There’s nothing quite like summer mornings. They seem perfectly designed for tranquility, contemplation, and spiritual thought.
Vaishnavas are supposed to rise early, so that their meditation, prayer and study begin one hour and thirty-six minutes before the sun rises. That’s the ancient Vedic prescription. Of course, those ancients who followed the Vedas back then probably never had to scrape the ice off the windscreen of their car at four on a dark, bitterly cold winter’s morning, fingers turning blue and an icy wind whipping around their cotton dhoti-clad legs. But in the summertime – especially this week in midsummer – it seems almost effortless to get out of bed early, and a pleasure to be up and about at that time.
This morning I woke up at twenty minutes past the hour of three. I must admit that my early waking had more to do with a fundamental call from Mother Nature than the soul’s ardent longing for God. But I got up, and saw the sky was at that wonderful stage when you know that night is coming to an end, but just before you know that dawn has come. I began my chanting, knowing that its easier at this time – the brahma-muhurta – and is, in fact, the best time all day for spiritual practise.
And then, as the sky turned from purple to blue, a lone bird began to sing. It was just a little bird, up in the tree above my shed, but his singing was confident and tuneful, reverberating around the garden and nearby houses. Others joined in, different birds with their distinct songs. Like an orchestra, they blended into a nice piece of God-given natural music, the Dawn Chorus. I began my japa walk, adding my own voice to the chorus. A few minutes later, as if not to be left out, a cock crowed, signifying that the dawn had well and truly come.
This time of day is special in all religions. Those who believe in a Creator acknowledge that this time of day is given by Him to offer praise; to begin the day by dismissing the dreams of the night and reconnecting with the ultimate reality. The very early Christians of Egypt and Syria named their first service of the day “cockcrow,” and the Jews before them were also known for their early rising.
When I lived in the African seaside town of Mombasa I would chant my pre-dawn Hare Krishna japa walking backwards and forwards on the temple roof. As I chanted, the local Hindu temples began ringing bells, followed by the amplified calls to prayer from the minarets of the nearby mosques. The sounds all blended into a chorus of praise for the one God, who is known by many names.
Twice in a month, one of the Hindu temples organised a nagar-sankirtan, when around a hundred devout worshippers would process through the streets singing hymns to Krishna. At five o’clock in the morning, with tulasi plants carried at the front of the group, flags borne aloft, and a small deity of Lord Krishna on a red velvet cushion, it was an uplifting sight from my roof.
This was the practise promoted by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers in mediaeval Bengal. It was immortalised by Bhaktivinode Thakura in the following words:
“When the eastern sky became tinged with the pink that heralds the rising of the sun, the jewel of the twice-born, Lord Gauranga awakened, and, taking His devotees with Him, went all over the countryside towns and villages. The mrdanga drums played, and the cymbals chimed in time. Lord Gauranga’s shimmering golden features danced, and His foot bells jingled. All the devotees chanted the names Mukunda, Madhava, Yadava and Hari, their mouths being filled with the vibrations.”
So summer is fully come now. Let’s all add our own voices to the Dawn Chorus. The birds will welcome you, the dawn glow will give you health, and the Lord in the Heart, as bright as the morning sun, will rise above the horizon of your best expectations.