Niterói, RJ, Brazil
This question may seem strange, but I like to practice hong-sau without hong-saw. The breath itself seems a sufficient "mantra" to guide me. Is this okay? Do others also practice this way? I particularly like to "dwell" in the pause between out-breath and the next in-breath, gazing into "the darkness behind closed eyes" as is written in "The Essence of Self-Realization" and further explained in "How to Meditate" by John Novak. I would appreciate your comments. Thank you.
To practice the Hong-Sau technique without using the mantra "Hong-Sau" is not practicing the technique in the way Paramhansa Yogananda taught it. Certainly you may practice any technique you wish in any way you wish. But what you are practicing without using the mantra is simply watching the breath and the enjoying the pauses between the inhalation and exhalation. Itâ€™s better than not practicing the technique at all, but itâ€™s really not the truest or best form of the technique and may not give you the results that might be possible otherwise.
What is really at the core of your question, I believe, has to do with discipleship. When you truly want to be a disciple of Yogananda, or of any great teacher, you should embrace the techniques he or she has taught as closely as you possibly can.
Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." In other words, "Do what I say! There is an important reason I am asking you to do it!" And Yogananda said: "Itâ€™s discipline which brings His grace." Sometimes, even if we donâ€™t like our Guruâ€™s suggestions, or find they work better for by doing them in a different way, itâ€™s important to set our own desires aside and just do as they say. My experience has been that this attitude pays off with excellent results, plus in some cases, as years have gone by, I finally see WHY it was taught in that certain way. There is a very good reason. I just didnâ€™t understand it yet.
You did not mention if you are a disciple of Masterâ€™s, but it sounds like you are or may want to be. If this is the case, then I would strongly suggest that you practice the technique as it is taught, at least for the beginning part of your practice of working with the breath.
One aspect of what you ask is very interesting and needs further explanation. You ask if the breath itself is a sufficient "mantra" to guide you. The answer to that is: "Sort of, but not fully." There is a vibration of energy which rises up your spine and causes you to inhale and a vibration and movement of energy which falls down your spine and causes you to exhale. In a deep practice of Hong-Sau, we tune into these vibrations and movements of energy. The upward moving vibration (which causes inhalation) actually makes the sound of Hong, like the ringing of a bell or a deep gong-like sound which dissolves into the distance. The downward moving vibration (which causes exhalation) makes the sound of Sau (like a long, drawn out "saw") like a sigh.
You probably know that meaning of the mantra is: HONG which means, "I...[dissolving or releasing]" and SAU, meaning "am Spirit. Or to further interpret it, "I offer my little egoic self into my higher Superconscious Self." This is an extremely powerful thought and one not to be neglected as a prayer or attitude to have in mind while doing the technique.
The mantra sounds are very subtle, but if you focus carefully while practicing this technique and LISTEN for them, you'll tune into them. They are there! So doing the Hong-Sau technique correctly definitely involves using this mantra to help you listen for sounds/vibrations that are already going on inside you. Hong-Sau is a very powerful "bija mantra," a universal mantra available for all to use — universal because it reflects the actual internal vibrations of the breath itself.
You are right in saying that the goal of this technique is not so much observing the breath coming and going, or mentally saying the mantra to help us observe the breath, as it is enjoying the pauses when the breath does not seem to need to come or go at all. Meditation comes in two parts: "The getting there and the being there." The pauses are the THERE part. They are often difficult to sustain at first, but are full of superconscious bliss — a state that will evoke the changes in yourself that you (and everyone) are seeking.
Hoping this helps. Please ask for more clarification if you care to.
In divine friendship,