Tag Archives: niyamas

Niyama 4, Swadyaya, self-study

Yoga Sutra 2.44: svadhyayat ista devata samprayogah

Polish door (RKG photo)

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.”

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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?

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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.”

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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?

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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?

Door detail (RKG photo)

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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.

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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.

Niyama 2, Samtosha, Contentment

I write so much about longing and the un-contented parts of my life that it’s hard sometimes to acknowledge those areas of my existence that are perfectly or imperfectly just fine.  I often feel a sense of contentment after writing, especially in free writing in a journal—as if I’ve purged the “vritti” out of my system.  There is however, a sense of contentment that comes with acknowledgment of longing as a perennial aspect of the human condition. And a deeper contentment is possible through recognition of the longing as an expression of the Divine.

orchid (ckg photo)

II.42 samtosad anuttamah sukha-labhah

Samtosat:through or by contentment   Anuttamah:the strongest  Sukha: of happiness   Labhah: obtaining, gain

Contentment brings supreme happiness. (B.Bouanchaud)

The result of contentment is total happiness. (Desikachar)

From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness (BKS Iyengar)

When at peace and content with oneself and others (Santosha), supreme joy is celebrated. (Nischala Joy Devi)

This sutra can be linked with Sutra 1.13 : tatra sthitau yatno’bhyasah

Persevering practice is the effort to attain and maintain the state of mental peace.

In an earlier post, I wrote about practicing through emotions. Linking these two sutras, Patanjali says that the way to mental peace is through persevering practice and by practicing contentment, or mental peace, we’ll achieve happiness.

Santosha, or the practice of content-ment, is the ability to feel satisfied within the container of one’s immediate experience. (Donna Farhi)

Family gatherings often are times when I see sides of myself that I don’t like (a Living Mirror). They can be occasions of great dis-contentment for me. They are also the times of my greatest happiness. Trying to navigate them and remain centered is a worthwhile goal for anyone. Amy Weintraub in Yoga for Depression ties Santosha  with a quotation from Swami Kripalvanandji “My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart.” She says that “both self-love and self-acceptance grow with practice.”

Is contentment the aim of yoga practice?

Is all suffering alleviated through contentment or do we look at the sufferings in our own lives in a contented fashion?

Does happiness imply a different vision of suffering?  Or can the two emotions exist simultaneously?

Is total happiness only possible through a practice of contentment?

If all life is suffering as the Buddha tells us, why should we bother trying to attain happiness?

Does contentment imply a turning away from the difficulties of life, an acceptance of poverty, cruelty, and violence in the world?

Won’t we be missing out on much of our human emotional range if we practice contentment?  Won’t we become zombies? Can one’s passions be ignited while one is content?

Are there any other effects or side effects of contentment?

Is it possible for contentment to exist on a greater scale, say in a community or in a nation?  Would this be the same as peace?

What is the relationship between contentment and peace?

Is there a relationship between contentment and the practice of svadhyaya (self-study)?

What is the relationship of asana practice and contentment?

The sutra tells us there is a direct relationship between contentment and personal happiness.  With contentment, one’s emotions are brought under an even keel, and the fluctuations of the mind are stilled.  Isn’t this the purpose of yoga?  I search for sukha in each pose, to feel joy while my body works on the edge of pain.  This has incredible implications for those suffering from emotional lability.  Can I learn to accept where I am at at any given moment? This is contentment and the sages say that by working on this, I will attain the supreme gift of happiness.

Patanjali tells us something profound, yet really simple: be content and you will be happy.  Want what you have and don’t want what you don’t have.