Today, you will continue learning about svādhyāya—the study of the Self.
These study sessions are sponsored by the SYDA Foundation. The acronym SYDA stands for Siddha Yoga Dham Associates. Dhām is a Hindi and Sanskrit word that means “abode” or “dwelling place.”
My name is Swami Ishwarananda. I am a Siddha Yoga monk and meditation teacher.
Swami Akhandananda, Managing Director for the Svādhyāya Study Sessions, asked that I serve as the teacher for this study session. And I was delighted to accept his invitation.
Today you will learn about another key aspect of the recitation of sacred texts. That is, focusing and maintaining your gaze on the written text you are reciting. You will learn why this is an essential part of svādhyāya and how to maintain an easeful, steady gaze on the text while reciting Shrī Guru Gītā.
Making one’s gaze one-pointed and steady is taught in the ancient yogic texts as a method for developing one-pointed focus of the mind. The Indian philosophies such as Vedanta and Samkhya tell us that one of the main functions of the mind is to direct the senses and gather information through them. This is what the mind does constantly—and it’s really good at it! However, these philosophies teach that for spiritual attainment, a seeker or sādhaka must cultivate a strong mind and intellect to direct the senses in a way that supports their progress in sādhanā.
You may have noticed that at times it feels as though you can’t freely choose what your mind is focusing on. For example, in the case of the sense of sight, it is often the eyes that direct the mind’s focus. You see something move; your eyes go there—and your mind follows. Suddenly you are immersed—and sometimes enmeshed—in thoughts and feelings about that object.
So, your gaze—your vision, what you focus your eyes on—has a great impact on your state and, ultimately, on your progress on the spiritual path. This is why learning to direct your vision toward that which is beneficial to sādhanā is necessary.
One of the classic analogies for the relationship between the mind and senses is from the Katha Upanishad. The body is described as the chariot, the rider in the chariot is the Self, and the intellect is the charioteer. The senses are described as powerful horses, and the mind is represented as the reins. It is through the reins—that is, the mind—that the intellect as charioteer is able to guide the chariot and the horses of the senses to the goal. If the charioteer is skilled and the reins are strong, the chariot reaches its destination—the abode of God. On the other hand, if the charioteer is unskilled and the reins are weak, the horses of the senses run astray with the chariot.
From the analogy of the chariot and the charioteer, we can understand why cultivating a strong intellect is fundamental for success in sādhanā. At any given time, the mind can fluctuate with various thoughts and emotions. However, with a strong intellect as the charioteer, the mind remains focused on the goal of sādhanā and directs the senses wisely.
We can strengthen the mind’s ability to direct the senses by controlling the focus of our gaze. The scriptures on hatha yoga teach a technique of concentrating one’s gaze on a single point. The name for this technique is trātaka. The Hatha-Yoga-Pradīpikā, one of the main scriptures on this form of yoga, describes this method as follows:
Being calm, one should gaze steadily at a small mark.… This is called trātaka by the Acharyas, the learned teachers of the Truth.1
Trātaka is defined as fixing the eyes on an object. This object can be, for example, a small dot, a sacred symbol such as the symbol for AUM, or the flame of a candle. According to the Hatha-Yoga-Pradīpikā, the underlying principle is that focusing the eyes on a single point helps to make the mind steady, concentrated, and one-pointed on spiritual practice.
This discipline is prescribed in texts such as Shrī Bhagavad Gītā, and it is understood that the ability to maintain the mind’s focus on one point is a capacity you develop through daily practice. The discipline of focusing the gaze is a key aspect of svādhyāya.
The first step is to maintain a posture that is conducive to focusing your gaze. You will practice that later in the session.
The second step is to direct your gaze toward a particular point of focus. In this way, your gaze remains centered and steady and is not distracted by other objects.
During svādhyāya your vision then moves over the words of the text you are reciting. With this focus, your mind can become absorbed in the mantras, and you are better able to receive and understand the teachings conveyed in Shrī Guru Gītā.
Focusing on the words in this way aligns the energies of your senses and your mind to achieve focus on the Self. This is what svādhyāya is all about: uniting the individual self with the supreme Self. In this study session, you will be learning and studying how to focus your gaze on the text of Shrī Guru Gītā.
Throughout the study session you can reflect on and write about what you are learning. The act of writing down what you have learned helps you to clarify your understanding of the teachings, remember and assimilate these teachings, and gain new insights about how to implement them in your life. Through the practice of writing in your sādhanā journal, you create a storehouse of knowledge within yourself that you can access at any time.
In the last study session, Swami Akhandananda spoke about how svādhyāya purifies and expands the energies contained in the chakras, the subtle energy centers in your being.
The chakras are aligned along the spine in the subtle body and connected to the central channel, called the sushumna nādī, which goes from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. This is the channel through which the Kundalini Shakti flows as it rises from the chakra at the base of the spine up to the crown of the head.
So far, we have examined features and qualities of the first chakra, the mūlādhāra chakra, which lies at the base of the spine, and the svādhishthāna chakra, which is at the level of the sacrum. Today I will speak about the third chakra, which is called the manipūra chakra. This is the spiritual center or chakra located in the subtle body in the region that corresponds to the navel.
The word mani means “jewel,” “gem,” and the word pūra means “abundant in,” “full of.” Therefore, manipūra means “full of gems.” This refers to the glittering radiance of this chakra. It is called this because it has the splendor and luster of countless gems.
Here is a painting depicting this chakra.
According to yogic texts—the Shiva Samhita2 and the Shat Chakra Nirūpana3—the manipūra chakra has a “golden glow” and is “brilliant like the rising sun.” In contrast, the ten petals that encircle it are “of the color of rain-clouds”—that is to say, dark blue. On each of these ten petals is written, also in blue, one of ten Sanskrit syllables. As with the images of the other chakras we’ve studied, you can see that rising up through the manipūra chakra is the sushumna, represented by the vertical line in the center of the image.
In the center of the manipūra chakra, within the red triangle, is the seed (bīja) letter, the bīja mantra ram. It is red in color and resting upon a ram, the animal that serves as the mantra’s vehicle. Ram is the mantra of fire, Vahni, the element associated with this chakra. Perpetually blazing, this fire governs the function of food consumption and digestion. As the common expression “digestive fire” suggests, there is a close relationship between the element of fire and the region of the navel. The manipūra chakra is the spiritual power that animates our digestive fire, and as such it functions as a source of dynamism, strength, and determination.
There are ten negative qualities associated with this chakra. They are shame, treachery, jealousy, desire, inertia, sadness, worldliness, ignorance, aversion, and fear. However, through a seeker’s effort in sādhanā, these negative qualities are purified through the power of Kundalini Shakti.
As you heard earlier, svādhyāya is one of the practices that supports this inner transformation. It nurtures the unfoldment of Kundalini Shakti in the chakras. Each time we recite the Sanskrit mantras with focus and understanding, these sacred vibrations help to purify the subtle energy centers.
Saints and scholars have noted how the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet correspond exactly to the fifty letters on the petals of the six chakras. Based on the principle of sympathetic vibration, when Sanskrit mantras are spoken or chanted, the petals corresponding to the letters of the mantras vibrate in resonance with those sounds. When we recite Shrī Guru Gītā, we can understand that the mantras of this sacred text vibrate in the chakras, bringing about purification. After your recitation, you may feel like you’ve bathed your entire being in sacred sound.
Gauri Maurer, a Siddha Yoga musician, guided participants in how to hold the chanting book and focus the gaze while reciting Shrī Guru Gītā. You can click on the audio recording below to listen to the instructions and follow along with them.
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Participants in the study session recited verses 62 through 93 of Shrī Guru Gītā, applying what they had learned about focusing their gaze and holding their chanting book.
After the recitation of Shrī Guru Gītā, participants sat for a few moments in the silence that pervades following the recitation of sacred mantras. Swami ji concluded the study session by encouraging participants to reflect on and practice what they had learned in the coming week.