Study of ones own self, Svadhyaya

The Self is unchanging

Svadhyaya. ‘Sva’ is Self and ‘adhyaya’ 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.  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.” – but to find out where is that Self.  Hume said, “I look within; I see nothing but a flux of thoughts and sensations.”  Try looking within, behind all the changing thoughts and sensations. Try to see through to something which doesn’t move, which doesn’t change.  If you’d just like to try the practice for about five minutes, I’ll say the word ‘OM’ at the beginning and the end.

‘OM.  The Self is unchanging. Immutable. Blissful.  OM’

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.  The repetition of OM (which isn’t 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, first – 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 you must 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.”  Keep trying.

Then, Svadhyaya: to read the holy texts.  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 – the recognition of the universal Self.  At first, it’s a recognition in reverence, then it’s dedicating the results of our action.  This is not, as I explained, the whole of action. In a case of a man or woman of the world, the whole actions can’t be dedicated to God.  I perform actions for my ambition, for my social satisfaction and success, for my emotional satisfaction. I go to a concert – very remotely can I say that it’s for the sake of God that I’m going.  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 should be dedicated to God.

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.  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, are to be dedicated to the Lord.  It’s not so easy.  People think, “Oh, well that means perhaps you don’t bother too much about the results. Scrub the floor and dedicate the results, you know. There you are, if you leave a few dark patches, well, the results are dedicated, are they not?”  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 and I can’t think, “I dedicate this to the Lord.”

Our teacher told us a story about a girl, who was very devout.  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.  It was a beautiful work of art on this big tray, but as she entered the temple, she stumbled, and it all fell down in the dust and the fruit came out. He said, “She calmly picked up the fruit, dusted it and rearranged as best she could.  It couldn’t be as good, but she rearranged it as best she could, and calmly entered and made the offering. She wasn’t thinking, ‘Well, for goodness sake, with all the trouble I’ve taken, you’d think the Lord would…”  Say there’s something we’ve tried for, worked for unselfishly for years, which would do real good. Then 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 – we should examine ourselves. How many times have we thought, “I’ll have a little bit of fun. Watch someone go: ‘Oh!’?”

Well, these are the three main practices. Tapas: practising 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 divided, but finally it will become unified. Secondly, reading the holy texts as alive, as pointing to something in ourselves – not pointing to something wonderful out there, but to something in ourselves.  Then, in the meditation, to go into that – and from that study, to practise 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 be able to put them down. And the last one is being able to try very hard at something, and then when it goes wrong, to be able to offer up the results – and the same 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. My teacher recommended that people who are beginning the discipline from outside should practise this central line, and should study one text in depth.  It means to know one small book really well – parts of it by heart. Nowadays we don’t like learning things by heart, but that’s one of our great failings. Take some small book, such as the Teachings from the Bhagavad Gita, which he translated for us.  Take out the relevant parts – it’s a small book – and get to know that thoroughly. Then one can read 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, that’s the outline of the practice, which I’ve presented 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 anything, to try it seriously, to make up your mind to do it seriously for at least three months and 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



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