Welcome: An Introduction

Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Japa Beads and the Practice of Mantram Repetition

                                  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.


  1. I so enjoyed your reflection, Jessica. You describe your spiritual journey with a grace and simplicity that invites the reader to explore with you. I believe a mantrum would be very helpful to me, especially at this time. There is a lot going on in our family right now, and not all of it is good. My "monkey mind" is too fired up, attaching itself to worry even when I tell it not to, and needs a serious calming down.
    Thanks for the inspiration, my dear, and a very happy and blessed birthday to you!

    1. Thank you Martha! I always enjoy when you visit my articles. :) If you're interested in reading some suggested mantrams, including ones from the Christian tradition you can go here: http://www.easwaran.org/mantrams-recommended-by-easwaran.html

      I will pray for peace amidst the storms you and your family are experiencing right now.

      Much love,


    2. Thanks so much for giving me this web address! I just visited and chose the Jesus Prayer. :)

    3. You are so welcome! That is a beautiful mantram! :)

  2. "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." Our brains need to be busy and usually run on habitual thought patterns like a hamster on a wheel. Years ago, I realized that my "wheel" looked very much like your description of contemplating dire scenarios. I decided to give my brain a different wheel by consciously thinking positive or sacred thoughts until they became habitual. I think of it as praying without ceasing. Or as one person said, "I am never not meditating."

    Thanks for this information and inspiration. I'm going to check out the site for more.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Galen..That is a very beautiful approach and very similar to the concept of mantram repetition.

      Hope you enjoy the site! :)

  3. Hi Jessica:
    Meditation is something I've been practicing for some time now. I have a mantra I repeat just before going into meditation. It's one I've sort of created myself:
    We are all spiritual. We are all divine.

    Seems to work for me. I say it each night before going to bed as well. Haven't tried it in conjunction w/japa beads though. As always you're constantly stretching the bounds of your worldview. It's one of the reasons I enjoy reading what you have to say.

    Stay well, Jessica!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Chris, and sharing your mantram. It's always great to hear your thoughts. Oh I've done some considerable stretching these days! We'll have to get together sometime with Cathy...I'd love to catch up...I would love your thoughts on some things. :)

  4. I am very grateful that you have written your reflections on this. I do appreciate every detail wrought in your experiences of the Divine in different settings.

    It's also very timely for me. I have read something disturbing last night and this morning as I prayed I asked Jesus to cleanse my mind of every single disturbing thought that comes to me.

    I do need focus... and as you have described it well here...my thoughts have been redirected back to God.

    I have used some of the mantram you have shared here but I have come to a deeper awareness of what they truly meant when you wrote ~ 'with a heart of devotion'. I use rosary beads but sometimes it becomes mechanical to pray the same things over.

    Everything you wrote here is a journey and I'm very grateful for this blessing of journeying with you closer to God.

  5. Thank you for stopping by Melissa :)

    Yes..there's something really important regarding the concept of having a heart of devotion while praying and meditating/repeating one's mantra. It was an element that I had neglected to consider until coming across it in some of my spiritual reading and was reinforced by my reading of the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita talks about there being different yogas or approaches/paths to liberation and teaches that the path to devotion, or bhakti yoga is the most attainable way of coming fullest into God's presence and being fully aware spiritually.

    There's a passage from the Gita that I have memorized and the last lines go like this:

    "But dearest to me are those who seek me
    In faith and love as life's eternal goal.
    They go beyond death to immortality."

    ...meaning they attain liberation (and in the Hindu view that means liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth). Note the "in faith AND love." So, I'm learning one's approach and heart's perspective is important when digging deep and opening up to God's presence. It's not just about seeking but how we seek..if that makes sense. I'm still learning! :)

    Hope you get the focus you need...you might want to check out the list of suggested mantrams if perhaps you want to try something different..also passage meditation has helped me a lot. Sometimes the passages I have memorized will come up in my head without me actively trying to recall them during my day and they can really help me keep perspective.

    ~ blessings and love,


  6. I love learning about all these new practices. I wish I was more diligent at trying them out. I have made a new practice of sending out thanks to every driver on the road near me when I'm driving my scooter... especially the ones I know are watching out for me. :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by Rachel. I think gratitude is a beautiful practice! It reminds us of how blessed we are and causes us to become more aware of even the most subtle miracles that are amazing that surround us. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  7. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. -- Matthew 6:7

    Ecclesiastes 5:2... Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

    1. Silence can sometimes be the most profound gateway to the Divine Fher. At the same time, I respectfully disagree that God is strictly "in heaven" and we are on earth.

      Yes, there is nowhere where God is not...so naturally He's be in the heavens too..as all things are birthed from Him, He is all and all is in Him...and yet, He is also within the center of our souls, a light burning bright, waiting to be discovered. We don't have to look anywhere further than within ourselves to discover Him. That's the truth I have discovered on my journey thus far. And it is the truth echoed throughout the ages by the world's mystics throughout all of the wisdom traditions, including the Christian one.

      Thank you for stopping by.

      Many blessings,


    2. Sorry Jessica, God can not be everywhere. He sees everything but He can not dwell in just about anything. Did you mean God is also in the hearts of evil men? Is He also in the souls of Evil men?

      Acts 7:48 However, the most High dwells not in temples made with hands; as said the prophet,

      Isaiah 66:1 This is what the LORD says: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?

      This should clarify the matter about the omnipresence that most religion claims...
      (Proverbs 15:3) “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”

      God can see everything but naturally His eyes are still attached on His beings. I also don't see the logic of a light burning bright but needed to be discover. If its burning bright then it will attract attention. The Bible is very clear that man lives in darkness and needed Jesus for salvation. We must be taken out of that darkness by Christ.
      Not through our own efforts or ways but by Jesus. As He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except thru me."
      We need to look further bcoz again Jesus said "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness"...if it is already within us then why we should seek? Obviously silence is not the get way to the divine...it should be meekness.

      About the truth echoed throughout the ages? Maybe Colossians 2:8 had the answer for that...
      See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

      Thank you so much also for allowing me to reply on this and with your fair answers.
      May God be with you all, and all the readers.

  8. I read your post and the ensuing comments this morning first thing after getting up and turning on the computer. As always, your words are eloquent and wise, and, judging from the comments, I'm not the only one who feels inspired by your ongoing journey.

    I feel renewed desire to resume chanting my mantram and to faithfully practice all aspects of Easwaran's path, especially now that serious challenges loom on the horizon and I will need all the wisdom, strength, and resolve I can summon to meet and steer my way through them.

    I don't see myself using japa beads to help me focus on my mantram, but I do think that reciting the whole mantram you recite instead of just "Rama" might be more helpful. I also want to recite my mantram more often, such as when I go to bed at night and try falling asleep in it.

    I do have a question, however, about reciting the mantram during virtually every "free" moment in one's life. While I can see value in doing this, I personally like to use my "idle" moments to review ideas I've read or heard about, to think about issues that concern me, to plan out articles or blogposts I intend to write, and so forth, and I don't see how I can spend significant amounts of time reciting my mantram and also engaging in these reflective activities.

    I guess that's just something I'm going to have to work out for myself, although I would appreciate hearing your and your readers' thoughts on this.


  9. Thank you so much Steve for stopping by...

    "I do have a question, however, about reciting the mantram during virtually every "free" moment in one's life. While I can see value in doing this, I personally like to use my "idle" moments to review ideas I've read or heard about, to think about issues that concern me, to plan out articles or blogposts I intend to write, and so forth, and I don't see how I can spend significant amounts of time reciting my mantram and also engaging in these reflective activities."

    I think the same perspective that one would have towards say, having a conversation or reading, would apply to the reflective activities you refer to. Those are very important as well..deep inquiry as well as broadening one's base of knowledge. From what I have learned, one shouldn't say their mantram during such activities, in order to get the most out of them but reserve the mantram for all other times where one-pointed attention is not required..like standing in line, etc. This prevents us from getting caught up in frequent trivial and mundane thoughts and instead being centered.

    I think it would be great if you resumed a more regular practice of chanting your mantram. Since switching mine, I do think the added length of my mantram helps with maintaining my focus towards chanting it, which helps the whole process. You could always try the mahamantra...which has "Rama" in it and see how it works for a trial period. Easwaran, himself, tried out the different mantrams to make sure they were effective before suggesting them.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and question. I always enjoy when you stop by. :)

    ~ Namaste ~

  10. Dear friend,
    Interesting post. I always ask myself....what good is a religion if it does not bring peace? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Andy. :)

      I don't really ascribe to any particular religion right now..but you pose a really good question. I'm not sure a religion's job is to bring peace, but for sure, that is most people's hope..that they will find peace through religion. Don't we all want peace? Truth has been my main goal since I've started seeking and I believe truth/God are synonymous and it is certainly my hope that coming (hopefully) continually closer to the truth will bring me closer to peace. We shall see..it seems to be the case so far. :) May we all know peace in our hearts. :)

      ~ blessings

  11. Amen, our mind can certainly sound like a tree full of chattering monkeys! I’m glad you’ve found a centering tool that works like a charm for you Jess. I pray with beads mornings, but not with chanting, and center separate. Whatever works!
    Jehovah-Shammah – the Lord who is present, my new word.
    And sometimes it’s Jehovah-Rapha – the Lord who heals.
    Oh, and I mustn’t forget Jehovah-Jireh – The Lord will provide.
    Then there’s Jehovah Shalom – The Lord is peace.

    Shalom my friend!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Debra! What beautiful names and meanings to meditate on. There are so many unique ways to reach out to God, thank you for sharing yours.

      ~ om shanti shanti shanti (peace)

      ~ Jessica

  12. I believe that work is worship and I feel even as we blog and as we paint we are involved deeply, reaching to our inner calm, tapping our heart for answers. I find it the more engrossing meditation for me. I feel calm after a painting session. I feel expanded after a writing session. Thanks for leading us into these reflections in ur unique way

    1. Thank you for stopping by Jerly. I do believe that any kind of one-pointed activity which engages us in mindfulness and spurs on in creativity...like writing,art, and deep thought, can be considered meditation. Thanks for sharing and bringing up a great point.