FOUNDATIONS OF YOGA: STUDY OF SACRED TEXTS (Svadhyaya) ~ Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen

Love is Most Sacred
by Catherine Ghosh
There are times when everyone feels like a stranger in this world, or even like a stranger to oneself….
Times when our views become obscured and we fail to see the forest through the trees in our lives and all the shadows they cast upon our minds and hearts. The places, things, people and ideas that used to nourish us, suddenly feel impotent, and we break down in disappointment before them. In yoga, this broken identity is a good thing, for when we are feeling most broken, abandoned or defeated, we are moved to redefine ourselves. In doing so, we become seekers of who we really are.
When our search for identity takes us toward the sacred it is called svadhyaya, the penultimate niyama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.
Searching for one’s self, as defined by Krishna and Patanjali, is about uncovering one’s relationship to the sacred. Yet, sometimes, on the way to the sacred we run into darkness. This is common for those practicing yoga, as darkness is a most useful part of our yoga practice, for it shines the light on where we are misplacing our identity. A candle always shines the brightest in the dark. And, as it was for Arjuna, any personal crisis we go through can act like just the right impetus to move us toward our true self, if only we let it.
The practice of yoga itself involves moving toward the sacred, and separating our selves from all that is not sacred.
So what is sacred? Sacred is from the Latin word sacrum, indicating anything energized with the spiritual power of the divine.
 In the yoga tradition, that includes us! At our core, we are all made of the same, divine substance. So how does one access one’s sacred core?
In chapter two, text 44 of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali reveals that we reach the sacred within us through studying, or absorbing ourselves in the sacred around us. And, according to the yoga tradition, paths to the sacred have already been mapped out for us by yoga practitioners of the past. These paths appear to us in the form of sacred texts and mantras. Therefore, this niyama is traditionally understood as the “study of sacred texts”, and it is believed that such study is essential in studying oneself, or uncovering one’s true identity.
In the ancient yoga tradition, one’s identity revolves entirely around one’s relationship to the Supreme Divine, or one’s ista-devata.
In this niyama, Patanjali introduces the yoga practitioner to the importance of developing a connection with one’s ista-devata, or a particular form of the sacred one can focus upon exclusively.
This meditative focus is then said to revive the yoga practitioner’s own sacredness, and define them accordingly. It takes the focus of the mind off all those things that discourage us in life, and directs it toward that which our soul finds most inspiring.
Part of practicing yoga is that we are always tuning in to what inspires us most. We are always asking ourselves what makes us feel most enlivened in our lives.
From a traditional yoga perspective, our inspiration would come from our ista-deva, or divine beloved. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna appears before Arjuna in chapter eleven in a terrifically enormous form bearing a thousand arms, yielding powerful weapons and exhibiting his Godly might.
This form, however, as sacred as it may have been, did not inspire Arjuna. In fact, Arjuna asked Krishna to hide it from him, and return to the form Arjuna had most affection for: Krishna’s original, two-armed body. For this was Arjuna’s beloved ista-deva. This was the form of God Arjuna had the most love for, and was most inspired by.
In yoga, the search for self, and inspiration in life, is synonymous with the search for love.
We are most connected to the sacredness in life, when we are feeling the most loved and the most loving. And it is in our relationship with the Supreme Divine that this experience of love reaches its zenith. According to Patanjali, one begins to experience this through delving into the sacred texts and mantras.
Patanjali specifically wrote about one’s relationship to one’s ista-deva in text 2.44 of the Yoga Sutra, as he introduced the niyamaof svadhyaya, or “studying sacred texts” to accentuate the vast importance of studying sacred texts alongside being a loving person. One without the other is only half of the equation, like owning a car with no fuel in its engine.
Sometimes, yoga practitioners will carelessly and dangerously discard all loving relationships in their lives, in the name of absorbing themselves in yoga texts and mantras.
However, Krishna tells us in the Gita that neither through “the Vedas, sacrifice, study, giving in charity, rites, nor by performing severe austerities”, will one see God, or known sacredness. According to the yoga tradition, it is only by love that one can achieve become intimate with the Supreme Divine and really know sacredness.
Deep within, love is what is most sacred to us all.  
In practicing any of Patanjali’s yamas andniyamas, we feel most supported when surrounded by those whose examples we find most inspiring: those whose characters are shaped by their practice, and by their love. Just like Krishna was to Arjuna, the loving relationships become our passages to the sacred, to love divine.
Now join Braja for further illumination on sacredness, love and character….
Sacred Is As Sacred Does
by Braja Sorensen
In the past twenty years, so many words have become old, worn out…a bit tired. Worse, they’ve been “given” different meanings according to the person using them, or the circumstances, time, or place in which they’re used. “Spiritual” is one such word: I’m sure we’re all familiar with the misuse of that word, and can no doubt think of a few to join it…
Yet one word that has held its own amongst the rabble is “sacred.” Even literally, in dictionaries around the world, it’s understood as “connected to God.” Despite the flavor or external appearance the veneration or connection to God holds, still its foundation is the unwavering understanding that sacred still is “sacred.”
But how does our yoga practice embody the sacred?
Not surprisingly, the most concise answer comes from “Mr. Yoga” himself, B.K.S. Iyengar, who says that during the process of yoga, one starts to realize that all creation is meant for bhakti (loving devotion) rather than for bhoga(enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is divinity within oneself, and that the energy which moves one is that same that moves the entire universe.
Let’s stop here for a moment and think about that. I mentioned initially that so many words had become trite due to their suddenly common usage, and one of those words is most definitely “yogi.”
Yet without question, Mr. Iyengar is one of the very few real yogis on the planet. And his foundation, background, and reference point is always sacred text and the understanding of the divine: not his own philosophy, not his own speculative yoga practice, copyrighted asanas, trademarked names or products, or anything else. If he had so chosen, he could have copyrighted and trademarked everything about the Iyengar system of yoga: especially the name!
He is the servant of both Patanjali and the Lord, not the self-appointed monarch of a brand-name kingdom.

In fact Mr. Iyengar is a wonderful example of a yogi who depends on and gives all credit to his predecessors, masters, and the sacred texts and teachings that are his foundation. He is a yogi in the real sense of every word in the yamas and niyamas. 

A leaf out of Mr. Iyengar’s book is a good start in understanding the sacred texts that are his foundation: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutrasand beyond that, the Bhagavad Gita.
But let’s expand on what Mr. Iyengar says: that all creation is made for loving devotion. Krishna says in chapter fourteen that the culmination of all these sacrifices and austerities is transcendental knowledge, which is acquired from study of sacred texts and the guidance of spiritually knowledgable people.
And there is nothing, says Krishna, so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge; such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism.
(4:38)
In chapter four, Bhaktivedanta Swami explains the various types of yogaprocesses, including svadhyaya. Yet he concludes with what can only be a perfect introduction to next week’s final subject in this Foundation of Yoga series on the yamasand niyamas, which is Awareness of the Divine (ishvara pranidhana).
The Swami writes in his purports that while those engaged in different types of yoga are seeking a higher status of life, awareness of the divine cannot be attained through any of these process, but only through the practice of bhakti, or loving devotion.

Krishna’s instructions, wisdom, and teachings to Arjuna in the Gita encompasses all the elements of our progress through the yamas and niyamas in a practical and constructive way that embodies not only the practice of ashtanga or hatha yoga, but a deeper and more substantial understanding of how the universe works, and what our place is within the material realm. As Bhaktivedanta Swami so succinctly summarizes:

Study of the sacred texts is not meant for the recreation of armchair speculators, but for the formation of character.
So take your character development on one final journey and join us next week, when Catherine and I will perform our final public austerity. No really! As the Gita says:
Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.
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