What Is Svadhyaya

An Exposition by Swami Akhandananda

Earlier this week, on Monday, September 7, I wrote a letter to all of you, the Siddha Yogis and new seekers visiting the Siddha Yoga path website. In that letter, I shared that the SYDA Foundation would be sponsoring new weekly study sessions on the Siddha Yoga path website—and that I have the great honor to serve as the Managing Director for these study sessions.

In the first study session, which will be held via live video stream on Saturday, September 12, you will be learning and studying how to efficiently and effectively navigate the Siddha Yoga path website. This tutorial will show you how to find the exact Siddha Yoga teaching you are looking for—the teaching you want to cultivate an understanding of and implement in your sadhana. You will learn how to access the vast trove of knowledge available on the website in order to make refinements and improvements in how you conduct yourself, and thereby make greater progress in both your mundane and spiritual life.

I had informed you in my letter that Gurumayi Chidvilasananda has given a title for the new study sessions, and that title is: Svādhyāya.

You may be wondering: What does svādhyāya have to do with navigating the Siddha Yoga path website? How do they relate to each other? Why am I speaking about them in tandem with one another?

If you have these questions, let me assure you: your learning and studying have begun! You have a head start for Saturday’s study session! As a teacher, I am already noting your enthusiasm for the subject: svādhyāya.

Let me ask you this: since you received my communication announcing the title of these study sessions, have you said this word out loud? Have you enunciated these Sanskrit syllables? Svādhyāya.

I’m certain that this splendid word svādhyāya is not new to most of you. Still, I’d like to remind you of the importance of receiving a word from the Guru. When the Guru utters a word, the potency of that word—the power inherent in its meaning—is catalyzed. And that one word will then propel the sadhana of anyone who imbibes its shakti. The scriptures of India say that even their words—the words of the scriptures—come to life only when the Guru imparts them to a disciple. It is then that the words become chaitanya; they pulsate with the Guru’s shakti.

This is the reason I asked, “Have you said this word aloud?”

Svādhyāya. Have you let this exquisite word ring inside your mouth, and throughout your entire being?

It is a veritable gem of a word—svādhyāya. By that I mean that it is multifaceted; it is rich with so many profound definitions, connotations, and usages. Svādhyāya is a ladder to reach one’s spiritual goals.


This image of a ladder is a useful one to consider when learning about svādhyāya. One ascends a ladder step by step, and that’s precisely what svādhyāya is all about. For me, the first thing that svādhyāya brings to mind is: daily discipline.

In all cultures and traditions, it is adherence to daily discipline that supports people in learning the knowledge, customs, and rituals of those cultures. For example, to this day in India, the children of Brahmin priests are instructed in how to recite the Sanskrit alphabet at the age of two (or even earlier!), and they start daily lessons in the Vedas between the ages of five and seven.

In Japanese culture, young children are taught the discipline of always making their best effort, and to keep trying to learn a new skill—even if it takes many attempts. Instead of wishing children, “Good luck,” their parents and elders say, “Ganbatte,” which has meanings such as “give it your all,” “keep going,” and “do not give up.”

Daily discipline is required for mastery of any profession, vocation, or art form. Consider a musician—someone who is masterful at playing their chosen instrument. Think about a ballet dancer, a painter, a writer, a scientist, a surgeon. How did they achieve the level of skill and knowledge they have in their craft? How have they excelled and succeeded in their respective fields?

Through regular practice. Through steady application of themselves—day in and day out.

Think about this. When you ask anyone who has “made it”—anyone who has risen to the pinnacle of their field—how they got to where they are, what do they say? “Hard work.” In Hindi: kaṛī mehnat.

Many great leaders have spoken about the necessity and the merits of hard work. They’ve said, for example:

Success is the result of hard work.

Winners embrace hard work.

One of the essentials in achieving anything worthwhile is hard work.

I’ve learned the value of hard work.

There’s no substitute for hard work.

Power means hard work.


Now that we’ve established that svādhyāya requires effort, regular discipline, hard work, let’s explore what the nature of that work is.

In India, svādhyāya is all about self-study and Self-study.

I’ll explain what I mean. In the Sanskrit language, svādhyāya consists of two parts—sva and adhyāya. The prefix sva means “self,” and it can refer to either the individual self or the supreme Self.

The individual self, a term which is written with a lowercase s, refers to everything that makes a person unique. Your distinctiveness as an individual includes your body, your mind, your emotions, and your intellect. It also includes your identification with a specific family, culture, nationality, or language.

When sva is translated as “the supreme Self,” a term which is written with a capital S, it refers to your eternal nature—that is, the all-pervasive, life-giving force in all beings and in all creation. 

Sva also means “that which is one’s own.”

There are many beautiful words in the Sanskrit language that include the prefix sva. These are words such as:

  • svabhāva—one’s own nature, one’s own inner state of being.
  • svadharma—one’s own dharma; one’s specific duty in life that is in alignment with laws of the universe and is for the good of all.
  • svābhimāna—self-respect.
  • svāgatam—This word literally means “the arrival of one’s own self,” and it is also used as a greeting in India. When you say svāgatam, you are welcoming another as you would your own Self.
  • svādhīna—to be dependent on one’s own self. Svādhīna is self-reliance, both on a mundane level (in terms of physical, emotional, and financial independence) and on a spiritual level, as when you understand that the Self is your true support.
  • svadhā—one’s own distinct power, one’s own unique energy and way of being.
  • svarūpa—one’s own true form; the true form of someone or something.
  • svajana—your own people or person. Svajana refers to those who are dear to you, who understand you, who care for and love you.
  • svānanda—your own inner joy and bliss.

Sva. The self. That which is one’s own. The Self. Aren’t you beginning to develop great fondness for this word? Sva. Svādhyāya.

It is characteristic of words in the Sanskrit language to have incredible depth and breadth of meaning. Each Sanskrit word has a panoply of definitions, subtleties, and rasas associated with it. To translate even one of these words accurately and comprehensively into modern languages often requires the use of multiple words and phrases, or else entire explanations, in those languages.

So it is with sva. As you can see, this one prefix refers to us human beings in a holistic manner: both as a unique, individual, limited self and as the eternal, universal supreme Self.

One of Baba Muktananda’s core teachings is “God dwells within you as you.” As you have just learned more about the prefix sva, you may find that you have even more insight into this great teaching from Baba.


Let’s turn our attention to the second part of the word svādhyāya. That is the word adhyāya.

Adhyāya means “study.” It refers to the use of the cognitive faculties of the mind and intellect, such as thinking, discerning, focusing, and memorizing. Through adhyāya we access our own inherent knowledge as we study the teachings of the Guru or of the scriptures. This is the knowledge that arises spontaneously from within—the knowledge that is beyond formal education or any externally acquired learning. We access our innate wisdom, which we often understand as instinct, intuition, the inner voice, as a simple knowing, a “gut sense,” or a deep feeling.

When we engage in adhyāya, in study, we also employ our ability to hold something in our awareness. What is something we might hold in our awareness, you might ask? In sadhana, for instance, we hold the mantra in our consciousness. We hold in our awareness the knowledge that “I am the Self.” We retain that primordial memory of where we have come from and our need to return to that light.

We can say, then, that adhyāya is the act of turning our attention to something, or focusing on something, for the purpose of study, learning, research, examination, contemplation, deliberation, exploration, and inquiry. When sva is combined with adhyāya, they form the term svādhyāya, which means the act of turning our complete attention, our focus, our mind and intellect toward the Self—for the purpose of studying, investigating, examining, and inquiring into our own Self. 


Svādhyāya signifies the effort you make as a student, as a disciple, to turn within and examine your inner world. It is like holding the mirror up to yourself, willingly and bravely.

On the spiritual path, svādhyāya is the practice of studying the scriptures and the teachings of Shri Guru so as to understand the nature of the mind, body, senses, and soul, and to become established in the knowledge that the individual self and the supreme Self are one and the same.

Having heard these definitions of the word svādhyāya, I’m sure you have begun to glean the importance of this practice. Indeed, for thousands of years, svādhyāya has been a practice that is vital and relevant for humanity. It’s been an anchor for people on this planet and it will continue to be—both for those who are on a spiritual path and for those whose focus is on excelling in their chosen field.

You learned from Rohini Menon, the Managing Director for the “Be in the Temple” satsangs that were held via live video stream in the Siddha Yoga Universal Hall, that Gurumayi’s intention for these satsangs was to give support to all Siddha Yogis and new seekers at a time when the world had been upended by the outbreak of the global pandemic. What a gift from Gurumayi—what prasad—these satsangs were! By participating in these satsangs, and reflecting on what we have learned from them, we have made every effort to deepen our sadhana and strengthen our understanding of how to navigate the new circumstances we find ourselves in. We must continue to be strong in the face of that which is unknown and unpredictable, and for which there is no clear finish line.

What is happening in this world? There seems to be challenge after challenge, affecting all of us and this planet as a whole. Some of these are natural or biological disasters—a global pandemic, raging wildfires, earthquakes, storms in many parts of the world—and then there are all of the atrocities committed by human beings. Yet in spite of what is going on—and in fact, because of it—we must not lose our spirits. We must stay true to Gurumayi’s intention for us and keep our spirits soaring; we must be firm in our commitment to knowing our own Self. At this time, it could not be more essential to root ourselves in the knowledge of the Self. For it is when we are strong and courageous within ourselves that we are able to extend a helping hand. It is then that others will have the faith, the trust, that we will help them—that we can be relied upon.

On the Siddha Yoga path, we often use the word svādhyāya in reference to the recitation of scriptural texts such as Shri Guru Gita, Shri Rudram, Shri Vishnu Sahasranama, and Shri Bhagavad Gita—along with many more texts and hymns that we are fortunate to have as part of our Siddha Yoga sadhana. I so love reciting these sacred texts! As many of you know, when you recite a sacred text aloud, you bathe both your inner being and the world around you in the benevolent power of its mantras. What I also love about this way to practice svādhyāya is that we can use our personal recitation to actually effect positive and beneficial change in the world. We set the intention, we make prayers, and we send blessings for the welfare and protection of all.

Earlier, I described how daily discipline is a universal aspect of learning anything of value, and that such learning often starts young. For example, children learn their mother tongue at home; later, they study that language in school and refine their knowledge of it. Your engagement with svādhyāya is similar. You are, and already have been, practicing svādhyāya in one form or another. And now, through these study sessions, you are going to be engaging in a formal process of learning and studying what svādhyāya is. I said it earlier, and I’ll say it again: you’ve got a head start!


By now, you have perhaps begun to answer the question, “What does svādhyāya have to do with navigating the Siddha Yoga path website?” Let me speak more about this connection.

As you have discovered, the SYDA Foundation has established the Siddha Yoga path website as one of the primary resources for study of the Siddha Yoga teachings and practices in this day and age.

Let me give you some information about how this came to be. In 2004 and 2005, the SYDA Foundation went through a major process of rightsizing, and established the seva application process. This meant that visits to Shree Muktananda Ashram by Siddha Yogis and new seekers would be specifically to offer seva, and that Siddha Yoga retreats would be held at Siddha Yoga Ashrams and meditation centers around the world.

Once the SYDA Foundation completed its restructuring in 2009, Gurumayi requested that the Foundation once again bring its focus to facilitating the dissemination of the Siddha Yoga teachings all across the globe.

By this time, digital and internet technology had become widespread and sophisticated, and Gurumayi knew that such technology would provide a more immediate and effective means to impart her teachings to seekers around the world. For this reason,  Gurumayi requested that the SYDA Foundation Trustees relaunch the Siddha Yoga path website.

Gurumayi gave very clear direction for the Siddha Yoga path website, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that she has been hands-on with the website in the ten or so years that have followed. Over the years, Gurumayi has traveled the world on Teachings Visits to impart her teachings to people from all walks of life. With the relaunch of the Siddha Yoga path website, I feel that on a daily basis Gurumayi is traveling the world on Teachings Visits. Even more people are receiving Gurumayi’s priceless wisdom; even more people are receiving her direction for their sadhana.

Gurumayi gave the guidance to the leadership in the SYDA Foundation that the website become a reservoir of knowledge for Siddha Yoga students and new seekers—that it be a sanctuary, and a resource of learning and inspiration that would support them to strengthen their Siddha Yoga sadhana. The Siddha Yoga path website was to be a universal library, housing the Siddha Yoga teachings and Siddha Yogis’ experiences of implementing the teachings and practices in their day-to-day lives. Because of Gurumayi’s vision for the Siddha Yoga path website and her unceasing involvement in its development, the website has become more and more enriched with the Siddha Yoga teachings.

What I want to share here is that, although technology in the digital age was flourishing, not everyone in the world has received adequate instruction in how to use their various devices or how to get around on the internet. In terms of the Siddha Yoga path website, the SYDA Foundation Website Department did give a few tutorials here and there, and Siddha Yogis on their own shared with one another how to navigate the website. However, there hasn’t been a completely methodical approach to sharing this information—until now.

In my letter announcing this first study session, I spoke about how, at the end of a satsang, you usually must rely on your memory to recall the wisdom you heard, but that, thanks to the website, this knowledge remains available for us to study at any time. I also mentioned that in order to study these teachings, you need to know how and where to locate them.

Therefore, the first Svādhyāya study session will focus on how to navigate the Siddha Yoga path website. I encourage all of you to participate, even those of you who feel like you already have a good handle on how to move around the website and find the teachings. You might discover that there’s even more for you to learn about the website, that there are even more teachings available for you to study—even more ways than you had known or imagined you could practice svādhyāya. And you might learn tips for how to coach others in maximizing their ability to navigate the Siddha Yoga path website—so that they, too, may have an optimal experience of engaging with the website.

I look forward to being with you all in the Siddha Yoga Universal Hall tomorrow, Saturday, September 12.