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Japa (or japam) means repeating or remembering a mantra (or mantram), and ajapa-japa (or ajapajapam) means constant awareness of the mantra, or of what it represents. The letter A in front of the word japa means without (it should be understood, that ajapa means "no chanting", thus ajapa means to stop thinking about anything material, and japa means to think about Paramatma, God instead of thinking of maya). Thus, ajapa-japa is the practice of japa without the mental effort normally needed to repeat the mantra (effort is necessary for those who are not pure enough to dedicate themselves completely to God, and still have material desires, which is the cause of repeated reincarnation in samsara ocean). In other words, it has begun to come naturally, turning into a constant awareness.
Says Swami Satchidananda:
"You can perform japa, repetition of a mantra or Sacred Word, in the midst of your day-to-day work. Then, when it becomes a habit, even when you are working intensely a portion of the mind will keep repeating the mantra always. That means you have locked one end of your chain to a holy place, while the rest of the chain remains still in the outside world."
While the word 'japa' is Sanskrit, and the practice described here associated with Hinduism, the same basic practice and result is also found in other faith traditions. Examples include the Jesus Prayer practice of Orthodox Christianity,   Zikr or Dhikr (with alternate spellings depending on transliteration method) in Islamic contexts, particularly Sufi (6, 7), and several traditions within Catholic Christianity (8, 9).
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The practice of constant remembrance evolves in stages:
At first, the practitioner intentionally repeat the syllables of the mantra internally, as if you are talking to yourself in your mind. You allow the inner sound to come at whatever speed feels comfortable to the mind. Sometimes it is very slow, as if the mind were wading through a vat of honey. At other times it is very fast, as if flying through the sky without restraint.
With practice, the mantra japa is repeated automatically, like a song that you have heard many times, which just comes on its own. (Some practitioners consider this automatic repeating to be the meaning of Ajapa-Japa, though there is a subtler meaning, as described below.)
Gradually, you merely remember the mantra with attention drawn to it. It is more like noticing what is already happening, rather than causing it to happen. It is somewhat like the attention stance of listening rather than speaking, though you might not literally hear the sound.
In time, the feeling of the mantra is there, even when the sound or remembering of the syllables is not there. For example, sometimes people will say, "Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti," where the word Shanti means peace or tranquility. During the remembering of the word there may be two things—the word and the feeling of peace or tranquility. When the syllables fade away, the feeling may still be there; this is remembrance of the feeling of the mantra.
As the practice evolves, there comes a pervasive awareness of the mantra, subtler than both the syllables and any surface level meaning or definition. This constant awareness is the meaning of Ajapa-Japa of the mantra.
- Eknath Easwaran (1977/2008). Mantram handbook (5th ed.). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press. ISBN 1-58638-028-1
- Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati, Mantra Japa and Ajapa-Japa, accessed 9 Nov. 2009.
- Sita Weiner, Swami Satchidananda, His Biography. 1970: Straight Arrow Books, World Publishing Company, NYC, New York, Lib. Congress # 70-141477
- Anonymous (1884/1991). The way of a pilgrim. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-063017-5
- Allyne Smith, G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, & Kallistos Ware (2006). The Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts--selections Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing. ISBN 1-59473-103-9
- Alphonse Goettmann (Author), Rachel Goettmann (Author), Theodore Nottingham (Translator), The Power of the Name: The History and the Practices of the Jesus Prayer. Orthodox Research Institute (May 11, 2008). ISBN 978-0-9745618-9-9