Svadhyaya: Self Study
“To know the true self is the only true purpose in life…” mumbled a bearded man robed in orange, that the locals referred to as Swamiji. It was my first week in India. I was lost. I was confused. But this one statement, somehow made more sense to me than anything I had heard in recent years…and he continued to explain, “Until we are able to completely bring peace in the mind and quiet down all the ‘waves’ fluctuations (or otherwise unruly mental patterns) the true nature of the self cannot shine forth.”
This internal journey was for me, the reason I finally brought myself to India, and embarked on what would become a lifelong pilgrimage of the great land and the endless path inward.
This path of self study, called Svadhyaya in Sanskrit, sent me on a research mission. I want to share the analogy that clarified it best for me.
Imagine for a moment, you are alone by the edge of the sea. Visualize the deep blue ocean and its many rolling waves. Here, each wave, traveling across the surface of the sea, is likened to an individual being. It is distinguished by its location in space, as well as its shape, size and color. But the substance of every wave is the sea itself. Waves and the substance from which they arise are one and the same.
When we begin the path of svadhyaya, we come to understand, much like the waves of the sea, it is said that individual awareness isn’t actually separate from the infinite consciousness. Each mind is a wave in the vast expanse of consciousness.
The intention of self study is to bring the experience of that Consciousness, the Self, to awareness.
There are two schools of thought on just how we do this. It appears most widely accepted in the Western world, to study the self, one must delve into their own ‘mind-body’ pondering their self-nature. It can be any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness, intentionally finding awareness in our efforts and even welcoming our own limitations. Perhaps asking those vague, deep questions such as “Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Etc”, and pursuing them through meditation.
Many traditional texts insist in order to truly gain a deeper understanding of the self, requires intensive, repetitive study of the scriptures, intent discussion with your guru and/or repetitive recitation of the mantras. It is said the subtle details will begin revealing themselves to you and the power through these forms of study are what brings about knowledge and an understanding of the self.
One common theme, revolves around simply, knowing yourself truly, deeply and completely through meditation.
Aristotle wrote, “Knowing yourself, is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Swami Kripalu explains, “The highest spiritual practice is self observation without judgment.”
And finally, Osho tells, “ A single insight into yourself is more valuable than all of your scriptures. A single glimpse of your consciousness and you have entered the real temple…”
Now, there are people who will tell you exactly how to embark on this journey of Svadhyaya, but I believe it should be more personal, more intimate. For me, the combination of all of these practices, finding a beautiful balance between meditation and reading, reciting the mantras, and breathing exercises, whether its standing on my head, or nestled into a meditation blanket, delving deeper inward is the path I’m headed down. Now the jury may still be out for you on how you intend to continue with your self study. But this is arguably one of the greatest lessons you can take away from the yogic path and one thing is for certain, there is no better time than NOW.
The question is, are you prepared to “Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness, into your greatness…into your absolute?” Unknown
Because this is yoga…. Not only asana, not only the breath…. The Bhagavad Gita explains,
“ YOGA IS THE JOURNEY OF THE SELF, THROUGH THE SELF, TO THE SELF.”
Light and Love