One (& the best ) way (sadhan or means) of attaining the "Chaturvidha Purusharthas"
(Dharma ,Artha etc) is Mantra. And, the first act (Purah=First, Act=Charja)
that is done, after attaining Guru Upadesha, to attain "Mantra Siddhi" (mastery over a mantra) is called
Purascharja or Purascharanakarma.
According to Viswa SAra Tantram :
The performance of the five acts viz- Japa ( repetition of mantra), Homa
(Yajna), Tarpanam (oblations of water) , Abhisekha, and the feeding of
Brahmins is what constitute the process of Purascharana.
But, it is to be noted the above is not a general (& the only) definition .All Mantras don't have this 5-limbed purascharana.
Yet another scriptural definition of Purascharana is this:
PujA TraikAliki Nityam Japastarpanameva Cha | Homo BrAhman Bhuktischa
Purascharana Muchyate ||
Daily Tri Sandhya Puja, Japa, Tarpana, Homa and feeding the Brahmins-this
constitute what is called Purascharana.
KulArnava Tantram 15-8.
Now, if the Sadhaka can't perform any one (or more than one ) among these 5 limbs then he can compensate for that by doing a prescribed number of Japa as follows. Without this compensation Mantra Siddhi is not achieved and Purascharana is not considered to be complete.:
Yad Yadangam vihiyathe tath Sankhya Dviguno Japaha| Kuryad
Dvitrichatuhpanchasankhyam SA SAdhakah Priyeh ||
[Lord Shiva says to Sri Devi] For not performing any number of angas (limbs), twice that number
of japa is to be done as a compensation. Or the Sadhaka can do
twice, thrice, four times or five times japa as well.
KulArnava Tantram 15-9
So, what it means is, suppose, the Sadhaka misses the two angas (say homa and tarpana) then he can do twice the number of Japa to compensate. So, if he were to do 1 lakh japa, for missing the two angas, compensation is done by doing japa of the mantra 2 lakh times.
Number of times that a particular mantra has to be repeated depends on the mantra itself. More precisely it depends on how many-lettered the mantra is.
You can select any Mantra for Purascharana. Your Guru Mantra or Ishta
Mantra is the best. Sandhya time, sunrise, sunset, midday are all
recommended for Japa. Repeat the Mantra as many lakhs of times as
there are letters in the Mantra. You can do half of that number. In no
case the number should be less than a lakh.
Mantra Siddhi can be obtained if the mantra is siddha (unlocked) or is obtained from one's Guru. So, usually,initiation is always needed. Mantra japa without Upadesha is considered as a sin too.
Mantra Siddhi is obtained if the mantra is siddha and (or) is obtained
During Purascharana the Sattvik way of life style is to be adapted. So,meat eating, consumption of alcohol etc are to be avoided during that period. The other rules to be followed during this time is sleeping on the floor and etc.
Swami Sivananda writes:
The practitioner should observe certain rules and undergo strict
dietetic discipline to ensure quick Mantra Siddhi.
During the Purascharana take only fresh vegetables, fruits, milk,
roots, barley and Havis-Anna (rice cooked with ghee, sugar, milk). A
Sadhaka can live on pure Bhiksha (alms) also. If you can live on milk
alone during the period of Purascharana it is highly laudable. You can
have Mantra Siddhi even by repeating the Mantra a lakh of times.
Yes, mantra recitation in mind is accepted as japa. In fact that is considered as the best form of japa among all its three forms.
Devi, the loud recitation of mantra is the worst kind of japa, middling is
Upansu japa (whispering-Japa) and the best mode of Japa is Manasa Japa (that
is done completely in mind).
KulArnava Tantram 15-55.
There are a few more rules which one is ought to learn from his Guru. And all Hindu rituals like Japa, Puja , Homa are always preceded by a Sankalpa. So,its also needed. Consult your Guru for the details of how to frame the Sankalpa mantra.
In general, the place (of Japa) , Asana (posture) & the seat are important too. But i'm not posting those details here. You can simply follow these rules- Sit on a woolen mat (or still better a asana made of Kusa), facing east/north in Sukhasana or Padmasana posture. Don't do mantra japa while walking during Purascharana.
Hopefully ,i have answered few if not all of your questions.
Purascharana is repetition of a mantra. A mantra must necessarily be obtained from a guru alone. No shortcut to this. The guru who initiates you into a mantra will instruct you on its purascharana and praxis. A meat-eater is not eligible for mantropadesa.
First of all, it is "Punahcharana" not Puracharana. "Punah" means repetition and "Ucharana" means speaking/ enchanting. Together it will be Punah + Ucharana = Punahacharan, which means, repeating the enchanting.
This is mainly used as a revision exercise in ancient days of schooling.
In earlier/ ancient days of schooling, where there are no books, the study of vedas and other related subjects were through the Guru only. The Guru teaches the mantras, slokas as part of the education. Though he explains in detail, the meaning of every mantra and sloka, sometimes it will be hard to remember. So, they usually divide the students into groups, based on their remembering power. Ekasandyagrahi (Eka (one) + Sandya (time) + Grahi (who can memorize)) is a student who remembers everything even though he is listening it for the first time. Dwisandyagrahi (Dwi = two) need one more repetition of the teaching, and so on. Now, once the guru completes his teaching, these Ekasandhyagrahi's will repeat again the same so that Dwisanyagrahi's can takeover from there, and so on. Once in a while, the students group together and do the "Punahcharana" to revise the past teachings.
Now, let me answer your questions as far as I know. Anybody can correct me if I'm wrong in any of the point.
1. Can Purascharana be initiated even without a guru?
Ans: As per my previous explanation, yes. One can initiate a Punahcharana without a guru. But to correct if he is doing a mistake, doing a "Punahcharana" should be done in front of the Guru/ the Teacher. Especially, in the case of mantras where the phonetics play a vital role, the presence of Guru is a must.
2. Should the mantra be repeated fixed number of times daily? What if there is a variation in the no. of times every day?
Ans: "Punahcharana" is a revision exercise. For mantras, the student has to obtain the complete knowledge behind it and acquire the power of it. Until then there is no limit. For example, the great "Gayathri Mantra", generally, as a common practice, will be enchanted for 108 times a day. But you won't lose anything if you do it for more than 108 times. Sometimes, some brahmins will sit and do for more than a few thousands a day, to complete 1 Lakh times. Do you think the god will count while you are chanting. I don't think the gods will not curse you, if you miss for a few times. Our great Gurus created these numbers to improve the dedication towards the process. The bottom line is, it doesn't matter how many times you did it. The only thing matters is how you did it and what you got out of it.
3. What if he repeats without doing a sankalpa of the number of times daily?
Ans: In practical, as the name suggests "Sankalpa" is a dedication to do something. In a way, you are initialising a vedic ritual. If you keenly observe the "Sankalpa" process and it's meaning, you will come to know that it says for what purpose you are doing this ritual and which god/ goddess you are decided to worship during it. It is to create a feel in what you are doing.
4. Can he repeat the mantra in any posture, circumstance or place?
Ans: These are some important aspect in the doing any important work. Can you do a 4-5 hours ritual without sitting? During that, will you be able to concentrate after half an hour? Will you be able to concentrate on the process, if you are getting a pungent bad smell? Will you be able to sit without moving, if the place is not clean and its a place for insects (ants, cockroaches, etc.)? Considering all such situations, our scriptures created some rules on these aspects. Moreover, if you observe most of these postures are related to yoga, meditation and kundalini etc. If you have arthritis, you can do it in you home by creating some clean place where there is no disturbances from outside world. You simply lit a light and a incense stick to give a pleasant and peaceful mind.
5. Should the speed of repeating the mantra be uniform or is it enough if the mantra is pronounced with clarity?
Ans: Clarity and phonetics are very important for mantras. What you want to gain by speeding up the enchanting? What you want to gain out of it? If you have other important things than this, enchant for less number of times till when you have concentration. Or don't do it at all if you are unable to concentrate. No problem. The dedication towards the god and the process is important, nothing else.
6. Can he recall the mantra even within him (without speaking out)? Does this count?
Ans: He can recollect it anywhere and any time. Regarding the count, I have a question. What you want to do with the count? Think about about how many times you are awakening yourself with that knowledge.
7. If one chants the mantra by habit unconsciously, does this count towards Purasacharana?
Ans: Consiously or Unconsciously, whenever you are doing a revision of what you learned, you can call it a "Punahcharana".
8. Can he eat meat while doing Purasacharana? Doesn't this habit drop by itself when he reaches a certain stage?
Ans: Meat is not a "Sathvik" food as per the scriptures. They say that the person who want to do some vedic practices should not eat food which is not "Sathvik". Because, as per their experiences, if you want to control you body and your mind, you should eat only "Sathvik" food. And for the second part of your question, I don't think the habits will fade away just like that without that person's dedication. If you know what you are eating and if you are OK with it's effects, you may continue.
Puraścaraṇa means preparatory rites, which is associated with mantra japas. Puras means first of all and ācaraṇa means undertaking, practising and performing. Therefore puraścaraṇa means first preparatory rites. There are two types of puraścaraṇa rites. One is to make saṅkalpa to certain prescribed number of recitations followed by homa, tarpaṇa, mārjana and bhojana on a regular basis. The second one is to do mantra japa and after completing certain rounds as prescribed mantra śāstra-s. Puraścaraṇa should be done only after obtaining specific permission from the Guru, who initiated the mantra. Guru should be worshiped before and after puraścaraṇa. It is important that Guru should be offered dakṣiṇa. If Guru is not available, dakṣiṇa should be offered to his wife or son.
Total clarification about the "Purascharana" is explained here.
Can Purascharana be initiated even without a guru?
No. Ref: answer of Ramana Maharshi. Can refer any praacheena aacharyaas words. It is absolutely useless to do without a guru. But if it gives any result, it is due to satwa guNa in them. Same can be attained with nama japa also. Mantra is entirely different.
Can he eat meat while doing Purasacharana? Doesn't this habit drop by itself when he reaches a certain stage?
No. (Concepts in History are repeating..) Budha came exactly for this - to avoid it. Ref: Jayadeva dasavataara stotra as a simple example. Almost all puranas who mentioned Budha mentioned this. This body is mantra pimDa, not maamsa pimDa. Proof? Refer Dr James Olds experiments with rats on pleasure points. The animal transcended the appetite even for sex, thus proving beyond senses bliss - the main point of chakras & mantras. Regarding meat: I have heard some elders saying: devatas/mantras + meat -> it is like offering the meat of one's own kid to mother as food. Don't do it. This is why not all are eligible for their own good. With bhakti / nama japa also same result will come. Can refer mahatma's words for it - like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's.
About remaining questions: Mantra is NOT mechanical. It has bhaava. Ref: There are innumerable number of stories proving this point. Bhakti is first. If you are required to get a mantra, you will get.
In the end, mantras are coming under purva meemaamsa. This is not ultimate. Uttara meemaamsa is ultimate.
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