“The time early in the morning, one and a half hours before sunrise, is called brahma-muhurta. During this brahma-muhurta, spiritual activities are recommended. Spiritual activities performed early in the morning have a greater effect than in any other part of the day.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.20.46 Purport)
“Does it matter what time of day we follow through on our routine spiritual activities? Not that anything about it should be routine or mechanical, but I know there is a significant period of training. Even those who are on an elevated platform adhere to some regulation in order to set a good example.
“We have the story of Shri Krishna rising early in the morning in Dvaraka. This would upset Rukmini Devi, the chief queen, because she knew her husband was setting out on meeting the obligations of the day. It is said that Krishna would chant the Gayatri mantra during this time.
“What if someone doesn’t have enough time in the morning? Is there anything wrong with finishing later in the day? Is there a science behind the recommendation for following through earlier?”
“Although Shrimati Rukminidevi, the first queen of Lord Krishna, knew that brahma-muhurta is the most auspicious time in the entire day, she would feel disgusted at the appearance of brahma-muhurta because she was not very happy to have Krishna leave her side in bed. Despite Shrimati Rukminidevi’s disgust, Lord Krishna would immediately get up from bed exactly on the appearance of brahma-muhurta.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 15)
There is no better example set than by the greatest leader, the king of Dvaraka. As He explains in Bhagavad-gita, people tend to follow what a great person does. There is automatically a standard set in the process.
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः ।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ॥
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas
tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
Through personal experience a person can reach the same conclusion. There is the saying attributed to Charles Dickens, found in a letter, that merely being conscious of a particular engagement can cause worry throughout the entire day.
Professional athletes describe something similar. If they have a big match set to begin during the evening hours, they have to pay careful attention starting in the morning. They have to eat a certain number of hours prior to the contest. They have to rest properly. They basically spend the entire day looking at the clock, concerned with the nighttime appointment.
Whereas if we take care of important tasks in the morning, we can relax a little for the rest of the day. Within the spiritual science, there is the period of the morning known as brahma-muhurta. This is shortly before sunrise, which changes throughout the year.
The exact moment of brahma-muhurta depends on the season, but the auspiciousness is uniform. That period is considered conducive to spiritual activities, which are equivalent with Brahman. This is the best time for realizing the Absolute Truth.
There are practical considerations, as well. If everyone else is sleeping, there are less distractions. There is the better opportunity for yoga, for linking the consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. Even if entering the routine by force, without being fully awake, the immersion is so powerful that a person can be brought to life, so to speak, without relying on food or drink.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains the concept of numerical strength. The more of a routine we follow, the more we automatically follow spiritual life. The more practice we have, the stronger we get.
Finishing early is better than finishing late based solely on statistics. There is less margin for error when procrastinating. As the day continues, there is more of a chance of fatigue setting in, of putting off the routine until the next day. Whereas if a person can begin early, there is that much more potential for bonus time spent in the activity.
Whether in the morning or at night, chanting the holy names is always appropriate. Realizing Brahman may carry strict rules and regulations, but bhakti-yoga is available even to the child. Young or old, man or woman, enthusiastic or despondent, connecting with Shri Hari enlivens the spirits, as service to Him is the very definition of living.
Very definition of living,
Supreme enthusiasm giving.
Bhakti possible any way,
Whether at night or early in day.
For routine brahma-muhurta preferred,
Otherwise by dwindling time deferred.
To continue tomorrow the vow,
But better when wide awake now.