Svadhyaya: Study of Sacred Texts

Introduction

Svadhyaya is the fourth Niyama of Ashtanga Yoga. It is often translated into English as “Self-Study.” It is a part of ancient Indian education system. Let us have a look into this.

Svadhyaya Meaning

According to the Sanskrit dictionary spokensanskrit.org, Svadhyaya means “to study”, “recite a mantra or Veda or any sacred text”, “repeat the Veda or any sacred text in a low voice to one’s own self.” The term also means Self-Study in the sense “to study sacred texts for the one’s own self.” Simply put, it is the perusal of sacred texts or vedic literature.

It is the combination of two Sanskrit words viz. Sva and Adhyaya. Sva means Self and Adhyaya means ‘a collection of texts.’ Its literal meaning is “a collection of text meant for one’s study.” The indicated meaning of term is ‘one’s engagement in the study of sacred texts.’

There is an yet another interpretation of the term as the combination of Sva and Dhyaya. Dhyaya means to meditate or to contemplate. Hence it means the contemplation on the Self or Atman. In this sense, it is the Study of the Self.

Svadhyaya and Sravana

In ancient Indian education system, study of a doctrine or philosophy involves three stages: Sravana (listening) , Manana (repetition or contemplation), and Nididhyasana (extended contemplation). In those days, learning happens through listening only. Manana is pondering over what has been learned. Nididhyasana is getting it fixed to become a permanent part of you by extended contemplation. Svadhyaya includes all the three.

Svadhyaya in Yoga

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Patanjali used the term in two places. In first Sutra of Second Chapter (Sadhana Pada), he says “Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (the complete surrender to God) are known as Kriya Yoga.

These three also forms part of the five-fold Niyama as declared by Sutra 32. The five-fold Niyama (observances) are Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana.

The last three Niyamas are more important than others. The first Chapter explains the nature and types of Samadhi. The second chapter says Kriya Yoga which constitutes the last three Niyamas is the practical means to attain Samadhi.

If anyone could not pursue the path of the typical Yoga of eight limbs, a vigorous practice of Kriya Yoga will give the same result.

Study of sacred texts or repetition of mantra is an important practice that should not be missed to attain the result.

According to Sutra 44, communion with the chosen deity manifests with Study. Swami Vivekananda in his commentary to this Sutra says “by repetition of the mantra comes the realisation of the intended deity.” Here, we should note that “repetition of mantra” is also a meaning of Svadhyaya.

Yoga Upanishads

Varaha Upanishad gives a ten-fold Niyama. The Upanishad does not use the term Svadhyaya. Instead it uses the term Siddhanta Sravana. Siddhanta means spiritual doctrines and Sravana means hearing. Hearing or listening to Spiritual doctrines is known as Siddhanta Sravana.

Darshana Upanishad also prescribes a ten-fold Niyama that includes Siddhanta Sravana. It defines Siddhanta Sravana as “the understanding the reality of existence, the eternal wisdom, bliss and reality that exists inside. This is the study of truth taught by Upanishads.”

Shandilya Upanishad too gives a ten-fold Niyama that includes Siddhanta Sravana. According to this Upanishad, Siddhanta Sravana is the exploration of Vedanta or philosophy of Upanishads.

According to Tri Sikhi Brahmana Upanishad, Vedanta Sravana is one of the ten-fold Niyama. Vedanta Sravana is the study of Upanishads.

Svadhyaya In Bhagavad Gita

Svadhyaya along with a speech that is truthful, harmless, pleasing, and beneficial to the listener is known as austerity by word.

Bhagavad Gita 17.15

According to Bhagavad Gita, study of sacred texts is a part of austerity.

Svadhyaya in Jainism

Jainism imposes a five-fold code of conduct on a householder.

  1. Jnanachar (Code of right knowledge)
  2. Darshanachar (Code of right perception)
  3. Charitrachar (Code of right conduct)
  4. Tapachar (Code of austerity)
  5. Viryachar (Code of vigour)

Of these codes of conduct, Tapachar (Code of austerity) is two-fold: external and internal. Internal code of austerity is six-fold: repentance, modesty, self-less service, Svadhyaya (self-study), meditation, and shed-off of the body consciousness.

Hence in Jainism, Svadhyaya is one of the internal austerities. It is the study of Self. It has two aspects. Getting conscious of one’s faults and limitations is one aspect. The other aspect is the understanding the nature of the Self which involves the following five steps.

  • Vächanä (listening or studying the sacred texts)
  • Pruchchhanä (asking questions for clarification)
  • Parävartanä (repeating the texts and its meaning)
  • Anuprekshä (contemplating on its meaning)
  • Dharma_kathä (engaging in spiritual discussions, enquiries, and teaching)

Conclusion

In Hinduism, Jainism, and Yoga philosophy, Svadhyaya is the study of the Self. For the study of the Self or Atman involves the study of the sacred texts. Svadhyaya may be rightly defined as the study of the true self with the help of the study of the sacred texts.