When I joined Sri Chinmoy’s path, I was very keen to improve my meditation. I read the Meditation book by Sri Chinmoy and tried different meditation exercises, which were in the Meditation book. Amongst other exercises, I remember putting a picture of a black dot on the wall and staring at it for a few minutes, though that particular practise didn’t last very long.
One of the things Sri Chinmoy mentioned was an exercise of Japa. On the first day, the seeker should repeat the mantra “Supreme” 500 times. Then on the next day, increase to 600 times.
For a week, you would repeat this progression – increasing to 1,200 times, then the following week go back down to 500. Then after the first two weeks, you would repeat the whole process to make a month of mantra.
For me, it was basically four weeks with a daily discipline of repeating a mantra a certain number of times.
At first, it felt like a gigantic effort to repeat a mantra 500 times. It seemed to take a long time, and my restless mind wasn’t used to such a simple task.
But, I persevered, and after four weeks felt quite pleased to have achieved this mini-target. After the four weeks, I felt like the mantra had cleared something in my mind; it was a good preparation for meditation. But, despite the benefit, I didn’t manage to do it again for several years.
Later, when giving meditation classes, I would often mention this japa exercise to seekers – saying they would get a great benefit from trying it out. Eventually after saying this for several years, I thought I ought to practise what I preached, and I did it a second time. That’s the wonderful thing about giving meditation classes, it reminds you to practise yourself.
Sometime last year, progress in meditation felt quite slow. Outwardly it was a tough time – not helped by the grey dreary weather that can hang around the British Isles in late November. Meditation and the spiritual life wasn’t giving as much joy, as I would like. But, at the same time, I didn’t feel any inclination to waste time watching some superficial TV or something like that. I wouldn’t say I was in no man’s land, but it was one of those times, when you have to chug through and wait for brighter skies.
What I really craved was something easy, simple, and meditative – but without the effort of real meditation! I was drawn to japa and even bought some japa beads to help count.
The interesting thing about japa is that at first it can feel like hardwork. But, once you get into a daily rhythm it creates its own inner flow. I heard someone say – Sri Chinmoy described it a little like a dynamo – it takes a lot of effort to get the dynamo moving, but once it picks up momentum, it requires much less effort to keep the energy going.
I liked the mindlessness of japa. Though, mindlessness is perhaps an inadequate word. A better description is simplicity; a sense of quietly spending time in spiritual pursuit, with no pressure, but a sense of regaining some forward momentum. If I wasn’t running in top gear, at least I wasn’t going backwards. The japa was a welcome part of the day. A chance to unwind, and get into a good groove.
After a few months of getting into japa, I took my japa beads on the Christmas trip. I thought that if I got a moment to myself (I wouldn’t do japa in presence of others), I can keep the practise going. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a day without japa. But, the funny thing is that when I tried on the first day, I felt no inspiration, no energy and gave up after a paltry 15 repetitions. There was so much good energy on the Christmas Trip, japa seemed unnecessary.
If you read Sri Chinmoy’s published books, he does talk about japa – but it definitely isn’t the most prominent aspect of the path. In fact, there is one video, where Sri Chinmoy was asked on live TV, and Sri Chinmoy replied that ‘Japa was redundant on our path of love, devotion and surrender’ (Here I am paraphrasing from my own memory.)
Yet, interestingly at other times, Sri Chinmoy has talked about the spiritual benefits of japa, suggesting it can be very beneficial.
“But if you want to repeat the name of the Supreme most soulfully, then it will definitely increase your capacity for concentration, and deep, soulful meditation.”
– Sri Chinmoy 
The other interesting thing is to learn that Sri Chinmoy himself went through periods of doing quite serious japa. Repeating the “Supreme” mantra himself and asking disciples to build many different kinds of counting devices. I find this very inspiring. It is not that Sri Chinmoy needed to practise japa. But, for whatever inner reason, he wanted to quietly practise this particular spiritual discipline.
This is just my feeling – japa is certainly not essential on the path, but it can be helpful if a disciple feels drawn towards it. Another thing to mention – is the importance of balance in the spiritual life. In some of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, he mentioned that in India, he knew of some unbalanced seekers who repeated millions of times “I am God” but they ended up going crazy.
A very important thing in the spiritual life is balance, and not going to either extremes. So the benefit of japa may vary depending on different seekers and their stage of spiritual evolution. Perhaps that is why in a more public setting, Sri Chinmoy did not particularly encourage it, but on other occasions, with students who have been practising meditation for a long time – he was more encouraging.
Sometimes, we can’t meditate for a particularly long time, but we want some effective path to increase / maintain our spiritual intensity.
“Japa is bound to bring purity into your system. But each time you do japa, you have to feel the significance of the word you are repeating. Otherwise it will become mechanical and meaningless.”
– Sri Chinmoy 
I always try to be soulful when repeating japa, but sometimes, even if not particularly soulful, I can get joy that, at least, I’m not wasting my time.
If I was doing japa rather than give meditation classes, or put up posters, I feel I would be doing the wrong thing. But, also I’ve grown to get a benefit from japa – especially in the greyest month of November!
I believe Sri Chinmoy once said, often Western seekers feel Sanskrit mantras are the best, because they don’t have as much faith in the sacredness of the English language. But, Sri Chinmoy says that “Supreme” is the best mantra. But, chanting “AUM” is also excellent.
If you want a mantra,
Is by far the best mantra.
– Sri Chinmoy, Seventy-Seven Thousand Service-Trees, Part 14, Agni Press, 1999
I like both. I often do Supreme quickly for a higher number of counts, then if inspired do AUM slowly.
Speed of mantra
Again there is no hard and fast rule about the speed of mantra. Sri Chinmoy says that both fast and slow have different benefits. Repeating a mantra fast is easier and enables a greater number of repetitions – and gives quicker benefits. Repeating a mantra soulfully and slower can give a deeper benefit, but it requires greater soulfulness and concentration.
Sometimes, I try repeat slowly, but if I notice random thoughts appearing, I speed up to get rid of them.