Internal Alarm Clock

Illuminations Newsletter 59

Srila Prabhuapda did not like to sleep. He felt it was a waste of time. He once said I am praying to Krsna that I can live without eating and sleeping.

How did Prabhupada write his books while developing and running a worldwide movement? He awoke after a few hours of sleep and worked on his books all night. Bhaktivinoda Thakur did the same. He was able to write over 100 books while supporting a large family because he stayed up most of the night.

Successful people minimize their sleep in order to have more time. Yes, it’s their passion that keeps them so active, but passion is better than ignorance. Once Prabhupada found his servant and secretary sleeping for hours after lunch. He told them they are worse than the karmis, because the karmis are working, but you are sleeping. Clearly, Prabhupada did not want his disciples to sleep more than absolutely needed.

Prabhupada told Tamal Krsna Maharaja that learning to sleep less requires practice. Of course, it also helps to go to bed early, because every hour of sleep before midnight is twice as restful than after midnight.

Our body gets energy from our mind. When I am inspired in Krsna consciousness, I sleep less. A bored, frustrated , and depressed person will generally sleep a lot more than needed to avoid dealing with his miserable life. After all, there is not much to get up for.

We all have an internal alarm clock, so if we wish to sleep less we’ll need to reset our alarm.  How do you sleep less if you know you need a certain amount of sleep? Do you believe you need a certain amount of sleep because of your experience, or are you experiencing you need a certain amount of sleep because you believe you need that amount? If you don’t get the amount of sleep you believe you need, do you automatically tell yourself you are tired (or must be tired)?   It’s soooo early. Boy, am I tired.”

Of course, if you believe you need more sleep than you actually do, you probably don’t believe you are programmed to believe that.

Rising  when you would like to get up is best done by setting your internal alarm clock.  Of course, to program yourself to rise earlier, you need good reasons to be up that early. One of the best ways to give yourself these reasons is simply to start getting up earlier. Why? Because by doing this you experience the power of, and get a taste for, the early morning hours.

There are many devotees who are up every morning at 4, 365 days a year. How do they do this? They have internalized this time so deeply within themselves that every day they easily and naturally rise by 4 am.

Early morning is the best time for chanting and study. Prabhuapda wanted his disciples to be awake by 4 am. If you are not rising this early, there is probably nothing as transformational for your spiritual practice as to rise at this time. Your chanting and reading will be much more powerful and effective at this time. Plus, you will have more time to hear, chant, do puja, etc. before your day starts. This will make a huge difference in your life.

It’s all too easy to stay up late and rise just in time to eat and go to work without doing any spiritual practice before starting your day. This schedule undermines your spiritual life. The longer you do this, the more it becomes a habit. When you do this, you will struggle to find a good time for quality chanting and reading.  Thus, the quality of your sadhana will usually only be a fraction as good as it would have been if practiced in the morning.

I notice that the less Krsna conscious I am, the more I tend to sleep. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are grouped together. The more one advances in Krsna consciousness, the more these activities are reduced. That’s because these activities become less and less attractive as one advances.

So the mantra, “this is how much sleep I need,” if it is really more sleep than you do need, is tied to your level of spiritual advancement, your internal commitment to your spiritual practices, you inspiration in Krsna consciousness and a belief, conditioned by many factors, in how much sleep you need. But no matter how many hours you sleep, rise as early as possible.

Prabhupada often talks about being engaged in Krsna’s service from four in the morning to ten at night. What is significant about four to ten? These are the hours when we take care of the Deities. Krsna rises at 4:00 am and rests in the evening at around 9 pm (after putting Krsna to sleep, cleaning the pujari room, etc., the pujari will get to bed around 10 pm.

You should make it your goal to be awake by four in the morning because Prabhupada repeatedly told us we should rise by four. Impregnate this instruction in your mind with the mantra, “rise by four.” Here’s a story that might help you do this.

Tosana-Krsna took rest in another room, while Prabhupada went on writing all night, his pen scratching on the hollow wooden desk. Then, at four in the morning, Prabhupada rang the little bell Tosana-Krsna had left with him and called, “Tosana-krsna”

Tosana-Krsna came running. “Yes, Prabhupada?”

“It is four o’clock,” Prabhupada said. “You should get up.” Tosana-Krsna had run to the door without his glasses, so he hurried back to get them. He then ran back again to Prabhupada’s room and sat down before him. (Prabhupada-lila – Satsvarupa dasa Goswami)

If you just can’t rise by four, at least you should be awake during brahma muhurta, one and a half hours before sunrise.

One of the things that impressed me to maintain a schedule of early rising is the fact that many, many people are up at four or five in the morning meditating, doing yoga, exercising, running or walking. They are not necessarily up early just because it’s a good time to exercise. Many are up early because they are busy people. If they don’t rise early they won’t find the time to exercise. I find it a paradox to be sleeping while non devotees are already up and doing their own form of “sadhana.”

We are also supposed to be up that early. In a lecture Prabhupada simply says, …according to the Vedic system, everyone should rise early in the morning before four o’clock. (SB lecture 1.1.5-6)

Prabhupada explains, “We can observe that in demoniac societies the dark, late hours of night are considered most appropriate for recreational activity. When a demon hears that someone is rising at four o’clock in the morning to take advantage of the godly early-morning hours, he is astonished and bewildered.”

In Mayapura, where I am staying now, we see about three hundred pilgrims lining up at 4 am to get into the temple. Their culture is that when going on pilgrimage you attend mangala arotika.

“At four o’clock, attend the aratrika, mangala-aratrika. Mangala-aratrika means auspicious beginning of your day.” (Lecture on NOD, November 13, 1972)

How important is rising early. Giriraj Swami explains about his experience with Srila Prabhupada at the kumbha mela.

“The program was very rigorous, because it was bitterly cold at night and we were expected to get up at four o’clock in the morning and bathe and attend maìgala-arati. So a few staunch devotees like Tamala Krsna and Ha got up early-by three or three-thirty-and walked all the way from our camp to the Ganges to take an early-morning bath. But those of us staying in the brahmacari tent were not so staunch, and generally when it was time to get up at four o’clock it was so cold out that we preferred to remain in our sleeping bags.

Srila Prabhupada also started to notice that some of us were coming late to mangala-arati and that some of us were not coming at all. Prabhupada became very upset about this, because he knew how important mangala-arati was for us. So one morning, although he was a little frail in health, he got up at four o ‘clock and came out in his gamcha sat down under the pump, and took that ice-cold bath early in the morning-just to encourage us to get up, bathe, and come to mangala-arati. That had a very profound effect on all of us, and we felt so ashamed that we just couldn’t sleep late any more.

When anyone asks me, “How can I make spiritual progress”? my answer is always, “Get up early.” I don’t only say this only because Srila Prabhupada stressed rising early. My personal experience is that even though I may be inclined to stay up late, one of the best things I can do for my spiritual life is to rise early.

What if we come alive at night and find it difficult to go to bed early. What if we naturally stay up late? This question not only relates to sleep, it relates to any practice in Krsna consciousness that seems to go against our nature.

We engage our nature in service. We don’t want to deny or repress our natural inclination and inspiration for service. But it’s different with sadhana. If we wish to make steady advancement in Krsna consciousness, a certain amount of sadhana is a must, whether or not we find it natural or easy.

Of course, there are choices in sadhana. I may like to read but am less inclined to puja. I may like to chant and do puja more than I like to read. That’s fine. But, there are five main activities to sadhana bhakti (chanting, hearing, associating, worshiping the Deity, and living in a holy place) that are most important. When done together they have a synergistic effect.

So when it comes to sadhana, the mantra must be, “We do it even if we don’t feel like it.”

If we are not rising early, how do we make the transition to become early risers? Inspiration is important. But inspiration doesn’t necessarily translate into continued action. Inspiration is often a fleeting enthusiasm. We might hear or read something that motivates us to improve our life, and for a few weeks we are inspired to continue our new way of thinking and acting. Unfortunately, it’s common to gradually lose the motivation to continue the practice.

When inspiration doesn’t last, it’s likely motivation was predominately another’s enthusiasm, understanding and realization, not our own. However, when it becomes something we really want to do, no one has to inspire us. We inspire ourselves.

Sadhana means practice and sadhya means the goal of the practice. Sadhana is motivated by rules and regulations and sadhya is motivated by one’s own desire to engage in devotional practice. In sadhana one thinks, “I have to chant my rounds.” In the sadhya stage one thinks, “I want to chant my rounds. I get to chant my rounds.” In sadhana, sixteen rounds may be a struggle. On the sadhya platform, it’s difficult to stop at sixteen rounds.

By the repeated practice of sadhana, done properly, a natural desire to perform that activity gradually awakens. Yet, we still need motivation to keep us going in the sadhana stage. So how do we avoid going from initial inspiration to apathy?

Perhaps you are getting inspired to rise earlier by reading this article. Whether or not you make this desire your own will determine whether or not the inspiration translates into a regular practice.

Prabhupada explains in a lecture. Guru-mukha-padma-vakya cittete kariya aikya: “Make the orders of the spiritual master your life and soul.” And then, ara na kariha mane asa: “Do not think otherwise.” Simply accept what he says.

It doesn’t mean you initially need to develop an attraction for an activity to make it your own. Of course, in the long run the attraction must be there for you to maintain a regular practice. But, you can make it your own long before the natural attraction develops.

Why does a devotee do anything on a daily basis that’s not easy for him? It’s because the instruction to do it becomes, as Prabhupada said, “your life and soul.” The important question here is, “How do we make an instruction about our life and soul?”

I doubt there is one answer for all of us. But I do know it’s an important question to ask ourselves.

Let’s look at possible answers to the question, “How do we make spiritual practice ours?”

  1. We may adopt a spiritual practice we don’t naturally like doing knowing that eventually we will develop an attraction for that activity.
  2. We strongly believe in the value of the practice, and wish to adopt values in our life that will inspire the practice
  3. We understand (or bring ourselves to understand) the vital importance of the practice, causing us to make the activity a priority in our lives.
  4. We envision the positive results of the practice and the negative consequences of living without it.

Of course, if we can follow Narottama dasa Thakura’s advice of “simply accept what he says,” we can alter our lifestyle immediately in accord with the instructions of our guru. Then, simply because Prabhupada said rise by four in the morning, we do it. This is the platform we should all aspire to reach. Whatever is my guru’s desire becomes my own desire.

From four in the morning until ten at night (from mangala-aratrika to Sayana-aratrika) there must be at least five or six brahmanas to take care of the Deity. Six aratrikas are performed in the temple and food is frequently offered to the Deity and the prasada distributed. This is the method of worshiping the Deity according to the rules and regulations set by predecessors. [C.c., Madhya 4.87, purport]

Everything is done in conformity to a regular standard. For example, all the temple members, without exception, must rise by 4:00 A.M. and attend Mongal arotrik. Everyone living in the temple must agree to the standard by proper understanding of the philosophy of tapasya. We cannot expect our guests to follow all our principles, but whoever lives in the temple must follow. – January 12, 1974 to Mukunda däsa

Is rising early an instruction just for temple devotees? I believe it’s one of our most important practices, whether or not you live in a temple.

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