“Japa” literally means “to repeat internally or in a low voice” The act of repetition of any word or syllable in any language can be considered as “japa”. Japa-Sadhana specifically refers to the practice of repetition of sacred formulas called as “Mantras”. Japa-Sadhana includes repetition of Mantras, Naama’s (names of God) and Stotras (Hymns dedicated to God).
Mantra Japa is one of the most popular and widely practice spiritual discipline (Sadhana). The Mantras refer to sacred sounds or formulas that were “seen or heard” i.e. directly perceived by the Rishis in depth of their meditations. The various Mantras refer to various aspects of Cosmos. They contain within them various energies/Shakti in their potent form. By repetition of such mantras, the spiritual practitioner can harness those energies. Further, the mantras dedicated to various deities or the names of the deities (Naama Mantra) are considered as subtle bodies of those deities and hence, by repetition of such a mantra, one can have vision and realize the deity. Japa Sadhana is one of the easiest ways to attain spiritual progress. Manu Smriti says the results obtaind from various spiritual disciplines and rituals like Homa, Yajna, Bali, and Shradha etc. are only 1/16th of that obtained by the practice of Mantra-Japa. Traditionally, people who were involved in “Mantra Sadhana” used to do a full Purascharana of the mantra. They would select a specific mantra and take a sankalpa to do a japa for fixed number of times for a fixed number of days. One-tenth of the total number of japs was offered to Agni as oblations. One-tenth of the oblations were offered as Tarpana (ritual using water). One tenth was offered as Marjana (with flowers). And finally one tenth (of marjana) number of people were fed. But, there is no hard and fast rule that everyone must practice in this same manner.
In this age of fast life, people can spend just a few minutes every day and practice chanting of their favorite mantra. This would help them keep their mind calm and focused in daily activities. But the ultimate goal of any spiritual practice is to attain Atma Jnana or Self Realization. And Japa Sadhana achieves this by stilling the mind and directing it towards the sound of the mantra. With constant practice of the mantra, one attains one-pointed concentration and he will reach a state of “ajapa-japam” wherein the repetition of mantra becomes spontaneous to the practitioner. This ajapa-japam will ultimately result in the mind becoming completely still. When, the mind becomes still, the object i.e. the mantra merges with the subject i.e. the practitioner and he will attain Samadhi.