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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Japamala (Rosary)

 I learnt from a Buddhist teacher that when using a japamala (rosary), the focus must be on the interval between the beads and not on the mantra (the words you use) or the beads you are touching when you say it. That interval between the beads is for silence. The goal should be to prolong that silent interval and “touch” the thread that connects those beads.

I just read a passage in Laghu Vakya Vritti of Adi Sankara (Sloka 9) which gives support to this teaching. It says: “Pure consciousness is like a string that holds together many pearls. That string can be seen between those pearls. Similarly, the Pure Consciousness is hidden by the modifications of the intellect and can be seen clearly in the interval between modifications (thoughts mental formations) of the mind”.

The focus must be on the silence between thoughts. One can start with focusing on the interval between breaths by prolonging that interval gently and slowly. Then one can try to prolong the interval between in-breath and out-breath. The next step is prolonging the interval between thoughts. 

Later in this book, Adi Sankara uses the word “nirodha”, which means "suppression". In sloke 11 he says: “Suppression of mental modifications (thought) must be practiced to be able to see the string between the pearls.” Patanjali maharishi also starts his book on Yoga Sastra with the aphorism that “Yoga is for control of the mind”. I doubt these great masters meant "suppression of the mind." We all know how difficult it is to suppress thoughts and how it can be unhelpful. Suppressed thoughts tend to show up at unwanted times. Besides it sounds violent, suppression.

Is it possible that the word "nirodha" is meant to indicate "to restrain, to channelize" rather than "to suppress or annihilate".  That is what Buddha did. Buddha asks us to focus, channelize, look deeply at the objects of the mind rather than annihilate thoughts. This is more non-violent. 

He asks us to be just an observer of thoughts. In the Vedic philosophy also, we are asked to be a "witness to the thoughts". Buddha asks us to be a non-judgmental witness, not clinging to those thoughts or trying to suppress them or escape from them. He said: “just observe it with loving kindness, like a mother will handle a crying baby. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Name it. Later look deeply into it to know what it truly is. Let it be. Let it go”. Of course, there is more to it than this. Yet this is more compassionate, realistic and attainable.

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

The silence is for probably advanced practioners for the art of prayer and meditation. For beginners, focusing on the mantra itself is difficult. Much practice is probably required before a novice can advance to silence and interval between the beads.

Controlling the mind should surely be one of the most difficult tasks for a human.