Svadhyaya literally means self-study. It is a positive virtue and one of the five Niyamas i.e. observances that make up the second step of the Astanga yoga. [Eight fold path of Yoga]
The Upanisads stress the need to “ know thyself ”. Why do they say “ know thyself ”. As if we do not know ourselves. True, we know ourselves only externally. We can stand before a mirror and know ourselves – but by such knowledge do we really know ourselves ? People can also know us by knowing us from outside objectively but we know ourselves only through subjectivity.
We very rarely apply this subjective process to know ourselves because we are always looking outside and judging ourselves accordingly. In fact we believe and make people believe as if we are this or that when in fact we may be quite different within.
We know quite a lot about world outside, through newspapers, magazines, radios, televisions but how much we know about ourselves? What is our true purpose of life? What are we doing towards this end? What makes us happy? What makes us sad? Those are a few questions, which we have rarely bothered to ask ourselves. Quite often we make same mistakes over and over again and do worse by excusing ourselves.
How can one know one’s real self. Well there are a few techniques to begin with :-
- Introspection :- We sit, preferably in a meditative posture and reflect on the previous day’s event. We try to know our emotions, our weakness, our virtues. We try and discriminate as to what is permanent, what is impermanent, what is good and what is pleasant? What is good is not always pleasant and what is pleasant is not always good. This helps us in gaining clarity.
- Reading of Scriptures :- We should find sometime everyday to read our scriptures. This helps in decreasing the worldly thoughts and a taste for spiritual objects develops. This reduces intensity of one’s egoism and all other klesas [affliction, suffering] derived from it.
- Chanting of Mantras :- The contention is that by repetition of carefully selected mantras [sacred words], the devotee can establish communication with God thereby peace and tranquility is achieved. Here repeating mantras mechanically does not help much. Thoughts have to be fixed on the meaning and the object while repeating the mantras so that certain consciousness is created to take one the highest.
- Keeping good company or Satsang :- We should associate with like minded people and constantly share our thoughts with them. A feeling of togetherness strengthens our commitment.
It is said that self-knowledge is the beginning of self-correction. These techniques can help us to know ourselves, to understand ourselves and thereby improve ourselves and become master of ourselves.
Maharshi Patanjali has referred about “Svadhyaya” at three places in his “Yoga Sutras”.
He introduced “Svadhyaya” in the very first sutra of Sadhana Pada as “Kriya Yoga” i.e. yoga in the form of Action.
“Tapah – Svadhyayesvara Pranidhanani Kriya Yogah ( II.1 ).
It is not possible for a person with distracted mind & in worldly life under the influence of klesas to plunge into the practice of yoga at once. He is required to acquire certain self-discipline, certain self-training, certain knowledge of Dharmsastras, enabling him to accept change from worldly life to yogic life without violent reaction.
Svadhyaya is an action in the form of Kriya Yoga, which tones up his speeches, thinking & intellect and paves a path for him to proceed on yogic way of life.
In Sutra 32 “Svadhyaya” is referred to as one of the five Niyamas ( Observances ) necessary for self-discipline. Here “Svadhyaya” includes study of the sastras [scriptures] & repetition of mantras
“Sauca-Samtosa-Tapah-Svadhyayesvara-Pranidhanani Niyamah” ( II.32 ).
And lastly is sutra 44 Patanjali states
“Svadhayayad Ista–Devta Samprayogah” ( II.44 )
By self-study union with the desired deity i.e. God is established.