I have heard that part of the benefits of reciting Shri Guru Gita comes from the sound of the syllables as we recite them. What is the effect of reciting the text silently?

Although it is ideal to recite Shri Guru Gita aloud because of the beneficial effect of the sounds of the mantras, it is also beneficial to recite the text mentally. When you recite the text silently in your mind, you are creating a subtle, yet real, resonance of the mantras in your entire being, and this yields great benefit. Everyone is doing the practices in different circumstances, and sometimes it is not possible to recite a text aloud.

Sometimes I am in a situation where reciting Shri Guru Gita in a normal voice is not possible. Is it OK to recite it in a whisper?

It is fine to recite Shri Guru Gita in a soft voice or silently if that is what is appropriate for the circumstances you are in—and what is possible and healthy for your voice. However, please be aware that whispering can strain your voice. Therefore, when you are not able to recite with your natural, full voice, I recommend you recite in a soft voice or silently.

Can you explain the process of breathing in Shri Guru Gita recitation?

For easeful recitation, breathe through the mouth while allowing the throat to be relaxed and open. Allow plenty of time to inhale prior to singing—that is, begin inhaling far enough in advance of when you’re going to sing so that your breath isn’t rushed. You can refer back to my instructions from the Svādhyāya Study Sessions to practice this.

There are multiple benefits to breathing in this manner. Breathing early and with a relaxed, open throat keeps the vocal chords free of any tension. Breathing through the mouth is the most efficient way to take in air for singing—and allows the throat to be open and the vocal chords to be relaxed. Overall, breathing in advance prepares the voice to release the sound, much like picking up a musical instrument and getting it in place before beginning to play it. Breathing in this way is also a form of pranayama—the practice of breathing in a rhythmic and regulated manner—in this case by lengthening and controlling the breath. Regulated breathing steadies the mind, enhancing one’s focus on the recitation.

If you are reciting using a transliteration consisting of four lines, you would breathe as follows:

  • After you complete the half verse you are reciting, continue to exhale gently until you begin the next inhalation.
  • Begin inhaling a few moments before you sing—that is, about halfway through the preceding line. Over time, as you practice your body will learn and develop its own comfortable rhythm. You might find it’s more natural for you to inhale a bit earlier, or a bit later. Everyone has a different breath capacity and rhythm, so please do what is most comfortable for you. The main point is to give yourself enough time to take an easeful in-breath before you start reciting your half of the verse.

There are some verses in Shri Guru Gita for which everyone recites all four lines of the verse (instead of reciting one half or the other). When reciting these verses, at what points should I breathe?

For these verses, many people find that it is easeful to breathe at the end of the second and fourth line of the transliteration. It is helpful to breathe in through the mouth with an open and relaxed throat. Breathing in this way allows you to take in enough air comfortably and efficiently. That said, please follow the frequency and rhythm for your breathing that is easeful for you.

If I am reciting Shri Guru Gita alone without a recording—and, so, reciting both halves of each verse—how should I adjust my breathing?

When you are reciting each verse of Shri Guru Gita in its entirety, it is important to breathe where it’s most easeful for you. You could start by seeing how it works to breathe at the middle and end of each verse—that is, at the end of the second and fourth line of the transliteration. Those breaths can be as long as is needed for you to feel that the rhythm is comfortable and you are not straining in any way to recite the text.

If reciting the entire text is difficult, another possibility is to recite half of each verse aloud and the other half in your mind. This will give your voice some rest throughout the recitation.

How important is it to know the meaning of the verses of Shri Guru Gita as I recite them? When I recite, is it recommended that I read the translation of the verses at the same time?

It is important to learn and study the meaning of the verses of Shri Guru Gita. In addition to being a sacred hymn you can recite, it is also a profound scripture. By studying its verses, you can learn about the nature of the Guru and the path the Guru teaches. However, it is not necessary to read the translation during the course of reciting the text—your primary focus is reciting the Sanskrit syllables.

I recommend that you set aside time to learn and study the meaning of the text before or after your recitation. You can focus on one or several verses at a time by reading the translation and reflecting on its meaning. And you may find that during your recitation your attention is drawn to a particular verse. If so, make a mental note of the verse, return to it when you’ve finished your recitation, and reflect on its meaning. Over time, by studying in this way, you will be able to maintain awareness of the meaning of the mantras while you are reciting them.

My voice gets tired and my throat feels sore after reciting the entire text of Shri Guru Gita. What can I do to strengthen my voice? And is it beneficial to recite the text, say thirty verses at a time, with pauses of a few days in between?

As with any activity, it is important to begin where you are, and then build stamina and skill gradually with care. If you are not used to singing or reciting on a regular basis, start gently. The voice should never hurt while reciting, nor should you experience any soreness afterward. It is always best to recite only as much as you are comfortably able to, knowing that there is great benefit in any recitation that you can do.

You can strengthen your voice by reciting just a few verses aloud, then adding even just one verse per day or week. Over time, when you no longer feel discomfort, you will know that your vocal strength is increasing. If you have any particular physical limitations, discomfort, or other condition that may affect your ability to recite Shri Guru Gita, please follow the advice of your physician or other health care professional.

Are there other ways I can practice svādhyāya daily if I don’t have enough time in my schedule to recite the entire text of Shri Guru Gita?

Yes, there are many ways you can practice svādhyāya daily in accordance with your schedule. The main point is to make svādhyāya a regular practice, daily if possible, even if only for fifteen or twenty minutes. It is the consistency that bears the greatest fruit. After establishing a consistent practice, you may find that you can increase the time by a few minutes and be able to recite a few more verses of Shri Guru Gita.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Schedule time to recite the entire text of Shri Guru Gita once or twice a week when it is convenient for you. You can use the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website.
  • On the days when you don’t have time to recite the full text, select thirty or so verses to recite, which you can do in ten or fifteen minutes. After six days of doing this every day, you will have recited the entire text.
  • If your schedule allows, you can silently read and study the meaning of the verses you recited when you have an interlude of a few minutes in your day to sit quietly and focus.

I’ve heard that reciting Shri Guru Gita with a specific intention is beneficial and powerful. How do I go about creating an intention before my recitation?

Shri Guru Gita does carry the beneficent power to bestow blessings and bring about positive changes within ourselves and our environment. Therefore, many Siddha Yogis create an intention for their recitation in order to direct the power of this text toward a particular end. One way to do this is to take a few moments prior to beginning your recitation to turn your attention within and get in touch with your heart’s intention. Then you can articulate your intention in the form of a phrase or sentence. You can do this mentally or, if you wish, you can write it down.

On the Siddha Yoga path, the intentions we create are always to uplift ourselves, others, and the world we live in. For example, you might invoke blessings for progress in your sadhana. Or you might hold the intention to invoke blessings to uplift the world—blessings for peace, protection, or a greater sense of harmony among people. After you articulate your intention, hold it in your awareness for a few moments, offering it to God and the Guru for its fulfillment. Then, holding your intention in your heart, begin your recitation of Shri Guru Gita.

When practicing svādhyāya, I tend to rock back and forth a bit, which I enjoy. Is this OK, or is it better to maintain a steady posture? Sometimes when I focus more deeply, for example on the vibration of the syllables or the sound of the vowels, my body becomes still.

Many people find that their body begins to sway gently during the recitation—this movement is often a natural response. That said, it is significant that you notice how, when your focus is more profound, your posture can sometimes become more steady and serene. While there is no rule about this, you might experiment with how a steady yet dynamic posture can help you maintain one-pointed focus on recitation. After all, the purpose of sitting in an aligned and steady posture is to help focus the mind.

What are ways I can contemplate and study the verses of Shri Guru Gita to better understand their meaning?

Setting aside time to contemplate and study the verses of Shri Guru Gita enhances your practice of svādhyāya, study of the Self.

Here is one recommended approach:

  • Select a verse that interests you, that you want to understand more fully.
  • Recite the verse a few times aloud.
  • Read the translation aloud as well.
  • Then engage in exercises such as these:
    • Ask yourself, “What do I understand or know about this verse?” Reflect and write a few points in your personal journal about this.
    • Ask yourself, “What specifically do I want to understand further about this verse?” Articulate as clearly and specifically as you can what you want to learn and comprehend.
  • Once you’ve articulated your question, you may find it useful to look up key words or concepts from the verse or from your question in the dictionary, in Siddha Yoga books, and/or on the Siddha Yoga path website—for example, in the glossary.

Contemplating the verses of Shri Guru Gita can yield profound insights and wisdom for every aspect of your sadhana. If you want to learn and practice a more in-depth process of contemplation, you can apply the five-step contemplation method taught in the Siddha Yoga Home Study Course: The Power of Siddha Yoga Contemplation.

Are all of the texts recited on the Siddha Yoga path of equal importance, or should I focus on learning how to recite certain texts rather than others?

Each text extols the wisdom and attributes of a specific deity—each a form of God. For example, Shri Bhagavad Gita glorifies Lord Krishna, Shri Vishnu Sahasranama praises Lord Vishnu, Shri Rudram honors Rudra, Shri Shiva Mahimna Stotram exalts Lord Shiva, and Shri Guru Gita expounds the greatness of Shri Guru. Reciting any of these texts will confer the many benefits of svādhyāya. This being said, on the Siddha Yoga path Shri Guru is our most beloved teacher; she is the one who has given us the unparalleled gift of shakiptat diksha —the awakening of Kundalini Shakti—which allows us to perform sadhana and progress in our spiritual journey. Therefore I would recommend learning to recite Shri Guru Gita before learning the other texts. You can learn more about Shri Guru Gita by reading Swami Shantananda’s exposition, The Significance of Shri Guru Gita on the Siddha Yoga Path.

What can I do to refine my pronunciation of Shri Guru Gita?

One of the best ways to refine pronunciation is to recite the text regularly, giving careful attention to the diacritics in the transliteration. If you are not certain about how the various diacritics are pronounced, you can refer to the pronunciation guide at the end of The Nectar of Chanting or study the pronunciation guide on the Siddha Yoga path website. Since there are many different syllables to pronounce, you might want to focus on just one type at a time. This would mean paying particular attention, for instance, to the long vowels until you have become proficient, and then perhaps moving on to the aspirated consonants (those with an “h”) or to some other aspect of pronunciation.

Yet another aid to refining pronunciation of any svādhyāya text is to note the words and syllables you have difficulty pronouncing accurately and then take time to recite the word or line of the text slowly several times, until it is easeful for you to say it correctly at the regular tempo.

A third means of refining your pronunciation is a technique you can employ whenever you’re reciting with the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website. You can listen carefully to the group reciting the other half of the verse and learn from their pronunciation.

What should I do when my eyes get tired from focusing on the text of Shri Guru Gita?

First, check that your gaze is focused easefully on the text, free of any tension in the eye or face muscles. Allowing your eye and face muscles to be soft and relaxed supports you in maintaining your gaze comfortably for an extended period of time.

If you still notice that your eyes are getting tired during the recitation, you could take a moment when listening to the other half of the verse to shift your gaze to something farther away—for example, look at a tree outside the window for a few seconds. Shifting your focus to something more distant can refresh the eyes’ ability to focus. You can also try closing your eyes for a few seconds. Again, the key instruction is to keep your gaze relaxed as you focus on the text.

When my mind starts to wander during recitation of Shri Guru Gita or other text chants, how can I support my mind to focus on reciting?

Learning how to sustain attention on the practice of svādhyāya requires consistent and persistent practice, just as it does for meditation or mantra japa. Whenever you notice the mind is focusing on something other than recitation of the text, gently guide your attention back to the text. You can do this by focusing on a specific aspect of the recitation—for example, refreshing your gaze on the syllables, remembering your intention for reciting Shri Guru Gita, or listening more closely to the sound of the other voices reciting the text. With patience, bring your attention back to something you love about the practice, and gradually your mind will be able to focus for longer periods of time. You may notice that qualities of sweetness and serenity arise in your being when the mind is in a focused state. Recalling the experience of these divine qualities can also enhance your ability to stay focused.

I am new to the practice of reciting Shri Guru Gita and am concerned that when I recite with others, I will make mistakes. What should I do?

The people you are reciting with likely had a similar question when they began this same learning process. If you are brand-new to reciting Shri Guru Gita, then follow along while reading the text silently at first. When you feel ready, begin pronouncing the words silently in your mind. When this feels comfortable, recite the words in a slightly softer voice, taking care not to strain your voice by doing so.

Another great way to learn is to practice alone with the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website. Remember that making mistakes is an important part of any learning process, in the same way that a toddler falls as they’re learning to walk. So, embrace the attitude of one who is learning! Even if you aren’t yet able to pronounce all the syllables, you are still receiving the benefits of svādhyāya by virtue of the earnest effort you are making to focus on and learn how to recite this sacred text.

Why do we sit for meditation after reciting a text such as Shri Guru Gita?

Svādhyāya is study of the Self through reciting sacred texts. This practice focuses our mind, breath, voice, heart, and body on understanding and perceiving the Self. Due to this focus, when the recitation is completed, our attention naturally rests within, and our whole being resonates with the sacred energy of the mantras we’ve recited. At this moment it is beneficial to direct our heightened state of focus inward toward the Self by meditating for a few minutes. This brief period of stillness also allows the energy, the vibration, of the mantras to be assimilated into our being so that they become part of us. Meditating at the end of svādhyāya is a significant and precious part of the practice because it allows us to more clearly recognize the benefits of recitation and absorb what we have learned and experienced.