The Three Types of Japa
The spiritual practice of Japa can be broadly classified into three types-
1. Mantra Japa
2. Nama Japa
3. Stotra Paarayana
1. Mantra Japa: “Mantra” literally means “mananaat traayate iti mantrah” i.e. Mantra is something which when contemplated and internalized would rescue a person (from the bonds of Samsara). As mentioned before, Mantra is a sacred formula, a sound that contains cosmic energies inside it in a potential form. They are the very body of the Devatas or deities. Each mantra has six parts: a “Rishi”-who saw it, a “Devata”-who is the presiding deity, “chandas”- the meter in which the mantra is set, “Beeja”- the seed or essence of the mantra, “Shakti”- the power that is present hidden in the mantra, and “Keelakam”- the key without which one cannot unlock the secrets of the mantra. Apart from this, there are kavacham, sankalpam and ardham that are associated with Mantra japa. “Kavacham” protects the practitioner during the practice of the Mantra sadhana. “Sankalpam” refers to the declaration of intention for performing the sadhana. It may be to attain specific desires (Sakaama) or simply out of devotion (Nishkaama). “ardham” refers to the meaning of the mantra.
A person who wishes to practice Mantra sadhana must first find a suitable Guru and take initiation from it. A proper initiation from the Guru is very important. Guru can evaluate the spiritual condition of a person and initiate him in a suitable manner that would help him both materially and spiritually. Further, without the guidance and protection of a Guru it is very difficult to attain the Siddhi/perfection of the mantra. Hence, having initiation from a proper Guru is very vital. After getting initiated in the mantra, a person should start performing a full Puruscharana. “Puruscharana” means “pura charati iti” i.e. that which performed before attaining perfection or that which is performed in front of a deity. It said that at least four Puruscharana is needed to attain Mantra-Siddhi. A single Puruscharana includes chanting of the mantra to a total of one lakh times the number of syllable in a mantra. Each day, at a specific time and specific place, the person would chant the mantra specific number of times until the full Puruscharana is over.
If any person is unable to do perform a full puruscharana, then he may practice the Japa as directed by his Guru. Some practice Japa by taking Sankalpa for shorter periods of 41 days or 28 days or 11 days. But, the goal of all such rules and regulations is to take the practitioner from Japa to Ajapa-japam- a state of spontaneous repetitions. A person, who attains the state of ajapa-japam, chants his mantra all the time even when he is doing other works. Even in the midst of actions such a person would be chanting internally. If a person has no Guru and has genuine desire to practice a mantra for the purpose of spiritual progress, then such a person can take Lord Shiva as his Guru and take his permission and chant the mantra. Or, he can also practice “Nama Japa” that can be done without initiation. But, if a person desires to practice Japa for attaining a specific result, then Initiation becomes very vital.
2. Nama Japa: “Nama” means “name” and hence Nama-Japa refers to practice of repetition of names of various deities. As mentioned above, the Mantra Japa has to be practiced after having initiation as it has many Beeja, Shakti, Keelakam’s etc. that require proper guidance and protection from Guru. But, the Nama-Japa can be practiced with or without initiation. The very name of God is protective in nature. It only requires devotion and surrendering to practice this spiritual discipline. One can pick up any deity towards which one is drawn more strongly and start chanting his/her name as sadhana. Valmiki did this kind of Japa. He simply kept repeating he name of Rama.
3. Stotra Paarayana: Another way to practice sadhana is the Parayana or recitation of Stotras. This generally does not require any initiation. Many such Stotra’s have been imparted especially for masses so that they can chant it and get numerous benefits out of it without requiring for any initiation. Parayana is very helpful as a preparatory sadhana. It helps to purify the mind and get rid of internal enemies. Among the most famous stotras are Vishnu and Lalita Sahasranama- one thousand names of Vishnu and Lalita respectively. Another widely used text is Durga-Saptashati. People also do paarayana of Ramayana. Many benefits can also be derived by reading small stotra texts like Kalabhairava Panchakam etc that has been composed by Adi Shankaracharya. If a person is interested in doing Spiritual practice but is inhibited because he does not have initiation to practice Mantra, then he can take up any of the Stotras or Sahasranama’s and practice regular Paarayana of it.