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Japa (or japam) means repeating or remembering a mantra (or mantram), and ajapa-japa (or ajapajapam) means constant awareness of the mantra, or of what it represents.[1][2] The letter A in front of the word japa means without. Thus, ajapa-japa is the practice of japa without the mental effort normally needed to repeat the mantra. In other words, it has begun to come naturally, turning into a constant awareness. The practice of constant remembrance evolves in stages:

At first, you intentionally repeat the syllables of the mantra internally, as if you are talking to yourself in your mind. You allow the inner sound to come at whatever speed feels comfortable to the mind. Sometimes it is very slow, as if the mind were wading through a vat of honey. At other times it is very fast, as if flying through the sky without restraint.

With practice, the mantra japa is repeated automatically, like a song that you have heard many times, which just comes on its own. (Some practitioners consider this automatic repeating to be the meaning of Ajapa-Japa, though there is a subtler meaning, as described below.)

Gradually, you merely remember the mantra with attention drawn to it. It is more like noticing what is already happening, rather than causing it to happen. It is somewhat like the attention stance of listening rather than speaking, though you might not literally hear the sound.

In time, the feeling of the mantra is there, even when the sound or remembering of the syllables is not there. For example, sometimes people will say, "OM, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti," where the word Shanti means peace or tranquility. During the remembering of the word there may be two things—the word and the feeling of peace or tranquility. When the syllables fade away, the feeling may still be there; this is remembrance of the feeling of the mantra.

As the practice evolves, there comes a pervasive awareness of the mantra, subtler than both the syllables and any surface level meaning or definition. This constant awareness is the meaning of Ajapa-Japa of the mantra.

While the word 'japa' is Sanskrit, and the practice described here associated with Hinduism, the same basic practice and result is also found in other faith traditions. Examples include the Jesus Prayer practice of Orthodox Christianity, [3][4] [5] Zikr or Dhikr (with alternate spellings depending on transliteration method) in Islamic contexts, particularly Sufi (6, 7), and several traditions within Catholic Christianity (8, 9).

Here, for example, is how one prominent source describes this continuous repetition practice as found in Islamic contexts:

"Dhikr, zikr: the act of remembering; remembrance. The Qur’an exhorts individuals to remember God: ‘O ye who believe! Remember (udhkuru) God with much remembrance (dhikran kathiran)’ (Q:33:41). Dhikr designates a kind of prayer, which consists in the constant repetition of a name or formula. It is performed either in solitude or collectively. For the mystic Al Hallaj (d. 922), it is a method that helps the soul live in God’s presence, another method being fikr (discursive recollection). Later Sufis, such as Ibn Attah Allah (d. 1309) emphasized that dhikr is a particular technique that guarantees higher states and wrote manuals on how to perform dhikr." (from Chopra, Ramesh (2005). Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Religion: A-F, Volume 1 of Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Religion. Gyan Publishing House. ISBN 9788182052857.)

References

  1. ^ Eknath Easwaran (1977/2008). Mantram handbook (5th ed.). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press. ISBN 1586380281
  2. ^ Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, Mantra Japa and Ajapa-Japa, accessed 9 Nov. 2009.
  3. ^ Anonymous (1884/1991). The way of a pilgrim. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0060630175
  4. ^ Allyne Smith, G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, & Kallistos Ware (2006). The Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts--selections Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing. ISBN 1594731039
  5. ^ Alphonse Goettmann (Author), Rachel Goettmann (Author), Theodore Nottingham (Translator), The Power of the Name: The History and the Practices of the Jesus Prayer. Orthodox Research Institute (May 11, 2008). ISBN-10: 0974561894, ISBN-13: 978-0974561899
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