Effectiveness of Repetition (Japa)

One of the preferred methods of gaining spiritual insights in life is Japa, the repeated chanting of our Istha’s name. If we read any literature on sadhana, japa is mentioned as one of the simplest and most effective means of attaining liberation. Not just in Hindu dharma, but also in Christian and Muslim religions, carrying a rosary and telling beads is a very common sight associated with a holy person. Now, anything which is accepted universally and  over a long period of time has the backing of Truth.  Mere fads do not last long.  Today we will try and understand how japa is so effective.

The first doubt people entertain is: If doing japa is enough then how come people who have been chanting God’s name for so long haven’t yet realised Him?  A variation of this questions is: If attaining Moksha is so easy as chanting name repeatedly, how come so many people have not yet realised Him?

A more rational mind might think a bit deeper and say: Truth is ever new. Then how come an activity that is by its very nature repetitive lead us to something that is ever changing? It is like expecting to go on top of a tree by crawling on the ground. Our efforts seem to be on a different level than the goal.

One should remember that we live our life full of contradictions. So even when we have these (or any other) doubts about japa, we still continue to do japa as and when we could!! Just because so many saints have recommended it and we also have faith in them! Therefore, if you are doing japa, please do not think that you do not have any doubt about its efficacy! May be you have not realised your own doubts as yet!! Therefore, you must do introspection first and see if you can answer these two questions to your own satisfaction. (Of course, I am going to propose a solution to these two objections but it would be far more nice if you have your own answer.)

When we do any activity, we get carried away by its outer manifestation. For example, the lady of the house makes tea for the guests (please do not think that I am a male chauvinist! In my house quite often I make coffee for guests!! Its just a figure of speech :-)). This activity is the same whether she is giving tea to her In-laws or to her own brother. But her mindset might be totally different in these two cases. Can we honestly say that she has done the same work on both of these occasions. Shouldn’t we give more credit to an action that is performed with loving care as opposed to the one done with boredom? Actually, in any of our activities we can detect to components (just like a place on this earth is given by longitude and latitude, two components you see!)  One is the physical activity and the second is our mental attitude while doing the activity. Amongst these two components which one is superiour? It is our attitude that rules the effectiveness of our work. That is why when a step-mother scolds a child its effect is different than his own mother scolding him. The act remains the same but the effect is different.

In the second question doing japa is said to be repetitive. But is it actually so? True, the outer activity is the same, that of chanting the name of our own chosen God (Ishta). However, our mental set-up is changing with time. The very fact that we have chanted Ishta’s name a certain times before has made a change in our attitude before we chant its name one more time! Therefore the question is not at all applicable! Japa is NOT repetitive if we consider the totality of work.

I also said that it is our mental attitude that governs the outcome of our action. Therefore, the first objection is also answered. What if there is very little change on our attitude towards God? Then chanting Its name a million times will give the same result as it had done the first time. We will be still far away from God. Therefore mere chanting the name monotonically does not guarantee results.

Hence both these objections become completely resolved if we include in Japa not just the chanting but also the feeling with which we chant the name.

This also tells us how we should improve our japa! Is it not clear now that improving japa is not just increasing the number of times we take His name? What we need to do is to take his name with deeper feeling. Then even if you take the name less number of times, it will not matter. There are famous instances in Puranas where chanting the name of God just once with intense longing has given liberation to the bonded soul. So what I am saying can very easily be justified by quoting Shastras.

Finally, what I have just said now shows that chanting God’s name `can’ be effective. It does not prove that it IS effective. We will do that next time.

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