shadowy garments of ego that obscure and cover our hearts from perceiving the light buried within. Resting securely in our awareness of the Divine, we are more empowered to make choices that are prompted by compassion spreading the peace that we find within outwards to those around us.
In his book Original Goodness, Easwaran wrote:
" As our desire to draw closer to the Lord within us deepens, it draws self-centered desires into it like tributaries into a great river. The power of that love swells until it becomes cataclysmic; we begin to inspire other people through the transformation we have wrought in ourselves."
In many of his talks and books Easwaran will tell a story about a famous sculptor in India who made the most beautiful sculptures of elephants carved out of stone. One day the king came to visit the sculptor and inquire on how he was able to create such masterpieces. The sculptor replied that men would bring him great stones, massive and irregularly shaped, from the quarry that lay outside the town. For great periods of time he would merely gaze upon these massive heaps of stone and eventually instinct would take over. Cultivated within him would be a sense of what no longer belonged there. Chipping away at all obstructions with great care, over time, the majestic elephant within waiting to be discovered would emerge. So too it is with the spiritual disciplines. They are designed to chip and erode away the layers of ego that hinder us from experiencing and realizing the Divine that lay within the deepest recesses of our consciousness.
Yesterday morning, as I began chanting the realization of a truth that I have read about recently through my spiritual reading arose in my consciousness. Most mantrams are a sacred word or name of God. Mine is the mahamantra which includes holy names of God that have been around since ancient times. It is : Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.The Vedas, sacred texts originating from India, teach us that the very names of God transcendentally embody God Himself.
I couldn't help but think that that must mean that when we say the names of God we are invoking His presence into our awareness. Now I do realize that He is with us every moment, seated within the center of our consciousness. The spark of the Divine/Self/Krishna/Jehovah/Allah/the Supreme Reality- whatever be the way you best identify with the Eternal within, never leaves us. It is a constant reality, reality itself. Yet, there's something unique and spiritually tangible about saying the names of God if one opens oneself up to this transcendental reality. It's as if we are greeting that spark within, thus causing it to illuminate the inner chambers of our hearts with a warmth that spreads and a light that grows, allowing us to feel and perceive the presence of God and the interconnectedness we share with all of life in an even deeper way. Given that, the thought came to me that each name should be said with attention and reverence, with a heart of devotion, not merely out of a sense of duty to the process. This drew me in to the present moment considerably more and all distracting thoughts seem to vanish completely. For nearly a whole round I was just there, completely there, lost in a pure Love. With each sound vibration waves of peace and joy flooded through my heart and mind, cleansing it of all other desires other than that of reaching out to God with gratitude and earnestness.
I have enjoyed the practice of chanting with my japa mala beads and plan on continuing. The practice of chanting in the morning provides a strong foundation for remembering to recall my mantram throughout the day, helping me to maintain my focus. I use them at night as well, when falling asleep. Easwaran teaches practitioners of mantram repetition to fall asleep while repeating their mantram as that way it will become more deeply rooted in one's subconscious. I used to do this with difficulty as I would often get swept away by what Buddhists call my "monkey mind". Wandering and fleeting thoughts that one becomes attached to and thus causes one to become uncentered. The physical act of using my japa mala beads has been instrumental in aiding me to successfully fall asleep while repeating my mantram. This is a spiritual discipline I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in trying out a new practice.
Have you recently tried adding a new practice to your spiritual disciplines? If so...I'd love to hear about it. Please share in the comment section! Thank you! :)
* Note: Easwaran uses the word mantram, though one can easily exchange that for mantra. The two are synonymous.