Many people are familiar with Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras. Mark Griffin has called Patañjali a master technician. In his yoga sutras, he presented the most concise set of technical instructions for directly achieving full realization and enlightenment. These are embodied in the eight limbs of yoga, which culminate in Samadhi.
The second of the eight limbs is Niyama, a term which comprises five observances or disciplines. They are purity, contentment, austerity, study and devotion to God.
In the August 2006 podcast about Patañjali, Mark talked about the Niyama of study, and said:
“Gain the habit of study, the ability to make inquiry into a subject. In other words, keep the mind vital, and keep the spirit of inquiry strong. Penetrate through to what is unseen in life. At the beginning of life we have the opportunity to go through schooling. It’s important to learn how to learn during this time, and then to keep the habit of learning fresh and strong throughout your whole life.”
We gain great insight when we look at the word used for ‘study’… The actual word Patañjali uses is SVADHYAYA. It is most often translated as the study of scripture or the repetition of mantra. It actually means “self-study”, as it is based on the two Sanskrit rootssva=”self” +adhi-i= “to go over”.
So when we look at the actual etymology of the words, we see that it goes beyond other forms of learning we may engage in. It’s not like learning a new skill, or reading about a fascinating subject. It points directly to the deep contemplation of the Self, and the translation as ‘study’ tells us that sacred texts such as the Guru Gita become a doorway for deepening our knowledge and connection with the Self, the goal of our spiritual training.
In fact, this is so important that Patañjali gives svadhyaya mention three times in his yoga sutras. He opens the first verse of his chapter on sadhana (II-1: the practices for awakening) by defining study as a critical part of spiritual training. Then he outlines it as one of the five observances of the Niyamas (II-32). Finally he gives svadhyaya special mention in its own verse (II-44) when he says:
“svadhyayad istadevata samprayogah”
“By study of spiritual books comes
communion with one’s chosen deity.“
The word samprayogah in this verse is meaningful too, because sampra means one pointed; something undertaken with full concentration and absorption. So if we dedicate ourselves to complete absorption in yoga through our practice of reciting and studying the Guru Gita, we gain the darshan or vision of the Divine.