The best time to chant is whenever we find it easiest to let go of the deep-seated habit of driving our thoughts from one personal desire or interest to the next. I’ve found that this tends to be either (a) immediately after waking up, or (b) after taking care of everything I’m supposed to take care of.
It doesn’t work out if I wake up late, because I have a busy life with practical demands and need to get started on my daily business. So I need to wake up early enough to create an open space in my schedule where my japa won’t have to compete with any other duties or pursuits.
I find it best to get immediately to chanting. The quicker I can get from “bed to beads” the better. I don’t notice any significant improvement from showering and dressing before chanting – in fact I think its a botheration and gets in the way. A little bit of cleanliness is needed, for example throwing some water on my face, swishing a brush across my teeth a few times, and getting a glass of water. That’s about the max amount of time I really want to spend in between waking and chanting.
If I wind up looking at my iPhone or computer after waking up and before chanting – forget it. Nāma-japa is most likely completely ruined for that day. And that’s also why I don’t like to waste time with a shower and all that supposedly good stuff – too much time for me to start getting attached to thinking about this or that thing that I experienced yesterday, or want to accomplish today.
I’ve also noticed that what I do before going to bed helps or hinders my chanting the next morning. I try to involve myself in at least a short kīrtan each evening immediately before going to bed. For some time I sang the śikṣāṣṭaka as part of this kīrtan and that was very, very helpful. I’ve also done other verses from great poets like Bilvamaṅgal Ṭhākur, Jayadeva Goswāmī, and Krishnadās Kavirāja and found these to be pretty helpful too.
Watching a movie or TV show in the evening is usually detrimental, especially if it’s a good, engrossing movie. But it’s not too bad, if the evening kīrtan is a bit deep.
I’ve found that being tired doesn’t really matter much. If I’m actually involved the act of offering my consciousness as a dancing-meadow for Rādhā and Krishna’s names (which is what I should be involved in while doing japa), then that’s enjoyable enough, and erases any ordinary tiredness.
If the tiredness is extreme, though, it can get in the way. Especially if it creates muscle pain or weakness – which makes it practically impossible to sit nicely, which in turn makes it quite impossible to hold the mind to its promise of being quiet. So, getting enough sleep is pretty important. That’s part of the reason I don’t push myself too much on the weekends. On the weekends, I let myself sleep until whenever I wake up naturally. This sort of replenishes me for getting a bit less sleep than I probably need during the week. General physical fitness is also helpful, to the extent of stretching a bit every day or doing basic yoga. And, the never-ending endeavor not to eat more than I need to really has a big impact on how much sleep I need.
Another good time for chanting, in my experience, is after everything else is finished. I don’t do it too often, because generally, everything else is never finished for me – especially since I am married to a great woman and have three adorable children, all of whom definitely deserve a good solid chunk of my attention and time after I get all of my business done.
– Vraja Kishor dās