The significance of God’s names in Hinduism – Mantra Japa & Japa Sadhana
“One should constantly repeat the name of God. The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga. The practice of yoga is not possible in this age, for the life of a man depends on food. Clap your hands while repeating God’s name, and the birds of your sins will fly away.”
– Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism encourages worshiping God with name and form. Though God is one, he is amenable for worship in numerous names and forms in Hinduism. God’s form and name — both are holy to Hindus.
Hinduism thus has placed a great emphasis on the name of the God; The names of Divine Avatars (God in human form) too are no other than God’s names. Thus Rama, Krishna, Narasimha, Ramakrishna, Ramana et al are divine names for the respective believers. Thus, from a true Hindu point of view, “Jesus” and “Mohammed” (who are treated as Avatars by Saints like Sri Ramakrishna) are also God’s names and those who have faith in them and chant them should get purity and elevation.
“God and his holy name are one and the same” declares Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. A hard core gnyani like Ramana Maharishi too corroborates such a statement. Uttering or repeating (doing japa) of any of God’s innumerable names is one of the recommended paths of sadhana (religious practice) for aspirants in the Path of bhakthi (devotion to God). Any name of God, added with a seed syllable like “Om” at the front and a “Namaha” at the end, when sanctified by divine sages and passed on to others by him or his qualified disciples, becomes a holy Mantra and the mantra carries a subtle power to purify the one who chants it; It gradually elevates the person to a higher spiritual level.
Swamy Sivananda says: “The glory of the Name of God cannot be established through reasoning. It can certainly be experienced through faith, devotion and constant repetition. Have reverence and faith for the Name. Do not argue. Every Name is filled with countless powers. Just as fire has the natural property of burning things, so also the Name of God has the power of burning sins and desires. The power of the Name is ineffable. Its Glory is indescribable. The efficacy and inherent Sakti of the Name of God is unfathomable.”
Here are some popular Hindu mantras that carry God’s holy names:
Om Namo Narayana
Om Nama Shivaya
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
Ram Krishna Hari
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Om Ramaya Namaha
Om Namo bhagavate Ramakrishnaya
Sri Ram Jayaram jaya jaya Ram
Developing a taste for Gods’ name develops love on God; Great religious masters do not prescribe any need for personal purity to chant God’s name. Mata Amritanandamayi says God’s name can be repeated even while sitting in the toilet. Repetition of God’s name added with music — the Nama sankirtan has benefits added multifold. There are several Hindu saints and seers who emphasize Nama sankirtan as the be all and end all of devotion to God.
In Hinduism, a very widespread practice followed is to name people predominantly in God’s name. Even though naming children with short, sweet and novel-sounding names is getting widely prevalent now a days, in south, a grandmotheror an elder in the family will ensure that at the timing of naming ceremony, the child is named with at least one of God’s name- preferably a name associated with the family deity.
By calling out your child as Rama or Krishna, Sita, Parvati and so on, you have the opportunity to utter God’s name unknowingly, numerous times in a day. The belief is that whether you call out a God’s name knowingly or unknowingly, you accrue some benefit. According to Hindu mythology, the demon King Hiranya, father of Prahlad, kept uttering and thinking of Narayana with utter contempt but he gained Moksha (liberation) by getting killed in the hands of Lord Narayana who took the avatar of Narasimha.
Vaishanvas (worshipers of Lord Vishnu) never get tired of quoting the story of Ajamila, a hopeless sinner who at his death-bed called out his son Narayana and breathed his last. By virtue of uttering Narayana’s name, he was absolved of his sins and he attained a higher birth. It is quite common to see elderly people uttering “Narayana”, “Govinda” etc while sitting down of standing up or while engaging in any form of physical exertion.
Hinduism does not restrict even naming of inanimate things with the name of God. In olden days in Tamil Nadu (South India)children of poor and middle class families used to play with “marapachchi“, a wooden doll very crudely shaped in human form. Children used to name them with their favourite Gods, dress them with pieces of cloth, treat them as their Gods and play festivals as done in the temples. Thus Hinduism revolved around inculcating Bhakthi and a taste for God’s name right from childhood.
Chanting God’s name and Mantra Diksha
One can take any name of God that is appealing to him and start chanting it. One can also take up any of the above listed mantras and start doing japa at one’s own convenience. Based on his devotion, sincerity and concentration, one definitely acquires spiritual benefits on account of the practice.
But, better still is the practice of getting formally initiated to chanting God’s name from a qualified and empowered spiritual Guru. If the Guru happens to be an Avatara purusha, a jivan mukta (one who attained liberty while being alive) or a Satguru (a guru who has attained spiritual enlightenment) the benefits are multifold. Getting God’s name formally from a Guru is known as Mantra Diksha (initiation).
Mata Amritanandamayi says that when a Satguru gives Mantra Diksha, he is transferring a portion of his prana (vital force) along with the Mantra to the disciple. This way, a very potent seed is sown in the heart of the disciple and this vital force helps the disciple to accrue the benefits of chanting the mantra faster and stronger.
While there is no secrecy associated with God’s name, it is not the case when a formal Mantra Diksha is given. A satguru knows which Mantra is suitable for the taste, temperament and spiritual inclination of the disciple. What is best suited to “A” need not work well for “B”. Hence, it is normally the practice in Hinduism that a disciple should not reveal his mantra to any third person. Matras formally obtained through diksha are to be chanted silently. The Guru may also recommend certain pre-requisites for chanting the mantra (like recommended time for chanting, minimum number of chantings to be made in a day, external purity guidelines before chanting mantra etc).
Getting God’s vision
It is said that when a person takes to God’s name in all sincerity, pumps in his heart and soul with total devotion and chants his God’s name untiringly is blessed with the vision of his personal God at the appropriate time. Countless Hindu saints cutting across the numerous sects and sub-sects of Hinduism have had vision of their respective personal Gods.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a very distinguished and unconventional Hindu saint is a sterling example of this phenomenon. His personal God is Kali, the Universal Divine Mother and he had had numerous glorious visions of her. He assiduously followed numerous other sects of Hinduism and practiced spirituality in all paths he came across. He had had divine vision of Rama, Krishna, Radha, Sita, Gouranga and many such divine forms. He practiced Christianity and Islam for a while and had the vision of Jesus Christ and prophet Mohammed too. Negating the form aspect of God, he practiced non-dualistic path of realizing God as Brahman or Atman, the beginning-less and endless entity, the one without second, the one transcending all name and form. He was immersed in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, a meditative state where he had absolved all “I” consciousness and remained blissfully dissolved in the ocean of Brahman.
While acknowledging the importance of God’s name and form at one end, Hinduism at its other extreme end, has the boldness to accept by way of personal verification, that any God form had in vision is at the best a product of mind of the individual who had the vision, though such a mind is the purest of all. Hindu gnyanis (knowers of the ultimate reality) like Ramana Maharishi declare by personal experience that the seer, the seeing and the seen are nothing but one single entity, and knowing THAT is the ultimate truth to be grasped in spirituality.
Swami Sivananda’s practical guide to doing Japa Sadhana
Swami Sivananda writes: ” I have given below a number of practical hints of great use for your daily Sadhana. Kindly note and follow them carefully.
1. Fixed hours: Most effective time for Japa is early dawn Brahmamuhurta and dusk, when Sattva is predominant. Regularity in Japa is very essential.
2. Definite place: It is highly advantageous to sit in the same place every day. Do not change it now and then. When you sit there you will have automatically the mood to do Japa. Just as you have a mood to study books when you enter a library or pray when you enter a temple so also you will get the mood to do Japa when you sit in your usual Asana.
3. A steady pose: A comfortable Asana helps to make the mind steady also, controls Rajas and aids concentration. Concentration cannot be acquired by one whose pose is not steady. Keep the Merudand (spine) always erect. If you droop down like an old man while sitting for Japa and meditation your mind will always waver and wander. Have a steady pose all throughout the period of Japa.
4. Face North or East: This exercises a subtle influence and enhances the efficacy of Japa. Sages and Rishis of the Himalayas help those who sit facing North for Japa because they come in contact with them by facing North.
5. A Seat: Deer skin or Kusha-mat or a rug should be used. The Gita says ‘Chailajinakusottaram.’ Have a Kusa mat, a deer-skin over that and a clean white cloth above. This is the seat prescribed by the Gita. Energy is conserved which is otherwise dissipated without a proper seat.
6. Repeat elevating prayers: Invoking the aid of the Ishtam with appropriate prayer induces a proper Sattvic Bhava. In all spiritual Sadhana divine help is prerequisite. Without it no spiritual progress can be attained and control of the wandering, mischievous mind becomes impossible.
7. Clear articulation: Start the Japa pronouncing the Mantra distinctly and without mistakes. Mantra Sakti is quickly awakened, mind is easily elevated and made one-pointed if the pronunciation is clear and distinct.
8. Vigilance and alertness: This is very important. You will be fresh and alert when you commence. After a time unconsciously the mind becomes weary, begins to wander and drowsiness overpowers you. Avoid this state. Some sleep during Japa and meditation and imagine to have attained spiritual bliss. This is mere hallucination.
9. Japa Mala: Using a Mala helps alertness and acts as an incentive to carry on the Japa continuously. Resolve to finish a certain number of Malas before leaving the seat. The mind will deceive you if you do Japa without a Mala. You will imagine that you have done Japa for a long time and that you have done more than the required number.
10. Variety in Japa: This is necessary to sustain interest, avoid fatigue and counteract monotony. Repeat aloud for a time, then hum the Mantra and repeat mentally sometimes. When the real bliss or taste for Japa is acquired then Japa becomes habitual and pleasant. There will be no monotony at all. The variety of Japa is for beginners only. Mental Japa is the most powerful. It directly counteracts the evil Vrittis of the mind and makes the mind pure.
11. Meditation: Side by side with Japa think of the Lord as present before you and picture His entrancing beautiful form. This practice adds tremendously to the efficacy and power of your Sadhana. The mind is fully engrossed in the form of the Lord by this practice and there is no chance for the mind to get hold of the objects of senses which are like straw or chaff before the bliss of the presence of God.
12. Concluding prayer and rest: This is important. After Japa is over do not immediately leave the place, mix with everyone and plunge into worldly activity. Sit very quietly for about 10 minutes at least humming some prayer, remembering the Lord or reflecting upon His infinite love. Then after devout prostration leave the place and commence your work. Spiritual vibrations will be in tact. You will find it easy to remember the Lord even while at work. Combine prayer with your daily routine and occasionally remember Him.
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