Monday, April 06, 2009

MPOW #11 - 108 Mantra Recitations

So many people told me that they enjoyed last week's introduction to mantras, so for this Mindfulness Practice of the Week (MPOW), we will focus on another aspect on mantras. Maintaining the count. In traditional Buddhist and Hindu practices, a mala or garland of prayer beads is often used to help keep count. This week I encourage you to practice without the aid of a Mala. This allows you to combine the useful mindfulness practice of counting with that of reciting mantras.

The magic number for the recitation is 108. Why 108 you ask? (Yes, everyone asks.) Destination Om has an excellent post on many answers to Why 108? from many different traditions. Among the reasons:
Swami Muktananda explains it perfectly, clearly and precise when describing the heart as the source of the infinite and our connection with the divine and God. From the heart there are 108 MAIN nadis (veins) that go from the heart to all the [extremities] and after reciting a mantra 108 times you have purified your body. In this way a meditator can see the importance in reciting mantra.
Another interesting one: "8 extra beads: In doing a practice of counting the number of repetitions of the mala, 100 are counted as completed. The remaining are said to cover errors or omissions. The 8 are also said to be an offering to God and Guru."

One interpretation that I really like is described in the Wikipedia article on Buddhist Prayer Beads. For this one, each recitation is for a particular purpose. You may choose to dedicate a mantra recitation to each of the 108 permutations in turn.

In traditional Buddhist thought, people are said to have 108 afflictions or klesas. There are six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and consciousness) multiplied by three reactions (positive, negative, or indifference) making 18 "feelings." Each of these feelings can be either "attached to pleasure or detached from pleasure" making 36 "passions", each of which may be manifested in the past, present, or future. All the combinations of all these things makes a total of 108....

The Mindfulness Practice of the Week

Enter your meditative position, and as you relax, allow your breath to come to a natural pace, where you're not intentionally elongating it nor tightening it. Allow it to free itself of any stresses or obligations. Choose your mantra--if you're new to mantras, I encourage you to read last week's introduction to mantras. Begin reciting, maintaining a count in your head (without help of beads or another counting system). You may practice whether it makes sense for you to count before, during, or after the mantra.

Continue the count until 108. At this point, you may choose to stop meditating, continue in a different meditation, or continue for another 108, for an indefinite period of time, or whatever works for you. I tend to find that after 108 practices of the mantra, that I am very relaxed and have managed to shut off my brain. I then just enjoy that state of meditation (or samadhi) for a while, until I naturally decide to exit. Though I know, continuing to 108 is not always easy, but don't worry about that.

You may lose count several times. It is very natural to do so. If you're feeling very dedicated, when you catch yourself losing count, start over. It is also fine to choose to continue where you think that you left off. An important part of the mindfulness practice is to contemplate why you lost track and how you decided to course correct. What does it say about where you are right now? Starting over might mean that you are very dedicated, or a purist, or a perfectionist, or a masochist, or any number of other things. Not starting over might mean that you are very practical, or on a time crunch, or lazy, or just going through the motions. Debating these things in your mind might be an imbalance of the intellect or ego trying to run the show. I have seen all of these things and more within myself.

This post is dedicated to the folks at Samadhi Yoga studio in Seattle's Capital Hill. This studio focuses on all aspects of yoga, balancing, physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual practices. This studio is where I learn new mantras, including this counting practice today.

No comments:

Post a Comment