Eight Rules for Better Japa
The rules start with basic mechanical arrangements and end with the proper mood and meditation. Anyone who follows these eight rules will surely improve his japa and receive delightful rewards from sri-nama.
1. Night before-Give up rice and eating heavy foods at night.Take simple foods such as milk and fruits. By eating a light meal you will sleep soundly, rise early without difficulty, and have full energy for attentive japa the next morning. The night before make asankalpa or firm vow: "Tomorrow morning, I will chant with full concentration and sincere feelings."Upon waking, take a full bath or at least wash the mouth, face, hands and feet with cold water before chanting. If you feel sleepy or dull headed, a kirtana with karatals will immediately invigorate the dull mind and purify the enviroment.
2. Time, Place, Mind-Start chanting very early in the morning, either with devotees, Tulasi-devi, Thakurji, or in a place free from disturbance. Sit before your Deities or Tulasi-devi and chant prayers
to Sri Guru and the parampara, the six Gosvamis and the Panca-tattva. Remember Thakura Haridasa and pray for his mercy. Pray to the holy name to help you chant with full attention, purely, and free from offenses.If the mind starts "jumping," calm it down by prayer, pranayama, or loud chanting. Sri Caitanya's Sikasastaka is the ideal prayer to recite and reflect upon before and during japa. A very good technique of concentration is to remember the meaning of the third sloka (trnad api sunicena) throughout the japa period.
3. Chanting Techniques-a) "Sit properly." Yoga sastras proclaim that sitting straight facilitates concentration: "Right posture makes the mind calm." (Tantm-mja-tantra 27,59) "For purification of the body and for success in yoga, posture is absolutely necessary." (Rudm-yamaia-tantm 2.24.38-39) "By the practice of good posture the body becomes disease-free, firm and efficient." (Gmha-yamaia 2.85)
b) Chant without interruption. Once in Los Angeles, disciples asked Srila Prabhupada what would please him most. "Chant sixteen rounds of japa at one sitting without interruption!" said Srila Prabhupada.
c) Be careful to clearly and distinctly pronounce the holy names.
4. Concentration-Collect all thoughts into one; concentrate on the sound vibration.
5. Control the Mind-a) Pull it back when it wanders. Chanters Beware!!! Yoga sastras say that tamo-guna and sleep usually attack a sadhaka after he has practiced one hour of meditation. In other words, after sitting peacefully and chanting japa for one hour,one should be watchful and check his energy and attention levels. If you feel drowsy or dull headed, then chant loudly to shake off tamo-guna; go outside for a japa walk; drink some cold water and splash some on your face; do sirsasana (headstand) for 2 minutes and 10 rounds of pranayama; or a few stretching exercises. Refreshed and invigorated, sit before Tulasi-devi again and renew your japa meditation.
b) Cut the tendency to recall events from yesterday, last week or the year before. The bird of the mind flies on two wings: the past and the future. Cut off the wings. Be here now: Hear, chant and remember-love, serve and surrender! "Forget the past that sleeps; and never the future dream at all. Deal with times that are with you, and progress you shall call." (samnagati)
c) Don't plan today's duties. If the mind persistenly dwells on the "shopping list" or "things to do today", then stop briefly, write down the points, and chant japa with a tranquil mind.
6. Absorb Four Qualities-try to fill the mind with the four qualities recommended in the third verse of Sri Caitanya's Siksastaka: humility, tolerance, pridelessness and respect for all.
7. Meditation-while chanting, meditate on the form of Radha-Syama, or the meaning of the holy names revealed by the previous acaryas.
8. Mood-chant with a feeling of longing for Krsna, hankering for Krsna and crying for Krsna. "This chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother's presence." (SSR) Of course, this should not be done in an artificial way. But rest assured, Sri Krsna will respond to the sincere and helpless cries of a humble devotee chanting with a repentant heart.