I meditate and pray each morning — I look to the practice with both anxiety and desire. I feel anxious because I have not come up with a meditation regime that works consistently and many mornings I quit in despair after 15 minutes. I also feel anticipation when I wake in the morning because I know sometimes I do get it right and the reward is spiritual sweetness: a honeyed hum in my brain that lifts me skyward and a sense of God’s love that envelops my body.
American-born Hindu monk Srila Dhanurdhara Swami (don’t you love the Currier and Ives -style scarf wrapped about his head?) offers Five Qualities of Effective Mantra Meditation.
- Be Attentive
- Be Introspective
- Be Sincere
- Be Sweet
- Have Longing
His description of each quality is beautiful — and effective. You don’t have to be a Bhakti Hindu to find the advice useful. Dhanurdhara Swami chants and meditates upon the traditional Hare Krishna mantra. He says,
Pay attention to the mantra itself. I have found it most effective to treat each syllable of the mantra as something important – and focus my attention on hearing that I am correctly enunciating each syllable each time I repeat the mantra.
His wisdom can be applied as well to Christian or Jewish mantra. I recite the Jesus Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. But one might as well chant St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun:
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
or even the St. Francis Prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Most important, says Dhanurdhara Swami, is to turn your attention to the divine:
I now try to experience the mantra not only as Krishna but also as prayer to Krishna. So, I now turn my ear towards the sound of sincerity within the mantra I am pronouncing…. The sincerity in my chanting leads me to want to serve and please the object of the mantra: Radha-Krishna. Naturally, then, my next step is to shift the focus from my experience of the chant to Krishna’s experience of it.
Many of us Christians are accustomed to prayer as a time to petition God, or lay before him our unhappiness. Dhanurdahara instead, like a true devotional Bhakti, enters prayer with a heart full of gratitude, love and longing. St. Francis did the same.