Is nAma-japa beneficial?


This is a supplementary answer and not a primary answer as I do not consider myself an expert on this field.

If I understand correctly, you ask whether nama-japa can contribute positively to your life and well being, if practiced, given your atheistic background, along with strategies to increase devotion.

My answer in short, is yes it will benefit you. Now for the detailed answer: I would suggest you to read Hindu epics, which are most easily understood and do not contain any special terminologies/difficult concepts, and have stories/incidents which give you a glimpse into the Hindu way of looking at things, about Hindu ethics, spirituality, tradition. For example, if you are not from the Indian subcontinent, or maybe you are from an Indian, non-Hindu family, your way of looking at things will be radically different from the Hindu way. Let me illustrate with a few examples:

The deep respect for elders and one's parents that is present in the Indian tradition is not present in most other traditions.
The place of women is different in the Hindu society compared to the west. In India, a woman is not looked upon as an object, to be craved for lust, but she is looked as the loving mother who protects and nourishes every creature on this planet. Reference (answer by rickross has the appropriate references) Because of this reason, you will find that traditional women in India do not have the same dress code as their western counterparts and are dressed more modestly. In India, we have female goddesses as well and they are worshipped as the divine mother. Reference: Who is mother Durga, why was she prayed by all gods including Vishnu to be reborn as Parvathi?

You should read some of these epics before starting any practice, else may face hurdles. Nama japa is a subconscious process that seeks to drive goodness and resilience deep inside your consciousness. If you don't imbibe the correct ideals before starting the process, the practice may be harmful for you. Some of the popular epics in our tradition are : Ramayana, Mahabharata, Shiva Purana, Bhagavatam, Vishnu Purana, etc.
Now, if you are not from India/well versed in the Hindi language (any Indian language for that matter, say Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, etc.), then you may find trouble finding the correct books. Hinduism has been under constant attack from greedy evangelizing religions who take every opportunity to attack Hinduism and show it in a poor light. Hence, you will find the market filled with ill-motivated so-called Hindu books, don't fall for them. Books by Gita publications are considered the authoritative versions. You may find Mahabharata and Ramayana books published by them. Alternatively, some modern Hindu authors have written some really nice books that seeks to preserve the essence of the epics, but making slight changes to make it readable by English language readers. Example: Parva, a retelling of the classical Mahabharata, by SL Bhyrappa, Ramayana by Ramesh Menon, Siva- The Siva Purana retold, etc.
Here is a list of some good books on mantras/japa :

  1. The Mantram Handbook by Eknath Easwaran
  2. Japa Yoga by Swami Sivananda Saraswati
  3. Meditation and Mantras by Swami Vishnu Devananda
    Some other books that can help you understand the Hindu tradition and culture: Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, The gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Death by Sadhguru, Essence of the Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran, translation of Panjali's Yoga Sutra by Swami Vivekananda, titled - Raja Yoga.

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