Japa in Hinduism is the meditative repetition of a mantra or a divine name. There are three different ways in which japa is performed. This is often done with (rosary beads)(called Japamala Beads in Hinduism) or prayer wheels, or specific prayer beads – sometimes in a small handheld loop.
- Vachika Japa
- Upamsu Japa
- Manasa Japa
In Vachika Japa, the mantra is pronounced audibly, by the activity of the glottis, throat, the tongue, lips, teeth, cheeks, and the palate. If a number of persons utter the mantra together by producing uniform sounds in a pleasant manner, then a serene atmosphere is produced, and every participant benefits from the calming, absorbing effect on everybody’s mind.
Vachika Japa can be performed in a low voice, with a uniform, absorbing tone by a single individual.
In Upamsu japa, there is no audible sound of the words of the mantra, but the words are actually uttered in a very low, whispering voice with minute movements of the apparatus of speech and without any movements of the vocal cords. Thus, in upamsu japa, the varnas are pronounced but there is no dhvani or sound produced. There is much less expenditure of energy and less distraction of the mind in upamsu japa as compared to vachika japa. Upamasu japa is more effective for concentrating the mind of the deity.
Manasa japa is the highest and most effective form of japa. In it there is neither any audible nor low sound produced, and there are no movements of the lips, tongue and cheeks.
The above three varieties of japa are described in Mantra Yoga Samhita (64:3-4) as follows – “Manasa japa is that form of japa which cannot be heard even by one’s own ears, while upamsu is that variety in which the mantra is heard by oneself but not by any other person. Vachika japa, on the other hand, can be heard by anyone in the vicinity.”
Thus, in the three varieties, only the manner in which the words are uttered differs, whereas repletion of the syllables forming the mantra is common in all three varieties. Even in manasa japa, the words are called to mind, but without uttering them in the slightest manner.
About the efficiency of three varieties of japa, it is said in Gandharva Tantra (XVIII.41- 42) that “what one achieves by repeating Vachika japa a hundred thousand times can be achieved by a single repetition of upamsu japa, while a single repetition of manasa japa is as effective as one hundred thousand repetitions of upamsu japa.
But manasa japa requires controlling the tendency of the mind to wander. Vachika japa is the japa practiced by majority of people as it does not require much control of the mind.
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