Svadhyaya is one of the five niyamas (yoga principles) that focuses on the study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches, and actions. In the process of practicing this niyama, we get engaged in the realization of our own essence. Svadhyaya serves as a ‘prism’ through which can we see the Divine within us. In this article, I will dive deeper into what svadhyaya is, why it is so important to practice it and what you can do today to step on the path of understanding your true self.
What Is Svadhyaya?
Svadhyaya is a compound Sanskrit word composed of ‘sva’ (स्वा) and ‘adhyaya’ (अध्याय). ‘Adhyaya’ means “a lesson, lecture, chapter; reading”. ‘Sva’ means “own, one’s own, self, the human soul”. Therefore, Svadhyaya literally means “one’s own reading, lesson”.
According to the Yoga sutras (Sutra 2.44), one who practices Svadhyaya acquires the ability of deep concentration, approaches the higher consciousness and becomes able to comprehend the higher truths.
There are several interpretations of this principle. Its first meaning is self-analysis, self-realization, self-education, awareness of oneself as a whole structure in various aspects: mental, emotional and spiritual. The second meaning of this principle is the study of the Scriptures, spiritual literature, Vedic sources of spiritual knowledge. And the third meaning is chanting mantras aloud (performing Japa).
It is necessary to practice Svadhyaya daily. For most of us, it is difficult to break away from our daily routine, but it is necessary to find an hour or two and devote them to spiritual self-improvement or reading spiritual literature. Compare how much energy you spend on questions of the material world, and how much time you devote to the spiritual world? When embarking on the path of spiritual self-improvement, you need to set your priorities correctly.
Understanding The True Essence Of SELF
Stop for a moment and think: what is life? The pursuit of ephemeral happiness? The endless bustle of everyday life? Or just boring aimless vegetating, when you don’t have the ability to see the true meaning of life and just go with the flow?
In most cases, people’s idea of life is misleading.
Many of us wake up every morning and force ourselves to go to work that we hate. After work, we come home and fall on the couch in front of the TV. We have our dinner and go to bed. And this is how most of us live. We live the same day again and again and call it “life”.
We are like robots, performing our functions, without thinking about the true meaning of what we do and for what reasons. This kind of life does not bring joy and does not give a sense of satisfaction.
Yoga is designed to help us become better, get rid of the obscurations that fill our lives. When we realize all the frailty and meaninglessness of our existence aimed at satisfying material needs, we begin to understand that the main goal of life is to cultivate our spirit. Therefore, eventually, everyone who follows a true spiritual path begins his journey of spiritual self-improvement, to break the shackles of the material world and free himself from the illusion of earthly values, unleash his inner light and illuminate not only his path but also to share it with those who are still in the darkness.
Gradually, as we practice moral principles, we begin to notice how we are moving forward. So, we should not miss any opportunity for self-development and self-improvement. And Svadhyaya serves us as a wonderful tool for gaining self-knowledge.
Our eternal Spirit experiences difficulties when it is imprisoned in a body that is affected by the material nature that binds it to the cycle of rebirth in the material world. It is necessary to learn how to limit the manifestations of the ego that forces us to focus on the material needs.
When we are involved in a process of constant self-development we gain control over our ego.
We need to always remember that all the knowledge we need is already within us. All we need to do is just reveal it. Every time we study the spiritual scriptures we are not learning something new but reminding ourselves of what we already know and always knew deep inside. The knowledge that we need for our development is hidden from us behind the limitations of our materialistic minds and opens gradually as the level of our spiritual awareness increases.
Jnana Yoga And Svadhyaya
The teaching of yoga is divided into several branches. Each of the branches leads a person to the knowledge of his true Self, to the flowering and growth of his soul.
Hatha yoga, for example, helps us learn to control our physical body since it is a temple of the spirit.
Raja yoga helps us unlock our inner potential, develop our mental abilities, learn to control our mind, and strengthen our willpower.
Bhakti yoga is designed to awaken unconditional love and unselfishness, which leads to the realization of the unity of being.
Jnana yoga is a way of knowing and studying, which allows us to plunge into the amazing world of truths that lie at the heart of being. Yoga of wisdom, as it can also be called, will allow you to find answers to such questions as: “Who am I and why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What exists outside of visible reality? What will happen to me after I leave this life?”
Svadhyaya is the basis for practicing Jnana yoga because it is the beginning of the path of knowledge and understanding of one’s own nature. When we learn about ourselves with the help of Svadhyaya, we also come to the realization that the opportunity to be happy is hidden in each of us. And the knowledge of self will lead us to liberation from the false ideas and illusions of the material world, change our worldview and we will gradually come to an understanding that each of us is a part of the whole.
Svadhyaya And Mantra Chanting
As mentioned above, Svadhyaya leads to the opportunity to attain deep concentration. Mantra chanting is one of the tools we can use for this.
When we are involved in mantra chanting, it is important not just to repeat the text of the mantra, but also to understand its meaning.
By chanting mantras, we can purify the surrounding space. Even just listening to mantra chants can clear your mind. When you listen to their sounds with reverence, they can lift your consciousness to a higher level.
It is believed that the sacred Sanskrit sounds tune us in harmony with the vibrations of the cosmos. Thus even if you just listen or read mantras, it can have a beneficial effect on your aura and contribute to your spiritual development.
Studying The Vedas
The Vedas are considered the most ancient Scriptures. The Sanskrit word “Veda” means ‘knowledge’, ‘wisdom’, ‘intelligence’. Therefore, the Vedas teach us to understand what we read, to comprehend the deep meaning.
The Vedas are written in early Sanskrit and contain hymns, philosophy, and guidance on ritual for the priests of Vedic religion. They have been directly revealed to seers among the early Aryans in India and preserved by oral tradition. The four chief collections are the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
Reading and studying the Vedas allow us to touch the sacred wisdom of spiritual truths. This is not just a repository of mantras, hymns, and mandalas. The sages of the past shared their spiritual knowledge and experience in the Vedas, and now we have the opportunity to touch these divine truths that can help us start a meaningful and conscious life.
Initially, the knowledge that the Vedas contain was passed orally from teachers to students, who, in turn, memorized mantras by constant repetition. Because the Vedas have been preserved through constant self-study, they also belong to the practice of Svadhyaya.
Later the Vedas were recorded in writing. The Vedas are compiled by the sage Veda Vyasa, who divided them into four parts: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
Rig Veda is considered one of the oldest religious sources of knowledge in the world, a sacred collection of mystical hymns written in Sanskrit.
Sama Veda is the Veda of chants.
Yajur Veda is a collection of mantras used for worship rituals.
Atharva Veda is a collection of mantras and magical incantations and healing spells.
The final part of the Vedas is the Upanishad (Vedanta). The word Vedanta literally means the end of the Vedas and originally referred to the Upanishads. It describes how the four Purusarthas (objects of human pursuit) can be achieved. These four Purusarthas are Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.
Studying Sacred Scriptures And Spiritual Literature
Svadhyaya also implies the study of other spiritual Scriptures. By reading sacred texts and Vedic literature, we discover a treasure trove of spiritual knowledge that was left to us by the Great teachers of the past.
When we practice Svadhyaya we constantly study from sacred sources of spiritual wisdom with reverence and respect. In doing so, we establish a connection with the spiritual masters. As we dive into the sources of spiritual wisdom, we come into contact with the exalted spirit of those who left us this treasure. In this way, we rise in spirit to their level while reading their creations.
It should also be borne in mind that just reading spiritual literature is not enough. It is important to understand the inner meaning hidden in every thought of the author, manifested in his work.
After reading spiritual texts it is important to take time for analyzing, reasoning, learning and thinking about the ways you can apply this wisdom to your life.
Most religions are based on faith and they ask you to take sacred texts on faith. However, when we talk about svadhyaya practice, we mean the deep understanding and analysis of everything we learn. Only by understanding the essence of the Scriptures, can this knowledge penetrate into our subconscious mind.
Analyzing what you read, applying it in your life, comparing it with the experience you have already received on your spiritual path, you get precious experience and spiritually grow.
Thus, the books of Great spiritual masters provide us with support in difficult moments of life and are a motivation for spiritual self-improvement.
Other than the ancient Vedic Scriptures it is also very important to read spiritual books of modern authors, communicate with spiritual Teachers, spiritual mentors, visit lectures on spiritual topics and attend seminars. Any “immersion” in the spiritual atmosphere somehow affects our consciousness, increases the vibration of our consciousness and allows us to reach a higher level of awareness.
The Bottom Line
We should always remember that when we start our spiritual journey we grow, and our worldview constantly changes. Therefore reading spiritual literature after a while, we can comprehend more or perceive it differently than we previously learned and understand. The mind perceives only what it reads that resonates with the level of spiritual development of the reader. So don’t be lazy to read a book you have already read before again and again. You may discover something new that you missed or misunderstood.