Piedmont Yoga Studio News August 2008 | iHanuman


Love, Service, Devotion, Yoga

Piedmont Yoga Studio News August 2008

We're a little early with our newsletter this month because we have a time-urgent message about our next Advanced Studies program. You might wonder about this: why "study" Yoga, isn't it more about "doing?" Well, that's the active way Yoga is mostly presented in the West, but traditionally study is an important element of the Yoga discipline, going back a good 2500 years. Every school of Yoga has its "doing" element-and it's not always just doing asana-but that doing is always based on some kind of vision or theory about the nature of the world and human consciousness. Without an understanding of that "knowing" element, the "doing" is one-dimensional, without a solid foundation, and so less effective than it potentially could be.
In Sanskrit "study" is usually referred to as svadhyaya (svahd-yah-yah), which literally means "to recite or repeat or rehearse to oneself (sva)." This literal translation might seem odd to those of you who are familiar with this word, because typically it's rendered into English as "self-study." But this is a modern, popular interpretation designed to make the practice more appealing to a Western mass audience with all of its interest in self-help and self-improvement. Technically though svadhyaya means the "recitation, repetition, or rehearsal" of the content of Hindu sacred texts, such as the Mother of all Hindu holy literature, the Rig Veda.
The Sanskrit word "veda" derives from the verb root "vid," which literally means "to know" or "to see," in the sense of "knowing" or "seeing" the truth of things, and "ric" (pronounced "rich," with a hard "ch" as in "church") is a hymn of praise (the "c" of "ric" is shifted to a "g" for euphonic purposes; also note that technically the "hymns," called mantras, aren't like Western Christian hymns sung during a church service by all in attendance, but are the special domain of priests. We'll use "hymn" as a convenience). So then the Rig Veda is literally a "collection of hymns praising the Truth-with-a-capital T." This book and the ones associated with it are known as shruti (shroo-tee), literally "what's been heard," meaning that the hymns were "heard" and then memorized by ancient sages in direct conversation with their deity. This sets the Vedic corpus off from all other Hindu sacred literature, which is considered "smirti" (smirt-tee), "what's been remembered" from the experience of strictly human authors, though all orthodox Hindu spirituality traces its roots (at least in theory) back to the Veda.
I don't have the space to go into great detail about the Rig and its associated texts, though it's a fascinating story. Suffice it to say it consists of 1028 hymns divided into 10 chapters (called mandalas, "cycles") that originally were memorized by the priests and passed along for countless generations orally. Stop to consider this for a moment. My translation runs to 654 pages of minuscule print, and ALL of this was transmitted by word of mouth for hundreds of years before being written down. What's more remarkable-as far as the experts can determine-it was accomplished with little or no variation through all those centuries. Think about that the next time you can't remember where you left your car keys 10 minutes earlier.
The modern rendition of svadhyaya as self-study, however, isn't entirely inaccurate. By the study of books like the Rig-or the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras, the Vedanta Sutras, or the Tao Te Ching or Torah for that matter-the truth embodied in these texts always brings us back to ourselves. We can say that the study of these texts then is a form of self-study.

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