On the Siddha Yoga path, the month of October is dedicated to the celebration of Baba Muktananda’s life and teachings. This is the month when, in 1982, on the night of the full moon, October 2, our beloved Baba took mahasamadhi. Baba left his body and merged with supreme Consciousness.
Each year we honor this anniversary of Baba’s mahasamadhi both on October 2, the solar anniversary, and on the day of the full moon, the lunar anniversary, which this year is on October 31.
As some of you may have noticed, this year the month of October begins and concludes with full moons. In India, the full moon represents spiritual perfection. This was Baba’s state. So, at the start and the culmination of the month, when we look at the luminous full moon, we can remember Baba.
One of the main Siddha Yoga practices that Baba Muktananda and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda have taught is svādhyāya. In these study sessions we are examining six aspects of svādhyāya and applying what you learn to the recitation of Shri Guru Gita. This will support you to experience the power and benefits of svādhyāya. You will know firsthand how daily discipline expands your awareness of the Self.
In the previous study session, we examined posture as a key aspect of svādhyāya. Many participants said that they found it useful to learn a clear sequence of steps for creating a steady and easeful posture. You can keep learning and studying these steps by reading the talk I gave in Study Session II entitled “Establish Your Posture.” I encourage you to continue applying the steps you learned each time you recite Shri Guru Gita. You will notice how, over time, your posture becomes more steady and easeful to maintain and supports the flow of the awakened energy.
Today the aspect of svādhyāya we’ll focus on is elocution, or pronunciation, of the Sanskrit syllables in the words of Shri Guru Gita.
To begin, let’s examine a few of the scriptural teachings concerning language and speech. The sages and scriptures of India speak in depth about how to utilize the power of language to bring about spiritual growth—and in particular, how to employ the power of Sanskrit, which is the language of most traditional Indian texts.
Did you know that the word Sanskrit means “well-formed, refined, pure, and perfect?” The etymology of the word itself reflects reverence for language as something sacred. So, what do the scriptures tell us about the power inherent in language, the power of speech?
The Upanishads teach that this entire universe was created through sound. Many of you are familiar with this teaching that the whole cosmos emerged from the primordial sound AUM. What this means is that sound is the creative power of God. God created the universe through sound.
This divine power of sound is present within each of us as the power of speech. Each of us creates our individual reality through the words we use to name and define ourselves, the world around us, and what is occurring in our lives. This is the awesome power of speech, whether this speech is spoken, heard, or thought.
Speech—and language—is thus regarded as a divine creative principle and is often represented as the goddess Vāc, the goddess of speech. The scriptures tell us that just as Vāc creates the world, it is also Vāc, in the form of prayers and mantras, that can return us to God.
Having this understanding of the divine origin and nature of speech, the sages of India extolled speech in the form of prayers and mantras as a means to worship and invoke the highest reality.
In Shatapatha Brahmana it is said:
svādhyāyo vai brahmayajñaḥ
tasya ha vā etasya brahmayajñasya vāgeva juhūḥ
Svādhyāya is an offering to the Self.
The sacrificial ladle of this offering to the Self is speech. 1
In a yajna, a Vedic fire ceremony, the ladle is the instrument through which all the offerings are made to the sacred fire. Therefore, the ladle needs to be strong. In a similar manner, the instrument through which we make our offering in svādhyāya is our speech. For this reason, we refine our pronunciation of the sacred syllables. Accurate pronunciation aids in activating the power of the mantras we’re reciting.
Through sacred sound, in the form of mantras, we become one with that which we are worshiping. Sound is the vehicle through which the mind is able to merge back into its source, the supreme Self. This is why, in the scriptures of India, svādhyāya is considered to be a most exalted offering. And for this offering to bear full fruit, discipline in speech—including clear pronunciation—is vital.
In the last study session, I spoke about how svādhyāya purifies and unfolds the subtle energy centers, the chakras. We examined some of the features and qualities of the first chakra, the mūlādhāra chakra, which lies at the base of the spine.
The chakras are aligned along the spine in the subtle body and connected to the central channel, called the sushumna nadi, which goes from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. The first five chakras correspond to different elements, and as you progress up the sushumna, these elements move from dense to more subtle. Last week I spoke about how the mūlādhāra chakra corresponds to the densest element, which is earth.
Today I will speak about the second chakra, which is called the svādhishthāna chakra. It exists in the subtle body at the level of the sacrum and corresponds to the element of water. The name svādhishthāna is composed of two words: sva, which means “one’s own,” and adhishthāna, which means “abode.” So svādhishthāna means “one’s own abode,” which is understood to mean the dwelling place of the shakti.
Here is a symbolic representation of this chakra:
The vermillion lotus of this chakra has six petals. On each petal you can see there is a Sanskrit syllable, which is the yellow color of lightning. The syllables represent the sound vibrations that exist within and comprise the chakra.
The water element in this chakra is symbolized by a white inner lotus of eight petals, with a crescent moon. The seed (bija) letter for this chakra is vam, which is the bija mantra for the element of water. This bija mantra vam is seated on its vehicle, a white makara, which is an animal similar to an alligator. Water activates the sense of taste, so this chakra is associated with the power of tasting.
Before this chakra is purified, its six outer petals are associated with negative qualities. These are often referred to as the six inner enemies: lust, anger, greed, pride, delusion, and envy. When, through sadhana, this chakra is purified by the Kundalini energy, these negative traits are transformed into positive ones.
The Shat Chakra Nirupana, a text that is of the most authoritative sources of information about the chakras, describes what happens to the seeker in whom this chakra has been purified with these words:
[One] is freed immediately from all one’s [inner] enemies.
That one becomes a lord among yogis and is like the sun
illuminating the dense darkness of ignorance.
The wealth of his nectar-like words flows
in prose and verse in well-reasoned discourse.2
From the scriptures we see that the purification of the chakras—a process that is supported by recitation of sacred texts—dissolves negative energies which limit us and also brings forth positive energies and qualities that nurture our spiritual growth.
As a result of svādhyāya, we can experience the fruits of the chakras being purified. For example, many people feel renewed and full of fresh energy, creative inspiration, or a sense of lightness.
For the practice of svādhyāya, it is necessary to learn to pronounce the Sanskrit sounds both precisely and easefully.
If pronouncing Sanskrit is new for you, or you have not focused on pronunciation until now, you may find it challenging at first. This is because, unless your mother tongue is an Indian language, you will be using certain muscles in the face and mouth in ways they have not been used before. However, with regular and focused practice of what you will be learning today, you can achieve accurate pronunciation.
To support your pronunciation, we will focus now on elocution, as it relates to the Sanskrit alphabet. The Oxford Dictionary defines “elocution” in this way:
The skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation.
It is from the same root as the word eloquent, which means the ability to express oneself clearly and with fluency.
On the Siddha Yoga path, we strive to recite the sacred texts with fluency, which refers to a natural, easeful, connected flow from one sound to another. This continuous and unified flow creates a beautiful sound, supports us in remaining focused, and helps us to experience the divine energy in the mantras.
In Study Session II, you learned that your entire body is the instrument you use to recite the mantras of sacred texts and to experience their powerful resonance. You also learned that when you cultivate a steady, open, and easeful posture, it allows the breath to flow freely throughout your body.
Using the breath as it flows through the vocal folds and resonates in the throat and mouth, you create different sounds. You articulate the sounds beginning in the back of the throat, and complete the articulation, especially of consonants, by using the lips, the teeth, and the tongue. You also move your jaw, lowering and raising it to accommodate the various pitches in the melody of the verses.
As I was saying earlier, all language has power. In the Sanskrit language, each letter conveys its own unique vibration or spiritual energy, which, when we repeat it, has its own distinct effect. The more accurately we pronounce each letter, the more its power manifests for us. This is why it is important to refine and improve your pronunciation of these letters.
To refine your pronunciation of the Sanskrit letters and mantras in Shri Guru Gita, a good place to begin is to practice pronouncing the Sanskrit vowels. There are ten main vowels that occur in Shri Guru Gita. Each vowel has its own distinct sound, and each vowel is either long or short.
- Short vowels are held for one count.
- Long vowels are twice as long, so they are held for two counts.
Have a look at the short vowels:
And now, the long vowels:
Here you can listen to the Sanskrit vowels as they are displayed on the screen. Each vowel will be repeated three times.
After each repetition you hear, I invite you to pronounce the vowel yourself.
From what we’ve covered thus far in this session, I’m sure you can appreciate how elocution is integral to your practice of svādhyāya. I encourage you to put into practice what you’ve learned about elocution in your recitation of sacred texts such as Shri Guru Gita.
As you practice reciting Shri Guru Gita, think of the vowels as a river of sound flowing on the breath and the consonants as little islands or stones in that river. The consonants are a part of the river. The river flows around the consonants smoothly but is never impeded or blocked by them. The consonants help to shape the sound, creating beauty and power in the recitation.
Whenever you recite Shri Guru Gita, I recommend that you sit in silence for a few minutes afterwards. The silence that remains after the recitation of Shri Guru Gita pulsates with the dynamic resonance of the mantras. The silence is alive with the power of your recitation. When you absorb yourself in that silence, you touch the stillness that is the source of the mantras that you have been reciting.
Participants in the study session recited verses thirty two through sixty one of Shri Guru Gita, applying what they learned about pronunciation.
Swami ji concluded the study session with these words:
In the coming week, I encourage you to practice what you learned about pronunciation of the Sanskrit vowels. You can also study the pronunciation guide in The Nectar of Chanting book.
I recommend that you speak aloud several verses of the text of Shri Guru Gita on a daily basis. Speak at an easeful pace while paying attention to the long and short vowels. Practice at least five verses in this way each day.
Then you can apply accurate pronunciation of the vowels by reciting Shri Guru Gita with the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website. There is great power in maintaining a daily discipline of svādhyāya!
I will be in touch with you soon about the next study session, which will take place on Saturday, October 10.
Thank you for your active participation in Svādhyāya Study Session III.
Stay safe, everyone!