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What's the Best Way to Read?
Even if our lives are relatively peaceful, we have to give ourselves a little preparation before practicing japa or reading. It may take only a moment to remind ourselves, "Now I'm going to chant the Lord's holy names," or, "Now I'm going to read a very special book, Srlmad-Bhagavatam. Let me do it with reverence and submission. This is not ordinary reading." We should be aware that there is a transition from ordinary consciousness to speaking and hearing transcendental sound vibration. You cannot open the Bhagavad-gltd as you would a newspaper and start scanning it or cramming. It will not work. First, you have to calm yourself and enter a state of worship. Only then can you actually read or chant. "Before reciting this Srimad-Bhdgavatam, which is the very means of conquest, one should offer respectful obeisances unto the Personality of Godhead, Narayana, unto Nara-Narayana Rsi, the supermost human being, unto mother Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, and unto Srila Vyasadeva, the author" (Bhag. 1.2.4).
Devotees have to develop their own methods of preparing their consciousness for sadhana. The best method is in Krsna's advice, "Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt" (Bg. 12.8). But Lord Krsna is aware that many persons are "too busy" or harassed to stay in a continuous flow of devotional meditation. So Krsna recommends, "If you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way develop a desire to attain Me" (Bg. 12.9). This implies a deliberate turning away from other thoughts to the practice of Krsna consciousness, which we do when we take up chanting and hearing. One devotee makes this transition by first reading a few of his favorite slokas while accompanying himself on the tamboura. Someone else first places the book on his head in reverence, and another offers flowers to the book. For japa, some devotees bow down to the ground and recite the Panca-tattva mantra before beginning to chant Hare Krsna.
It will be easier to make this transition if we perform our sadhana regularly. If I chant at the same time every day and in the same place, it will be easier to discipline the mind. And because I have arranged a time when I am not likely to be disturbed, I will be able to carry out my plans.There is a special advantage in the early hours of the day, brahma-muhurta. We do not have to stop in the middle of passionate activities as we would in midday. Business activities have not started. It is a new day. Aside from arranging a daily schedule that is favorable to sadhana, we might also consider special times during the year which we can devote to chanting and hearing. Usually we go on pilgrimage to India for this purpose. But when we finally do get to India, we often find ourselves involved mostly in shopping, or getting sick, or meeting devotees from all over the world. It might be best to schedule a visit to India during an off-season, or even schedule a visit to some other place in the world, where we can be peaceful and devote ourselves to chanting and hearing. This kind of intensive work over a period of days or weeks can do a lot to help us overcome the obstacle of mechanical chanting and reading.
There are also methods of reading that make it more favorable for entering the devotional state. One favorable method is to read more slowly and prayerfully. It is not important to finish whole chapters or whole books. (This is especially true for those who have read all of Prabhupada's books several times.) The important thing is to enter the Spirit of even a single verse. Srila Prabhupada has said that if we could understand one verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam, or one word in a verse, our lives would become perfect. Prayerful reading brings one into a personal relationship with the speaker of the verses, Lord Krsna and His pure devotees. We speak to Krsna with our prayers of intention, and then we listen to Him as He speaks in the sastra.
Slow meditative reading is not the only way to read. Sometimes we will want to study, taking notes. Sometimes we want to relax as we read. There are no hard and fast rules in chanting or reading, so we should do whatever works for us. Two or more friends can come together to read Srimad-Bhagavatam and base their conversation on the contents of the verses and purports. Or we might want to sit with a friend or family member while each of us reads silently. If we start to practice we will find methods of our own inclination, and our interest will grow stronger.