Japa is defined as “vidhanena mantroccaranam”, or the repeated utterance or recitation of mantra according to certain rules.(1) It is according to the Tantrasara of three kinds: Vacika or verbal japa, in which the mantra is audibly recited, the fifty matrkas being sounded nasally with bindu; Upamsu-japa, which is superior to the last kind, and in which the tongue and lips are moved, but no sound, or only a slight whisper, is heard; and, lastly, the highest form which is called manasa-japa, or mental utterance. In this there is neither sound nor movement of the external organs, but a repetition in the mind which is fixed on the meaning of the mantra.
One reason given for the differing values attributed to the several forms is that where there is audible utterance the mind thinks of the words and the process of correct utterance, and is therefore to a greater (as in the case of vacika-japa); or to a less degree (as in the case of upamsujapa), distracted from a fixed attention to the meaning of the mantra. The Japas of different kinds have also the relative values, attachable to thought and its materialization in sound and word. Certain conditions are prescribed as those under which japa should be done, relating to physical cleanliness, the dressing of the hair, and wearing of silk garments, the seat (asana), the avoidance of certain conditions of mind and actions, and the nature of the recitation.
The japa is useless unless done a specified number of times of which 108 is esteemed to be excellent. The counting is done either with a mala or rosary (mala-japa), or with the thumb of the right hand upon the joints of the fingers of that hand (kara-japa). The method of the counting in the latter case may differ according to the mantra.(2)
1. Though mere book knowledge is, according to the Satkarmadipika, useless.
Pustake likitya: vidya yena sundari japyate,
Siddhir na jayate devi kalpa-koti-satair api.
2. See as to Japa, Tantrasara, 75,et seq.