Welcome to Study Session VII.
My name is Swami Akhandananda. I am a Siddha Yoga monk, and I serve as the Managing Director for these study sessions focused on svādhyāya, the study of the Self.
Over the last weeks you have been learning and studying key aspects of svādhyāya—posture, pronunciation, gaze, breathing, and listening. You have learned about the profound philosophical and scriptural teachings underlying each of these topics. You have applied this knowledge to your recitation of Shrī Guru Gītā. And you’ve also acquired extensive knowledge about how svādhyāya purifies your entire being, including the chakras in your subtle body.
Dedicating yourselves to this in-depth study and carrying what you’ve learned into your regular recitation of Shrī Guru Gītā is quite an accomplishment and cause for celebration! Congratulations on all the efforts you have made leading up to this final study session!
There is a beautiful and significant symbol gracing the pages of the Svādhyāya Study Sessions on the Siddha Yoga path website.
This evocative and distinctive symbol holds great meaning for our study.
The design of the logo for the Svādhyāya Study Sessions was created according to teachings, instructions, and explanations from Gurumayi Chidvilasananda when she first requested that these study sessions be held.
Let me share more about that with you.
The background of the logo is painted in colors that are reminiscent of the changing hues of a mango as it matures, over time, from raw green to ripe red-orange.
The main aspect of the Svādhyāya logo is a tree. In traditions throughout the world, trees are a symbol of life. They are valued for the essential benefits they provide to all life on the planet, as well as their numerous medicinal and healing properties. In many cultures, trees have been venerated as sacred beings. And there are stories and legends in which trees personify such virtues as fortitude, steadfastness, and selfless generosity.
The tree in the logo for the Svādhyāya Study Sessions is a pīpal tree, a sacred fig tree. Its purple color is associated with deep meditation and the attainment of spiritual knowledge.
Very soon, on the Siddha Yoga path website you will be able to read an exposition I have written about this logo in which I go into greater depth about its symbolism.
In today’s study session, I will be speaking about a sixth aspect of svādhyāya—the mind.
You will learn and practice methods for concentrating and absorbing the mind in the mantras of Shrī Guru Gītā in order to imbibe the knowledge conveyed by the verses.
In earlier study sessions, you heard that it is through the mind that you are able to direct the senses and the body to focus on the practice of svādhyāya. It is the intellect that controls your attention, making it possible for you to practice the aspects of svādhyāya you’ve learned about.
This part of the mind is also of paramount importance in that it is the intellect that receives knowledge and ultimately comes to understand and recognize one’s true nature as the Self. One of the characteristics of svādhyāya is that it can lead you to this intellectual understanding. And, because svādhyāya engages your entire being in focusing on the Self, this total engagement can also give you the direct experience of the Self.
Let’s look more closely at how you can utilize the intellect in svādhyāya to study and understand the teachings on the Self conveyed in the verses you are reciting.
Related to this topic, one participant in these study sessions who lives in Oakland, California, asked this question: “Is it recommended that Siddha Yogis read the translation of Shrī Guru Gītā, or know what the verses mean, as they are chanting?”
My response is yes; I recommend that you do learn and study the meaning of the verses. One way to do this is to set aside some time before or after your recitation to read the translation of a few verses and reflect on their meaning. When you study in this way, you are then able to hold the awareness of the meaning of the mantras and the profound teachings they convey as you recite the text.
For svādhyāya, it is vital to understand that the mantras you are reciting are not just words on a page. The true nature of these mantras is that they are the power, the shakti, of the supreme Self in the form of sound.
They are sonic, mantric forms of your own Self.
The Self, your own inner consciousness, is both the source and the goal of the syllables you are reciting. Therefore, you can recite the mantras with the awareness that these sacred sounds are one with your own pure consciousness, your own Self. In the Shiva Sūtra, a Shaiva scripture, this pure inner consciousness is called the secret of mantra.1
As you recite the mantras, you can hold the awareness that the mantras are the Self in the form of sound. This is a potent form of mental focus you can practice as you recite Shrī Guru Gītā.
This brings us to the next topic—the importance of a daily discipline in svādhyāya.
As I mentioned in the exposition on svādhyāya available on the Siddha Yoga path website, daily practice is required for mastery in any profession or vocation. Especially in sādhanā, it is through repeated effort on a daily basis that you build up the momentum and focus required to progress on the spiritual path. Daily practice is necessary to make the mind steady, one-pointed, and capable of focusing on and becoming absorbed in the Self.
Let’s examine further why a regular practice of svādhyāya—study of the Self—is deemed essential by the sages and scriptures.
In Shrī Bhagavad Gītā, the student Arjuna complains to his Guru Krishna:
The mind, indeed, is unstable, Krishna, turbulent, powerful and obstinate; I think it is as difficult to control as the wind.
Lord Krishna compassionately replies:
Without doubt, O Arjuna, the mind is unsteady and difficult to restrain, but by practice, Arjuna, and by detachment, it is restrained.2
Here, Lord Krishna is teaching about abhyāsa, which can be translated as “practice”—that is, the regular effort to calm and focus the mind over an extended period of time. This instruction is pertinent to the recitation of Shrī Guru Gītā. As the mind learns how to stay focused on the recitation, you start to experience the joy contained in the mantras. The mind then begins to relish the state of one-pointed focus, which gives rise to inner serenity and contentment.
Once the mind recognizes these benefits, you realize that this is what you truly want. Even though the mind is prone to activity, ultimately it does want to merge back into its source—the Self.
It is through practice on a daily basis that the mind is able to touch and anchor itself in the awareness of the Self.
So, what does a daily discipline look like? Aside from its being something that you do every day, a daily practice is going to be different for each person, according to your schedule and the responsibilities you hold. I would suggest that you look at your schedule and see how you can set aside an hour or so each day to recite Shrī Guru Gītā along with the recording on the Siddha Yoga path website. If you find your schedule doesn’t permit this, recite as many verses as you can each day, moving through the text in sequence.
Or you can schedule time to recite Shrī Guru Gītā several times during the week. And the days when you can’t set aside the time, you could spend a few minutes studying the translation and reflecting on the meaning of the verses.
Over the course of these study sessions, you have been learning and studying how svādhyāya purifies and expands the energies contained in the chakras, the subtle energy centers in your being.
The chakras lie along the central channel, the sushumnā nādī, which runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head in the subtle body. The subtle body permeates the physical body and supplies the physical body with life force through a network of many thousands of nādīs, or energy conduits.
Once Kundalinī Shakti is awakened by the Guru’s grace, this divine energy gradually rises up the sushumnā nādī, removing the limiting impressions that are stored in this central channel and in the chakras and, thus, purifying and sanctifying our perception of ourselves and the world. Svādhyāya nurtures this process of subtle purification and helps to lead us to the experience of our oneness with the Self.
As you have learned, each chakra is the seat of one of the five elements.
- The mūlādhāra chakra, at the base of the spine, is the seat of the element earth.
- The svādhishthāna chakra, at the level of the sacrum, is the seat of water.
- The manipūra chakra, at the level of the navel, is the seat of fire.
- The anāhata chakra, at the level of the heart, is the seat of air.
- And the vishuddha chakra, in the region of the throat, is the seat of the element ether, or space.
Today we will examine the features of the sixth chakra, the ājnā chakra, which is located in the region between the eyebrows.
The Sanskrit word ājnā means “command,” “order,” or “permission.” According to some Sanskrit commentaries, this chakra is so named because the only way the yogi’s sādhanā can progress beyond this point is through his Guru’s or deity’s command.
According to the Shiva Samhita3 and the Shat Chakra Nirūpana,4 the ājnā chakra has a white luster like that of the moon. White is a color associated with coolness, and coolness is associated with the state of deep meditation.
The two petals of the ājnā chakra are also white in color. On one petal is the syllable ha, and on the other, the syllable ksha. The bīja or seed mantra for this chakra is AUM, which is also said to be the seed mantra of the four Vedas. In the previous five chakras, you may recall the depiction of a vehicle for the bīja mantra; the ājnā chakra has no such vehicle.
I mentioned earlier the five elements associated with each of the previous five chakras. The ājnā chakra is more subtle and therefore beyond the five elements. Instead, the principles that correspond to this chakra are prakriti, or primordial nature, and the mind.
The Shat Chakra Nirūpana also states that the mind in its subtle aspect resides within this lotus. Its association with the subtle mind indicates that this center governs intelligence and intuition. As Kundalini Shakti moves through this center, the mind becomes steady, serene, and pure. This text also states that this chakra “shines with the glory of meditation.”
In the pericarp of this chakra, inside a downward pointing triangle, there is a luminous shiva-lingam, a form of Lord Shiva that is said to be “radiant like a garland of lightning.”5 This is the location of the the subtle knot called the rudra granthi, which must be opened for a seeker to enter the higher realms of consciousness.
The ājnā chakra is also described as mukta-trivena or “the confluence of freedom” because it is here in this chakra that the three subtle channels of the idā, pingalā, and sushumnā converge and from here that they continue, united, to the crown of the head.
The Shat Chakra Nirūpana extols the greatness of the ājnā chakra, saying,
The advanced sādhaka who absorbs himself in meditation on this lotus… understands the true meaning of all scriptures; his words are imbued with the vision of non-duality…6
It is also here in the ājnā chakra that a realized yogi places his prāna at the time of death and enters into the Absolute—supreme Consciousness.
As you heard earlier, when your mind is focused on the sounds of the mantras, the knowledge contained in the very resonance of the mantras is revealed to you.
The five aspects of svādhyāya you have learned so far—posture, pronunciation, gaze, breathing, and listening—support you in keeping your mind focused during your recitation.
An important part of cultivating mental focus is gentleness. Let me explain what I mean by this. First, it’s important to realize that it is the nature of the mind to reach out through the senses and bring you information about the world around you. So, when you ask the mind to stay in one place and focus within, quite naturally it may continue to wander outside at first. Each time you become aware that your mind is wandering and you want to bring it back, it is most effective to do this gently. The mind responds best when you exercise patience, understanding, and a loving attitude.
It is also vital to persevere. Bringing the mind back to focusing on the text is an intrinsic part of svādhyāya, so it is something you need to do again and again, as often as needed, throughout the recitation.
Now, I will lead you in a specific approach to focusing the mind as you recite. You can encourage the mind to focus on the recitation by holding in your awareness the notion that the syllables of the text are manifestations of the Self in the form of sound. Hold this awareness as you pronounce each syllable. Maintain this awareness as you listen to the other half of the verse. Whenever you notice your mind beginning to wander, gently lead it back to this awareness that the syllables you are reciting and hearing are sound forms of the Self.
Refresh your posture.
Open your chanting book to verse 174.
You will recite verses 174 to 179.
You may choose to recite either the first or the second half of each verse.
You will hear the harmonium play the notes to cue the start of the recitation.
Once again, as you recite, hold in your awareness that the syllables of the text you are reciting and listening to are the Self in the form of sound.
Click on the audio player below to recite verses 174 to 179 of Shrī Guru Gītā.
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How was that for you? What did you notice about focusing on the syllables as sound forms of the Self?
The mind is naturally drawn to the experience of the Self. And it also naturally returns to the places and thoughts that are familiar to it. So, as you continue to practice with regularity, you will find that the mind increasingly supports you in maintaining focus on the mantras you are reciting. Later in this study session, you will be applying what you have just learned to reciting more selected verses of the Shrī Guru Gītā text.
Participants recited verses 154 to 182 of Shrī Guru Gītā while holding the awareness that the mantras are sound-forms of the Self.
We are approaching the conclusion of this seventh and culminating Svādhyāya Study Session.
Before this session concludes, I wish to take this moment to express my heartfelt appreciation to all of you who have participated in these study sessions. You have made this study and learning a priority in your lives, setting aside the time to attend these sessions.
I want to acknowledge your commitment, steadfastness, and keen interest in learning about svādhyāya, which is so central to Siddha Yoga sādhanā. By imbibing and embodying what you have learned about svādhyāya, you not only benefit your own spiritual journey, you also serve as a model of studentship to others. So, thank you for the sustained and sincere effort you have made in these study sessions.
Now, allow me to recap the topics you have learned and practiced today.
- You learned about the philosophical and scriptural teachings on the mind’s essential role in svādhyāya, and how to develop and sustain the mind’s ability to focus on the mantras.
- You learned the features and significance of the ājnā chakra, and how svādhyāya brings about a greater awareness of this spiritual center.
- You practiced physical movements to center and integrate the body, breath, and mind in preparation for svādhyāya.
- You practiced methods for focusing the mind as you recite Shrī Guru Gītā.
Your learning over these past seven study sessions pertaining to svādhyāya has encompassed knowledge about the study of the Self as well as many practical skills that you can continue to apply to your recitation of Shrī Guru Gītā. In these study sessions, you have learned about and put into practice six disciplines or aspects of svādhyāya. They are
- a steady, aligned, and easeful sitting posture;
- accurate pronunciation of the Sanskrit syllables of Shrī Guru Gītā;
- focusing your gaze on the mantras you are reciting;
- controling and supporting of your breath as you recite each verse;
- listening to the voices reciting the mantras and blending your voice with them; and
- focusing the mind on the mantras of Shrī Guru Gītā.
Svādhyāya, study of the Self, is at the heart of Siddha Yoga sādhanā. When you recite a sacred text, it draws on and utilizes all aspects of your being for the purpose of growing spiritually, recognizing your own Self, and contributing your best to the world you live in.
The fruits of svādhyāya are indeed abundant and magnificent. Many scriptures and sacred texts of India extol the benefits and attainments that come from this practice. To honor the culmination of the Svādhyāya Study Sessions, read such a verse from the Vishnu-Purāna extolling the divine fruits of svādhyāya, the study of the Self:
स्वाध्यायाद्योगमासीत योगात् स्वाध्यायमासते ।
स्वाध्याययोगसंपत्त्या परमात्मा प्रकाशते ॥३॥
svādhyāyādyogamāsīta yogāt svādhyāya māsate ।
svādhyāyayogasaṁpattyā paramātmā prakāśate ॥
Through svādhyāya one becomes established in yoga,
and through yoga one becomes established in svādhyāya.
Indeed, when one pursues excellence in svādhyāya and yoga,
the supreme Self shines forth.7