Study of ones own self, Svadhyaya


Svadhyaya. ‘Sva’ is self. And ‘adhyaya’; it means something like ‘to study; to go into’. But ‘Sva’ can also mean ‘one’s own’, and ‘adhyaya’ can mean ‘study of one’s own’. So, it’s taken to mean two things: the study of the scriptures and texts which relate to the self, and also especially the study and scriptures of our own tradition; the tradition in which we’ve been brought up; to study those.

Now, the essential point is not to study them as theory, but to study them as ourselves, as relating to ourselves. Not to take it, “Oh well, there is a self, in man, which is unchanging, immutable, immortal, blissful.” Well, these are theoretical and beautiful statements. To find out where is that self – Hulme, “I look within; I see nothing but a flux of thoughts and sensations.”

Now, try looking within, behind all the changing thoughts and sensations. Try to see through to something which doesn’t move. Which doesn’t change. Now, if you’d just like to, I’ll say the word ‘OM’ at the beginning and the end, for about five minutes. OMMMMMMM. The self is unchanging. Immutable. Blissful. OMMMMMMM. Well then, to try to study the texts this way. To go into them as a reality in ourselves, and not simply as beautiful or elevating or intellectually satisfying dreams of what might be outside ourselves.

And the second one is repetition of OM. Which isn’t, well, it’s not necessary for the practice. OM is a very important phrase, but it’s a whole science in itself. And if it’s said at the beginning and the end of the practice, this brings in the benefit of it.

So, Tapas, calm endurance, keeping alive this central line in our daily life, as best we can. Coming back to it when we fall away from it. When we lose our temper, when we fall into depression, to come back as quickly as we can. Without feeling guilty that we’ve fallen over, like learning to ride a bicycle. You keep falling off it, but if you jump up and try again, not thinking, “Oh, I’m no good at bicycles.” I think you’re a born bicycle rider or you’re not – and I’m not. To keep trying.

Svadhyaya: to read the holy texts.  And they will change as we read them. If we read them for years, we’ll find entirely new meanings in them. Not slight nuances, which we hadn’t noticed, but quite new meanings.

Then the last one is Ishvara Pranidhana. It’s the recognition of the universal self. And at first, it’s a recognition in reverence. Then it’s dedicating the results of our action. Now, this is not, and I explained, this is not the whole of action. In a case of a man and woman of the world; the whole actions can’t be dedicated to God. I do perform actions for my ambition, for my social satisfaction and success, for my emotional satisfaction. I go to a concert; very remotely I can say that’s for the sake of God I’m going. And those things are legitimate. If they don’t degrade us in our own eyes, don’t deplete us of energy, and of inspiration. But the results of those actions: to be dedicated to God. That’s to say, I book for a concert I want to go to. Or I arrange a party, which is going to make an impression. Or I do something for someone that I love.

And then it all goes wrong. The concert tickets are cancelled at the last minute. The party is a terrible failure. Somebody got drunk and they were very aggressive, and there was nearly a fight. And then the loved one says, “Oh, you’re trying to buy me off, are you? Well, you can’t. I know what you’re up to.” Now, those results, to be dedicated to the Lord; not so easy.

People think, “Oh, well that means, you know, perhaps you don’t bother too much about the results.” Scrub the floor and dedicate, you know? There you are. If you leave a few dark patches, well, the results are dedicated, are they not?” But actually, then we haven’t then done the job. We haven’t scrubbed the floor, if I’ve left dark patches, then it hasn’t been done. Nor am I to scrub the floor, and think, “I dedicate this to the Lord.”

And our teacher told us a story about a girl. She came to, she was very devout, and she came to an Indian temple with a big tray of fruit that she’d very, very carefully arranged and gathered to make the offering. Beautiful work of art on this big tray. And as she entered the temple, she stumbled, and it all fell down in the dust, the fruit came out. He said, “She calmly picked up the fruit, dusted it, rearranged as best she could. Couldn’t be so good, but rearranged it as best she could, and calmly entered and made the offering. Not thinking, ‘Well, for God’s sake; all the trouble I’ve taken, you’d think the Lord would… Something we’ve tried for, worked for unselfishly for years, which would do real good. And some ignorant lout comes along and thinks, “I’ll have a bit of fun.” And they kick it all to pieces deliberately. Now what?’”

On these occasions – and they happen – and then to examine ourselves. How any times have we thought, “I’ll have a little bit of fun. Watch someone go ‘ohhh’?”

Well, these, then, are the three main practices. Tapas: practicing calm endurance in everyday life, and bringing this in the movements of everyday life. The movements become more efficient. If you’re copy-typing, your copy-typing will become more efficient. At the beginning, your attention will be more divided, but finally it will become, the body will be unified. Secondly: reading the holy text as alive, as pointing to something in ourselves. Not pointing to something wonderful out there, but to something in ourselves. And then, in the meditation, to go into that, and from that study, to practice throwing away, for the time being at least, the things that are irrelevant to the study. Then we can pick them up again as if in play, but able to put them down. And the last one: being able to try very hard at something, and then when it goes wrong, to be able to offer wisdom. And when it’s enormously successful and people rush out, “Oh, it was marvellous.”

These are the three main practices. Meditation is done in a solitary place at a special time. And my teacher recommended that people who are beginning the from outside, the discipline from outside, should practice this central line, and should study one text in depth. And it means to know one small book really well; parts of it by heart. Well, nowadays we don’t like learning things by heart, but that’s one of our great failings. To take some small book, such as the Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which he translated for us, taking out the relevant parts – it’s a small book. Plan to know that thoroughly. And then one can read it, other books, to get clarity of mind, and to get width of knowledge and experience. But he suggested to go in depth into one.

Well, now, that’s the outline of the practice, which I’m presenting to you this evening as it was presented to me. Some of these things have helped me, and I’ve passed them on. People do entirely as they like but I would suggest, if you want to try a thing, to try it seriously, to make up your mind to do it seriously for at least three months; to give it attention and enthusiasm for those three months.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: Change of Consciousness

Part 2: Practice calm endurance

Part 3: Study of ones own self, Svadhyaya