“The more enlightened man will become, the less he will employ compulsion and coercion. The really civilized man will divest himself of all fear and authority. He will rise from the dust and stand erect: he will bow to no tsar either in heaven or on earth. He will become fully human when he will scorn to rule and refuse to be ruled. He will be truly free only when there shall be no more masters.” -Alexander Berkman
2013/01/13 § Leave a comment
Life has been busy. Business, while not “booming” per se, has certainly picked up to the point where free time to write and mull about things has been few and far between. That, coupled with the fact I haven’t had much to write about, makes posting rather scarce.
I’ve been talking about (in my classes), and thinking about, the concept svādhyāya, quite a bit. It is one of the niyamas from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The meaning kind of depends who you’re talking to – “svā” essentially means the Self, and “adhyāya”, lesson. In a Vedic context, it refers to one’s own lessons from the Vedas, extolled by one’s guru, and indeed, many of the meanings of the word have connection to some kind of Vedic study, and often, reflection over one’s interpretation of the passages in the Vedic texts.
In the context of yoga, it’s often used to mean some kind of self-reflection, or self-inquiry, in that one of the higher purposes of asana practice is to extoll some kind of ability to reflect and observe over oneself, body, breath and mind, which, in turn, helps us learn something new about ourselves (and of course, can be worked in to meditation practices – certainly many techniques involve at least some kind of self-observation, whether it’s simply the breath, or channeled into one’s environment).
While I don’t dismiss textual study or knowledge gained thereof, practice is something that is more personally valuable to me. The reflections, knowledge and experiences are something that one cannot gain merely from reading or studying texts, no matter how intensely. I often thing that perhaps the individuals who reach the deepest levels of spiritual insight are those who don’t spend much time with textual study, and indeed, if one looks to the Bhagavad Gita for reference, mere scriptural study cannot lead to liberation/enlightenment/whatever one calls it. It’s not possible. However, on the opposite side, one can reach one’s ultimate goal through worship, bhakti yoga. Indeed, the insights one receives from texts may be interesting; however, in my experience, they do not compare to actual practice. While my own “worship”, I suppose one could say, does not involve any manifestation of anything that could be considered a “god” or even “deity”, I think the message in the Gita is interesting – even if jnana (knowledge) is one path, study alone, itself is not enough. (and the third path of course, is karma yoga – action)
Going back to svādhyāya – I have observed that with more intense (not in the physical sense), and frequent asana practice and meditation, I have become more self-reflective. Both in the self-observatory sense, and in a more deeper, spiritual sense, I suppose you could say – being able to tune in what is conducive to myself, and my “path”, and what isn’t. Over the course of the last several months, in particular, while I’ve been open to the perspectives and opinions of others, I’ve become more understanding over the fact that while sometimes helpful, their outsider perspective, so to speak, is often significantly detached from my own, solidifying how I feel about what I posted here. This seems especially true when it has to do with more that just advice on how to conduct my day to day life (e.g. “Should I take a loan and renovate the studio, or should I wait, Mrs. Bank Person?”).
One thing that has always characterised me, and probably will always characterise me is that I’m quite anti-authoritarian. This is something that manifests politically, socially, and spiritually. I’m not attracted to being told what to do, or why doing, or not doing, something is helpful for me specifically, and things like that. I don’t like being controlled. While I realise that we are, more or less, controlled to some extent, and I have no problem abiding by things like paying taxes (death and taxes, you know – life’s two certainties), when it comes to things that I have the ability to administer some kind of self-control over, like how I live my life, I balk at the idea of someone telling me what to do. Rather, I loathe this. I have realised that in order to work with people and not be that dick, I need to put this attitude on the back-burner sometimes – I’m not a sociopath, after all – however, after several periods of trying my best to be the “subject”, listen, and try to heed the suggestions of others, often when they’re not asked for or welcome, I’ve realised that this not only going against my own nature, this advice is often downright wrong, especially when the individual offering the “insight” doesn’t know me, my background, etc. This is, probably, primarily why the “guru” thing that I posted about earlier has absolutely zero appeal to me. When I say I’m anti-authoritarian, this is often met with, “Well, it’s probably because you want to be the authority.” Again, someone projecting their perceived, and assumed notion of my character on me. I dislike being an authority almost as much as I dislike authority. People should be given room to come to their own conclusions, and find their own ways. While many individuals don’t see themselves as such, and/or perhaps look to a collective or an authority for advice (and to be sure, there is nothing wrong with that – it’s just not for me), some measure of self-reflection, self-study and self-governing is necessary. Do we, the outsiders, really know what is best for other people, spiritually speaking? In my opinion, you’re arrogant if you think so, beyond reasonable doubt.
Svādhyāya, as a personal practice, at least for me, has opened up insights that I’m not sure I would have realised in the same manner, otherwise. I think some means of self-reflection is fruitful also when being offered advice, etc., as well. Even an anti-authoritarian, such as myself, can see the benefit of taking advice from others, spiritual, personal, or otherwise, in some cases, and perhaps surprisingly, I’m not a proponent of the “tune everyone with negative opinions out” attitude, either. Sometimes we need something to bring ourselves down to earth, sometimes the bank lady has better advice on what loan options are best for you. Spiritually? Well… “You need to do a in order to reach b,” seems a bit ridiculous. How can someone else determine that with absolute, calculated, scientific certainty? The illusion of the spiritual authority strikes again. I’ve applied this means of reflection to such things, especially with respect to the “supramundane”. If, after some measure of reflection, the thing is not useful, I let it go. If it can’t serve me in my path, it’s not worth it. Perhaps that seems self-centered, but when one isn’t following a major religion, with rules, guidelines, and traditions, I suppose the entire pursuit is self-centered.