Yoga Sutra 2.44: svadhyayat ista devata samprayogah
Svadyayat: through reading and chanting sacred texts. Ista: desired, chosen. Devata: divinity. Samprayogah: union, fusion.
Union with the chosen divinity comes from the study of self through the sacred texts. (trans. Bernard Bouanchaud)
B.K.S Iyengar tells us in his Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that “Traditionally, svadyaya has been explained as the study of the sacred scriptures and recitation of mantra, preceded by the syllable AUM (see 1.27-28), through which the sadhaka gains a vision of his tutelary or chosen deity, who fulfills all his desires.”
Barbara Stoler Miller in her Yoga, Discipline of Freedom, elucidates the function of mantra: “Through the repetition of and meditation on specific mantras, the yogi can commune with a chosen deity, who can then aid his spiritual practice.”
Swadyaya—self-study—Sometimes an unwelcome task/sometimes an obsession. If only I would learn everything I need to learn with each experience, but I never do and so I keep on repeating the lessons.
How is this sutra related to the practice of Tapas?
How important is it to work with a teacher or mentor? Will another person help me find clarity and guide me from possible self-destructive or egoistic tendencies swadyaya may induce?
How do I define the canon of “sacred texts”? Is it static, ancient, or dynamic, evolving?
Donna Farhi, in Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit says that “Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered swadhyaya.”
How does knowledge of myself lead me to Divine knowledge and vice-versa, How does Divine knowledge lead me to understand myself? Is the Self a mirror? If so, what does it reflect?
Bernard Bouanchaud asks us to ponder the implications of this sutra in the Modern Age: The Yoga Sutras were written in a time and culture that emphasized the sacred. Contemporary Western culture is secular and sacredness that does not conform to accepted religion is often rejected. In such a context, what word can replace “divinity” (devata) in this aphorism?
Through meticulous attention on the sounds of the mantra, consciousness grows inward and focuses sharply. Further meditation on a chosen deity can provide a vehicle for insightful experience.This Niyama gives the yogin another powerful tool for transformation.
Nischala Joy Devi in The Secret Power of Yoga suggests that this niyama challenges us to examine our beliefs and our attachment to our beliefs.She encourages us to allow our view of reality to grow and change as our hearts soften in practice.
There’s a parallel in zen meditation: I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. I am not my body.
Sutra 2.44 suggests that mantra and deity visualization can help us cut through long held beliefs.