Question: What is the secret of mantra japa (mentally repeating a mantra continuously)? I can keep my attention on if for a short time and then I forget all about it!
Swami Satchidananda: First, you have to constantly and consciously repeat the mantra. Later, the inner consciousness takes over. We do many things like that. For example, when you first begin to play the piano, there is so much to think about. You must have the right fingers on the right keys, and when the mind thinks of the fingers, the legs forget their job. You have to slowly cultivate the habit. Eventually, you no longer need to see the keys or the fingers or even think about the feet. You just notice the people who are appreciating the music. Learning to ride a bicycle involves the same thing. When you think of the pedals you forget the handle bar, and when you think of the handle bar, you forget the brake. But, after some time, you barely touch the handle bar. As you ride, you look around here and there and you fly!
Everything is like that, and these are gross things compared to mantra japa. Mantra japa takes a little longer time to sink into the system. But once it goes in, and the system takes over, you don’t have to think about it. You don’t even know that you are repeating the mantra. Sometimes when you wake up in the middle of the night, you will be surprised that someone is repeating the mantra for you. That’s why one of the Shaiva saints said, “Even if I forget the mantra, my tongue will be repeating it.” Don’t worry, it’s natural to forget it at the beginning. Nothing comes overnight. At least be grateful that sometimes you remember it. And the mantra has power. Once it gets into you, you can never forget it totally.
I sometimes receive letters that say, “I was given a mantra from you and then I never repeated it again; I literally forgot it. All of a sudden, one day, it popped into my mind.” Once you have been given a mantra, it goes within you. So, don’t worry. It will do its job. Strictly speaking, there is no other practice that is necessary for spiritual growth. We often want to do this and that and all sorts of complicated things. We’re not happy with one thing.
Many great sages and saints have done nothing but repeat a mantra. In this age, it is the easiest and the best method to use to control the mind. No matter where you are, or what you are doing, put your total faith in a mantra. That will pull you out of the mud and mire of your life. It will ultimately lead you to the goal. Learn the taste of the mantra. Taste that sweetness, and you won’t even appreciate all the candies and cakes. Develop that kind of spiritual taste.