Svadhyaya 3 ~ Forget the Self


Svadhyaya – Self-study:  study of the Self, study of the self, study of oneself, study by oneself


Svadhyaya 3 ~ Forget the Self

SAMSUNGWhen the Buddha gave his first sermon, he said that the things he realized would be difficult, even for the wise, to hear.  He continued that this is because “people love, delight and revel in their place.”

Take suffering – we all have our own particular brand of suffering – when we feel put upon, slighted, ignored, unwanted/loved, taken for granted, taken advantage of, etc.  – and at this point in many of our lives, we have gotten that suffering to be so sweet.  I know this was true for me, and still is sometimes.  It’s such a unique form of sweetness, that you don’t realize it for quite awhile.

We also have our flavor of delight –  in being someone who loves/hates/enjoys/dislikes wine, coffee, beer, horoscopes, vampires, politics, yoga, gym yoga, green, curly hair, etc.  We can get so solid in those, just reveling in that in us, in the structure that we’ve established of us.  But there’s also the us behind that structure. That would still be there if that structure crumbled.

You can see where this is going – they all prevent us from being in touch with our svarupa – our true selves (Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam).  So we study our place, our self, in order to let go and make room for the Self.

Or as Dogen says:  To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe.

Or as the Tao 48 says: In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped.

The next time you practice asana, let your intention be to practice in possibility – not the structure of reveling you have already established.  Whenever “I always…”  “My ___ can’t…” “This is the way it is” or “I’m the exception” show up notice that this is the structure of the self, and see if you can loosen it enough to identify with the Self behind it all.


Recommended listening:  Ram Dass’s “Here We All Are”  minutes 1:42:21-1:45:12.

Recommended meditation practice: Neti Neti (not this, not this)


Svadhyaya 2 ~ The Jnani


Svadhyaya – Self-study:  study of the Self, study of the self, study of oneself, study by oneself

Svadhyaya 2 ~ The Jnani
Jnana Yoga is the practice of the intellect, through inquiry and study the Jnani Yogi traverses his/her path towards realization.  Svadhyaya is very much a jnana yoga practice.dep_5277997-Strong-brain

Intellect influences the mind, and like any other sense and muscle, it can be not only trained, but cultivated. Modern neurology reveals that “mental training and enriched life increase brain weight and size. It increases the number of branches among neurons.  ‘The brain is a muscle that grows with exercise’ is not just a metaphor.” (43 The Brain That Changes Itself)

It is also the only practice that comes with its own warning: beware of “armchair yoga”.  It’s not meant to be a practice that is just you and a spiritual text up in the mountains.  The preceding yamas and niyamas have given us an entire master craftsman’s toolbox of yoga actions to work on.  Svadhyaya is tying in the wisdom element. As the Buddhist saying goes, “Wisdom without action has no legs, action without wisdom has no head.”

svadyaya-sanskritClassical svadhyaya practices are: studying foundational texts such as the Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita – both alone and in satsang (community of yogis), meditation, and chanting “om”.

Iyengar has built an entire yoga-asana system that is in many respects a jnana one.  Through deep knowing of the body, insights and realization arise.  It is not my personal practice, but cannot be doubted.  For further study on this, please refer to any of his texts or your nearest Iyengar Yoga Center (the nearest one to me that I enjoy going to is Yogasana in Brooklyn).

There is a particular way of moving, speaking perhaps, sitting, dancing even, that we do when we are at home alone by ourselves.  And it becomes quite clear what those are whenever we have moments where we’re caught by someone in the midst of it.  There’s a complete unguarded, natural expression to our being in those moments.  Rodney Yee speaks of pranayama as work towards catching the breath home alone by itself.  Svadhyaya could be said to be work towards catching the Self alone by itSelf.

“My goal isn’t to take away your confusion.  Confusion is a fertile field in which everything is possible. If you think you know, you’ve just calcified again.” Ram Dass

The next time you feel yourself confused, make it a jnana practice.  Allow yourself to be confused, without trying to solve it, or push it away. Relax as much as you can, and just be confused.  At a certain moment, the rational mind may short circuit, and a glimpse of the Self home alone may be possible.

Svadhyaya 1 ~ Svadhyaya as Silence

The final two niyamas: Svadhyaya and Isvara pranidhanadva can be the most challenging, both to work with and discuss, as they are the most internal and therefore less in the range of words and more in the range of experience.  The first evidence of which is finding it necessary to break Svadhyaya into three separate posts. We’ll see what happens when we get to Isvara! The second evidence to follow:)


Svadhyaya – Self-study:  study of the Self, study of the self, study of oneself, study by oneself

Svadhyaya 1 ~ Svadhyaya as Silence

With prior yamas and niyamas, we’ve been working with a lot of our patterned thoughts, words, actions, ways of seeing and being in the world.  Working towards cultivating those in a direction that create the most beneficial relationship with the world and all beings.  Svadhyaya is the stepping off point, a shift from that kind of work, or perhaps more aptly, a broadening.  Instead of focusing on our likes/dislikes, cravings, attachments, habits, reactivity exclusively, we are now looking beyond/beside/within it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently Davidji gave a dharma talk related to the new Jivamukti t-shirts. On the front are the words “I AM”.  He asked us, what is on the back? For him, it’s “David”, for me “Jen”, for you “Your name here”.  The previous yamas and niyamas can be seen as practices cultivating the “Jen” side, svadhyaya asks us to investigate “I AM”.   And since we’ve spent the majority of our lives getting to know the back side of the t-shirt so well, a lot of svadhyaya is evening the scales with the “I AM” side.

As Rodney Yee said, “Suspend the knowing, the karmic history – the patterned ideas of you. To make space for you.”

In asana practice, we start off focusing and spending so much time on physical body alignment.  After a while, we get comfortable, we feel safe in the strange poses, and we begin to investigate our mental habits, our fidgets, our reactions and emotions.  When we begin to feel comfortable and safe within this level of exploration, we study our breath and the energy exchanges of the subtle body.  After that, we go one level deeper still – and that’s the level of svadhyaya.  It’s like we’re at the eye doctor, and they flip between two perspectives and ask “Is 1 or 2 clearer?” you respond, and again they flip, “Is A or B clearer?”, again “Is A or 2 clearer?”.  Except we’re our own eye doctor, and keep evolving through clearer and more evolved perspectives.  We’re working towards seeing ourselves at a level that is all “I AM”, and “Jen-ness” is quiet.  The amazing part of this is that when I can really be with “I AM”, then my “Jen-ness” becomes more and more brilliant.


Rodney Yee also says, “If you can’t relax, you can’t hear more than one voice at a time.”  Whether in our own minds, or in the room we’re standing in, we know from personal experience that the loudest voice we hear is not always the one we want to listen to.  So when we practice asana, pranayama and meditation, we’re moving towards a kind of relaxation where the eager, well-meaning, but loud and insistent Jen voices quiet down, so I can hear the voice of “I AM”.

Recommended practices for this work: restorative asana, pranayama, and nadam meditation