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A Bhutanese Buddhist woman doing Japa, with prayer beads.

Japa (Sanskrit: जप) is the meditative repetition of a mantra or a divine name. It is a practice found in Hinduism,[1] Jainism,[2] Sikhism,[3][4] Buddhism,[5] and Shintōism.

The mantra or name may be spoken softly, enough for the practitioner to hear it, or it may be spoken within the reciter's mind. Japa may be performed while sitting in a meditation posture, while performing other activities, or as part of formal worship in group settings.


The Sanskrit word japa is derived from the root jap-, meaning "to utter in a low voice, repeat internally, mutter".[6] It can be further defined as ja to destroy birth, death, and reincarnation and pa meaning to destroy ones sins.[7][8]

Monier-Williams states that the term appears in Vedic literature such as in the Aitereya Brahmana (Rigveda) and the Shatapatha Brahmana (Yajurveda).[9] The term means muttering, whispering or murmuring passages from the scripture, or charms, or names of deity.[9] Often it is the repetitive singing of a verse or mantra, sometimes counted with the help of a rosary which is called Japa-mala.[9] A related word, Japana appears in Book 12 of the Mahabharata, where muttering prayers is described as a form of religious offering.[9]

The concept of Japa is also found in early Buddhist texts, and is very common in Tibetan Buddhism literature.[10]

According to Sage Patanjali (400 CE), Japa is not the repetition of word or phase but rather contemplation on the meaning of the mantra,[11] this definition sometimes persists across different sources.[12][13]


Mental repetition[edit]

One method of Japa is mental repetition of a mantra, such as a method recommended by Eknath Easwaran.[14]


In some forms of japa, the repetitions are counted using a string of beads known as a japa mala. Many different types of materials are used for japa. The number of beads in the japa mala is generally 108. It is not uncommon for people to wear japa beads around their neck, although some practitioners prefer to carry them in a bead-bag in order to keep them clean.


Tibetan Buddhists include japa meditation as a large part of their religious practices. In Tibet, states Harvey Alper, the prayer wheels are instruments for japa.[15] The practice of nembutsu in Pure Land Buddhism is analogous to japa.

Analogues in other traditions[edit]

Some Catholic prayer forms that involve repetition, such as use of the Rosary or one of various chaplets, are similar to, but not "japa", because the aim is different. Mental methods of repeated short prayers, very similar to japa are also used in Christian traditions, most notably the practice of repeating the Jesus Prayer found in the Eastern Orthodox Church.[16][17] The practice of dhikr by Sufis is similar to japa.[citation needed] The two main Sikh scriptures open with sections, named after the term, and these are called Japji Sahib and Jaap Sahib.[18]


The stated aim, or goal of japa may vary greatly depending on the mantra involved and the religious philosophy of the practitioner. In both Buddhist and Hindu traditions mantras may be given to aspirants by their guru, after some form of initiation. The stated goal could be moksha, nirvana, bhakti, or simple personal communion with a divine power in a similar way to prayer. Many gurus and other spiritual teachers, and other religious leaders, especially Hindu and Buddhist, teach that these represent different names for the same transformed state of consciousness. However, this claim is not made about mantras that are not intended for spiritual growth and self-realization.[19]

After long use of a mantra that is intended to foster self-realization or intimacy with a divine power, an individual may reach a state of ajapajapam. In ajapajapam, the mantra "repeats itself" in the mind.[14] Similar states have been reached by adherents to other major faith traditions, using prayers from their own traditions.

See also[edit]

Popular Japa mantras



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  1. Guy L. Beck (1995). Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound [archive]. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 92–93, 132–134. ISBN 978-81-208-1261-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Christopher Key Chapple (2015). Yoga in Jainism [archive]. Taylor & Francis. pp. 311–312. ISBN 978-1-317-57217-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. S Deol (1998), Japji: The Path of Devotional Meditation, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 978-0966102703, page 11
  4. SS Kohli (1993). The Sikh and Sikhism [archive]. Atlantic Publishers. pp. 33–34.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Shashi Bhushan Dasgupta; Sashibhusan Dasgupta (1958). An Introduction to Tāntric Buddhism [archive]. Calcutta University Press. pp. 167–168.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 447.
  7. Ashley, Thomas (2006). Chakra Mantras: Liberate Your Spiritual Genius Through Chanting (First ed.). San Francisco: Farrand Weiser Books. p. 11. ISBN 9781578633678.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Keshavadas, Sant (1990). Gāyatrī, the Highest Meditation. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 16. ISBN 9788120806979.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Sir Monier Monier-Williams, Japa [archive], A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages, Oxford University Press (Reprinted: Motilal Banarsidass), <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 978-8120831056, page 412
  10. Andre Padoux (2011). Tantric Mantras: Studies on Mantrasastra [archive]. Routledge. pp. 31–53. ISBN 978-1-136-70757-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Krishnananda, Swami (1986). Facets of Spirituality: Dialogues and Discourses of Swami Krishnananda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 181. ISBN 9788120800878.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Padoux, Andre (2011). Tantric Mantras: Studies on Mantrasastra (First ed.). Oxon: Routledge. p. 32. ISBN 9781136707575.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Raghavan, V. (2011). The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras. World Wisdom, Inc. p. 43. ISBN 9781935493969.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Eknath Easwaran (1977/2008). Mantram Handbook (5th ed.). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 1-58638-028-1
  15. Harvey P. Alper (1991). Understanding Mantras [archive]. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 440. ISBN 978-81-208-0746-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Doug Oman & Joseph D. Driskill (2003). Holy name repetition as a spiritual exercise and therapeutic technique [archive]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, v22 n1, pp5-19.
  17. Per-Olof Sjögren (1966/1996). The Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me] (3rd ed.) London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 0-281-04957-2
  18. HS Singha (2009), The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, Hemkunt Press, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 978-8170103011, page 110
  19. For example, when used for magical or occult purposes.

Further reading[edit]

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