Mantras, Meditation & The Path of Devotion

by Akash Bornstein

“Even a leaf, or a flower, or a cup of water, is accepted by Me, when it is offered with devotion.”

Bhagavad Gita IV.26

Long ago in India there lived a simple tribal woman by the name of Shabari.

Shabari had been betrothed at a young age. On the eve of her wedding she happened to overhear her father boasting to the village men that 1,000 goats were to be killed for the grand wedding feast of his daughter. Shabari wanted nothing to do with such a slaughter, and, wishing to save the lives of all those goats, she left the village that very night.

She entered the jungle with absolutely no fear, and was guided to the ashram of a great sage named Matangi, who was her destined Guru. There, Shabari served her guru with utmost loyalty and devotion. When sage Matangi was ready to leave his body and ascend to the higher realms, Shabari begged him to take her with him. But he replied, “No, my daughter, it is not your time yet. When the Lord comes to you as Sri Ram, he will liberate you.”

And so, Shabari lived her simple life of humble devotion. Each day she would pluck the wildflowers in the forest and line the path to her hut, that no thorn would prick the lotus feet of the Lord when he came. Each day she would pick berries, tasting each one, and saving only the sweetest for Ram. Day after day, year after year, she faithfully waited, never for a moment doubting the word of her guru.

And on that blessed day when Ram arrived at the ashram, Shabari was ready, cleansed by her steadfast faith and devotion.

Before her final liberation Ram said, “That which is most difficult to attain even by great yogis has been attained by you, O Shabari, because of your sincere devotion.”

Devotion is the essential ingredient, along with surrender and faith, which smooths the arduous path of yoga.

Devotion brings sweetness and humility to the yoga aspirant. Even the highest techniques of meditation can strengthen, rather than annihilate the ego, without the magic key called devotion.

Bringing devotion into your mantra and meditation practise will bring supreme happiness and success on your yoga journey.

The entire system, which we call yoga, is a process of purification. This gradual purification is the unveiling of our true nature. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says: “By dedicated practise of the component parts of yoga, impurities gradually dwindle, and the splendour of the True Self shines forth.”

The primary yogic tool for the purification of the mind is the practise of mantra japa (repetition). The mantras are intoned in Sanskrit, the Language of Light. Ancient Rishis (“seers”) intuited the sounds that purify us on our deepest level – in the chakras. It is in the chakras that the seeds of our past karma are stored.

If you were to think of the chakras as stringed instruments, harps perhaps, the mantras when spoken with conviction and sincerity strum the harps in perfect cleansing tones. Each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet is the exact same frequency as a “petal” or ray of energy emanating from a chakra. That is why, when you are chanting mantras, you are cleansing the chakras. The seeds of karma sown in past lives will not necessarily need to ripen to fruition on the physical plane. Instead, with a mind focused at the spiritual eye, these seeds loosened by the mantras may be “roasted” in the fire of spiritual awakening.

How does devotion fit in with mantra practise?

Even such a powerful practise as mantra recitation can become dry and lifeless without devotion. The same yogic practises that can liberate us and reveal our soul nature can instead make us arrogant – without devotion. Devotion brings freshness and joy to our practise.

A Mantra Practise with Devotion

The mantra “Om Gam Ganapatayay Namahah” is the manta of Lord Ganesh, remover of obstacles. This mantra will remove all hindrances and difficulties and bring untold blessings to our endeavours. It will open doors so that we may reap the highest benefit in life.

Start with a prayer to Lord Ganesh. The simple language of your own heart is the most potent way to pray. Ask for that which you need with humility.

Now visualize Ganesh. See his lotus eyes filled with compassion and love, and a spark of humour.

Then as you begin your mantras, feel Ganesh entering into your heart. You may feel that it is he who is reciting the mantra through you.

Use a mala (string of beads) of 108 beads, chant the mantra 108 times. 108 is a sacred number that gives special power to your mantra practise. This number relates to the 9 planets and 12 signs of the zodiac, and signifies that your focused chanting is cleansing the karma of a full year. As you chant your 108 mantras you are loosening up the seeds of karma that created the current difficulty. With your heart filled with devotion, focus at the point between the eyebrows and ask that these seeds be roasted by divine grace.

You may use the mantra and deity that you feel especially inspired to invoke.

When you meditate, meditate with intensity and devotion. Meditation must be a combination of a focused mind together with an open heart. Don’t let your meditation become a chore. Your heartfelt devotion will make every meditation an intimate communion with the Inner Self.

Paramahansa Yogananda called this experience the divine romance. This romance is a never ending, ever-increasing joy. It brings ultimate perfection to the yoga aspirant by stripping away all illusion of separation. It is when we can offer ourselves at the feet of God with humble devotion that miracles can truly unfold.

Here is a practise to enliven and enrich your meditation practise.

Sit quietly in your favourite meditation place.

An altar where you daily offer fresh flowers, a candle flame, and incense will help to evoke the natural love of the heart.

Begin by inhaling with an Ujjayi breath, visualizing a current of light moving up the astral spine.

Pause at the spiritual eye, feeling that your prana and breath are the flowers of devotion offered at the feet of the Infinite.

With your Ujjayi exhalation, visualize a current penetrating deep into the astral spine, cleansing and purifying you.

Repeat 3-6 times.

Now, with deep focus, begin to offer up your desires, your questions, your problems, and your weaknesses.

With scrupulous honesty offer up at the point between the eyebrows all those parts of your life and your being that obstruct the flow of pure joy in your life.

Build a bonfire at the spiritual eye and offer into this sacred fire all that you are.

With childlike humility ask for help. No one can do this work alone. It is only through grace that we can be freed from the fetters of the conditioned mind.

Then with deepest concentration feel the liberating grace and lightness that accompanies the divine response.

Day by day, moment by moment, continue to offer up your life, your speech, your work, your hopes and dreams, and body. The practise of devotion supersedes all karmic entanglements. You will emerge renewed and innocent, like a newborn baby. With an expanded perspective on life you will see how devotion will accelerate your journey and bring lasting happiness.

Hari Om Tat Sat.