The different methods of concentration and meditation have their basis in the different temperaments and different states of evolution of the human mind. The purpose of yogic concentration is to control the mind and brain waves, and these thought waves function at all levels of your personality. Yogic practices control the conscious layers of thoughts, and when your surface thoughts are controlled you can make effort to control the thoughts in the subconscious level. There are many methods to control the conscious impulses and there are advanced yogic methods which lead to the control of subconscious impulses.
The practice of japa is especially relevant for Western people. Japa is a system by which you can progress rapidly in the spiritual realms and simultaneously it releases all your tensions. In other spiritual practices, the presence and help of a spiritual master is very essential, lest the aspirant go astray. In the West, where advanced spiritual gurus are very rare, practice of japa for the spiritual aspirant becomes a source of blessings, for japa yoga can be practised safely without the guidance of a master. Japa yoga consists of mentally repeating a word or a set of syllables which create certain sound vibrations in the brain and emotional and psychic bodies. When you repeat the mantra, since every sound has an image, the image is awakened again and again in your psychic body. You may be incredulous at this, but if you analyze it, every sound produces an image on the brain through the ears, and the brain converts these into thought forms. Similarly, when you repeat a mantra many times over, it brings about relaxation and one-pointedness of mind.
In japa when you repeat any mantra, concentrate the mind at one of the three centres: heart, throat or eyebrow centre and try to listen to the rhythmic movement of the mantra like a timepiece. If the mantra is of the syllable Aum, then the rhythm should be neither too fast nor too slow, and when you hear the mantra at a particular centre, go on hearing the rhythm as if it were a clock with precisely fixed timing. Repeat the mantra fifteen or twenty times continuously without a break. Even if your mind /is distracted by disturbing thoughts that may intervene, it does not matter, keep on chanting. The practice of concentration takes time and therefore never be discouraged if you encounter failures in the beginning. If you continue japa, in a short time the mind will pass into meditation and eventually into samadhi, which is a very high state. You will find that the mind will keep progressing every day. However, on some days the mood will be good and you will repeat the mantra for half an hour and your mind will be concentrated and peaceful. On other occasions your mind will not be under your control. Japa yoga is a preparatory stage for a course of meditation, and after the practice of japa you will have to concentrate on an image or a symbol.
There are some people who are unable to concentrate their minds on any one of the centres along with japa, and they should do japa in a different way. In this method we closely watch the breathing process with the eyes closed. We all breathe, but we are not usually aware of our breathing. When you become aware of every breath, it is a form of concentration in itself. We breathe about fifteen times every minute and about 900 times in an hour. So, if you sit quietly for one hour and chant the mantra with the breath, you will chant 900 times. But it is very important that the breath is natural, normal and effortless. In this practice you will have to constantly think, “I am breathing in. I am breathing out.” Even when you first begin this awareness, you will find your awareness of life to be greatly increased and you will assimilate experiences with greater detail and understanding.
The first stage is conscious breathing. Next, you have to awaken the psychic passage or the pathway of the mind. So, while concentrating on your breath, move the mind through the psychic passage between the navel and the throat. When you did japa on the mantra in the previous exercise, the mind did not move but remained at a particular psychic point where you developed an image of the mantra, but here we awaken the psychic passage by passing the mind up and down with the breath.
There are many psychic paths in the body but one should not practise all. In the beginning, develop the psychic path between the navel and the throat. When you do this while concentrating on your natural breath, you will find that a flow of mental energy, a flow of consciousness is moving up and down between these two points. After a while, no longer think in terms of breathing, just remain aware of the ascending and descending of the consciousness through the psychic passage. So when you inhale forget your nose and breath, but in the passage from the navel to the throat feel consciousness going up and when you exhale do not watch the breath moving from the nose, but feel the consciousness descending from the throat to navel. This psychic passage becomes the source of concentration.
Now you should combine with the movement the So Ham mantra; So with the incoming breath and Ham with the outgoing breath. Practise with your eyes closed. When you think of your incoming breath it is So, and when you think of your outgoing breath it is Ham; when you breathe in the sound of the breath is So, and when you breathe out the sound of the breath is Ham. If you prefer, combine your own mantra with the breath instead of So Ham. You should have constant awareness of all that you are doing. If you are breathing, there should be awareness that you are breathing; if you are coordinating mantra with the breath, you must be aware that you are coordinating mantra with the breath. You must be aware that you are doing this and there must also be awareness of this whole process of concentration.
After considerable practice, you should then start to concentrate on any point or centre, that is, you should do the previous japa yoga exercise. I have given you two methods: one with the breath in the psychic passage and the other with just the mantra at one of the psychic points. You can do whichever you find easier. So now I have explained to you the method of japa yoga which is certainly a very effective technique.
Another technique is known as ajapa japa, which is very difficult to practice without proper training. The only difference between ajapa japa and japa is that in ajapa japa the spinal cord, the vertebral column is the psychic passage and instead of normal, natural breath, you practise it with ujjayi pranayama or psychic breath, which is produced by contracting the glottis. Students of hatha yoga who have been practising pranayama will know ujjayi. This pranayama creates psychic heat. When you practise ujjayi, you create a psychic passage in the spinal cord and pass your consciousness through the different centres of the spinal cord.
The process of ajapa japa is divided into six stages. It is a powerful method, but it must be learned under guidance because ajapa japa does not suit everybody. However, if it suits you, concentration will come easily and you can sit in meditation for many hours together.
There are many methods of concentration through which you can penetrate the outer world and go inside. Whichever method you take, please remember it is only a means and not the end; the end is to develop an image of your consciousness. Many people in the West will hesitate to meditate on a symbol because they think it as idolatry, but when you close your eyes and imagine a lotus or a rose or a man, what is it that you actually see? Do you see that particular object, or is it your own consciousness that you see? A lotus or animal or anything you see in the depth of meditation is nothing but your own consciousness. As this consciousness, this mental awareness becomes completely purified, the symbol will become completely clear, and when you can visualize a rose as clearly as you see it outside in the garden, if the qualitative perception does not differ, you will have reached a very high degree of concentration. Verily, that man has concentration who is able to see as much with his eyes closed as when his eyes are open. Once the difference between ocular perception and thought perception disappears and the thought images come like mirror reflections, once your thoughts are completely purified, then you have perception of the spiritual path inside you with the same clarity as you see the way outside. Unless you are able to visualize the rose inside you clearly, your mind is not crystal clear, and this means that between the thought of the rose and yourself there exists a barrier, and this barrier has to be removed. Can you always recollect your dreams? In dreams sometimes you see a dead man, or an animal, or a landscape, or your friends, and how clearly you see them!
When the mind becomes one-pointed, it loses its contact with the outside world and you become ‘dead’ to the world. The Bible quotes St. Paul as saying, “I swear I die every day.” If you are able to concentrate your mind and make it one-pointed in meditation, there will be detachment from external things. If your mind is detached from outside consciousness for even one second, the object of concentration becomes very clear and you will develop clairvoyance or a photographic memory. A photographic memory is when the mind does not use the faculty of memory, but the whole picture presents itself before the mind as if it is actually taking place.
Concentration and meditation are the secrets of mental health, but their methods vary according to different temperaments, limitations and understanding. Therefore, each individual must find out the correct method for himself. When you have progressed in one faculty of consciousness and meditation, further faculties will develop one after the other. For those who lack a spiritual teacher to guide them, I would suggest the path of japa. This is not perhaps a short-cut, but it is a sure way of doing it. If you were to practise pranayama two hours a day, or do asanas or sit in the lotus posture for three hours daily, just imagine how exhausted you would become. But if you practise breath awareness only once in the morning and once in the evening, the only difference is that whereas before you were breathing unconsciously, you will now breathe consciously.
When you concentrate on your breath, the mind naturally becomes concentrated. Yoga says prana and mind are interrelated, and when mind is disturbed pranas are also not quiet and the converse is also true. So when you concentrate the mind, the pranas become tranquil. These two elements in life are inseparable, just as electricity, light and heat are inseparable. By controlling prana you can bypass the mind, but this is a difficult process; you have to take care of diet, of celibacy, you have to take care of many things which are not possible for an ordinary person. The other alternative, the control of prana by concentration of mind is the easiest path for most people. Those who are sincere and earnest, who want mental relaxation and to advance spiritually should start practising japa yoga.
—Austria, 1968, first published in Yoga from Shore to Shore