DAAJI continues his series on refining habits, in the light of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga and current scientific and yogic principles and practices. This month he shares his insights on the fourth Niyama, swadhyaya, which means self-study and self-awareness. It is one of the fundamental pillars of emotional intelligence.
THE ART OF REMOVING AND CREATING HABITS – PART 11
I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing
toward being a champion.
—Billie Jean King
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
Yoga in action
Last month we explored the three Niyamas that make up Kriya Yoga, which means Yoga in action. In other words, how inner changes in our thoughts and feelings are expressed in our outer behavior. At the beginning of Part 2 of his Yoga Sutras, in the section on “practice,” Patanjali reminds us that:
2.1: Tapah svādhyāyesvarapranidhānāni kriyā yogah
Austerity, self-study, and God-awareness
together constitute Yoga in action (Kriya Yoga).
The second of the three Niyamas of Kriya Yoga is swadhyaya, meaning “self-study.”
But Kriya Yoga is actually more about the inner awareness and choices that define our action in every moment. This awareness purifies our activities of any negative effects of ego, removing selfishness. It propels us away from a habitual way of living, driven by the past, to a life lived in the present.
Self-study requires us to turn out attention inward so that we can learn about ourselves. Now, that can be a daunting business when we don’t feel comfortable with what we see, but every culture has recognized the value of self-study so here we will try to solve the problem of how to face ourselves. Self-study has been the cornerstone of psychology from ancient times to the present day, in the East and the West, in mysticism, astrology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, yogic psychology, Mindfulness cognitive therapy, and many other fields. Modern scientific research also tells us that self-study and self-awareness go hand in hand with meditative practices. The two are synergistic. In Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, he highlights the research showing us that meditation fosters emotional intelligence, of which selfawareness is one of the key pillars.
How can you learn about yourself?
Why do you need to look within to learn about yourself? Knowledge from external sources, for example, observing the world around you, reading books, watching and listening to digital media, and talking with other people like counselors and psychologists, will no doubt give you some selfinsight, but at best it is a mirror and a catalyst for self-awareness.
The most direct ways to learn about yourself are:
1. Meditation: Meditation with awareness = self-study.
In meditation you will be able to notice the play of your vrittis, the movements and vibrations within the subtle body. You may know them as your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As you witness them, gradually you will learn how they arise, what motivates them, where they lead, and many other things. When this is done without attachment or desire, you discover that these vrittis no longer generate turbulence or entanglement. They simply pass, and you are free from their hooks.
Through meditation, you will dive into deeper dimensions of yourself, from the level of thinking to the level of feeling, and beyond. Self-study does not just stay at the surface level of your thoughts and emotions. You journey into layers of your being that you cannot access through conversation or a more analytic approach to self-discovery.
After meditation, when you take the time to acquire, enliven, imbibe, and become one with the condition you have received, you will become unified with that state (AEIOU) and develop your abilities of self-study at all levels, not just the mental level. The condition will permeate every atom of your being so that you embody the effects of meditation fully, then it will be absorbed at subtler and subtler levels of your being.
After this, when you write your experience in a journal, you will develop self-awareness to an even greater extent. Writing and expressing your experience in other ways like music, art, or dance, allow you to explore it and study it in different ways. You can revisit it and see patterns over time, which is difficult to do otherwise, because the mind is always adapting and changing. Your memories are not static; they evolve with new and added experience.
2. Cleaning: When you practice Heartfulness Cleaning to purify your mind of all the turbulence, impurities, and complexities that distort your perception, your self-study will develop clarity.
3. Continuous improvement: At bedtime, take a few minutes to go into your heart, with a prayerful attitude, and feel sincere regret for any wrongdoings, even if they were unintentional. Ask for forgiveness and resolve not to repeat them. Done sincerely, this simple practice clears your heart of any heaviness and removes guilt. The heart is the key to self-study! It allows you to observe yourself with self-compassion and self-acceptance.
After meditation, when you take the time to acquire,
enliven, imbibe, and become one with the condition
you have received, you will become unified
with that state and develop your abilities
of self-study at all levels, not just the mental level.
The condition will permeate every atom
of your being so that you embody
the effects of meditation fully,
then it will be absorbed at subtler
and subtler levels of your being.
What are the benefits of self-study?
Patanjali tells us that
Self-study brings about an inner atm[osphere
that is conducive to the divine presence,
which is beneficial to our being.
He is inferring that self-study creates the field in which we can experience the Divine. Going to church, to a mosque, or to a temple, performing rituals and hanging images of saints in our houses may all be great reminders, but without self-study we will not have the experience of the divine presence.
Self-study is implied in the act of meditation, but many people meditate without self-study. They close their eyes and enjoy the experience, sometimes enjoying blissful states, and sometimes losing awareness altogether. Others are aware of their thoughts and feelings, but they remain entangled in them rather than letting them go and diving deeper. In fact, the art of meditation is not well understood by most meditators. Luckily for all of us, the simple awareness of how you feel before meditation and after meditation is a game changer. Study the difference arising out of your practice. Even to study the difference created by your practice, you will have to study yourself.
Patanjali is saying that self-study is the way to reach the Divine, which implies that the Divine is within us. It is our innermost Center. As Babuji says, “God has hidden himself inside your hearts and exposed you. Hide yourselves and expose God! This is the real practice.” So, we go within and study ourselves from our most external states to the Center of our being. This involves layer upon layer of uncovering. In the process, everything external is a mirror of what we find within: How we relate to other people is a mirror; how we relate to Nature around us is a mirror. They are reflections of what is within us. In fact, as we journey deeper through the layers, every layer becomes a mirror for deeper layers. It is like those funfair mirrors loved by children, where two mirrors face each other, and they can see an infinite number of images of themselves disappearing into the distance.
When we meditate, we have the most exquisite opportunity for self-study, because we dive beneath the surface. We start by turning our attention inward, watching our thoughts, letting them go, and then centering ourselves on one thought, through the processes of Pratyahara and Dharana. Then we meditate – Dhyana – and we go beyond the thinking realm to the feeling realm. We go behind our thoughts. Then we go deeper still, beyond feeling and experience, exploring the states of becoming – refining and transforming ourselves. Then we go still deeper, to where self-study takes us into the realm of pure existence and eventually non-existence, where we are no longer in the picture.
The beauty of Patanjali’s sutra is that he simply tells us to study ourselves, nothing more. He doesn’t say, “You must change!” Coming face to face with yourself through self-study itself is enough to catalyze the process of transformation.
We go within and study ourselves
from our most external states
to the Center of our being.
This involves layer upon layer
Become aware of yourself: What happens when you are sad? What happens when you happy? All your moods are like different colors of the rainbow, different windows through which to look within. Maintaining that awareness is just like retaining the meditative state after meditation – one eye is always within even when the other is focused on the outside world. How do you behave when you are alone? With other people? At work? With your family? When you are going to sleep at night?
When you witness all these dimensions of your being, the work of the Yamas and Niyamas will become effortless, because you will see what needs to be removed (Yamas) and what needs to be cultivated (Niyamas). Your habits are gradually exposed, even those that are programmed deep within the subconscious.
In self-study, you are shining
the Light from the Center outward,
illuminating every aspect of your character.
Darkness disappears. All the qualities needed
for evolution are contained within that Light,
just as all the colors of the rainbow
are contained within a beam of colorless light.
In self-study, you are shining the Light from the Center outward, illuminating every aspect of your character. Darkness disappears. All the qualities needed for evolution are contained within that Light, just as all the colors of the rainbow are contained within a beam of colorless light. You no longer need to recite mantras like:
ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्यो तिर ्गमय ।
मतृ ्योर्मा अमतृ ं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om. Keep me not in Unreality, but make me go towards the Reality.
Keep me not in Darkness, but make me go towards the Light.
Keep me not in Mortality, but make me go towards the World.
of Immortality, Om. Peace, Peace, Peace.
Instead, what you seek becomes a reality.
Self-study is based on wonder. The wonder of exploring the inner universe. Like a small child exploring a garden filled with flowers and butterflies, everything is inspiring and joyful. Selfstudy is not judgmental, but it is discerning – in fact it is dependent on Viveka, our capacity for discernment.
Self-study naturally propels us toward continuous improvement. And while we may be journeying closer and closer to the Center, we still need to be aware of every aspect of our day-to-day behavior in the outside world and with other people. The gift of spiritual evolution does not mean we can forget about the very human aspects of living in the world.
All aspects of our being – the physical, mental,
emotional, social, and spiritual – are enhanced
through self-study. It is up to us to use the practices
we have been given for that purpose. And
remember, the heart is central to self-study!
Authentic self-inquiry is a magnificent tool once we
have mastered the art of staying within the heart.
So, what is critical here? While we are on the journey, it is important to be aware, and this comes from expanding our consciousness in both directions along the spectrum into the subconscious and the superconscious. Our capacity for self-study expands as our awareness in the field of consciousness expands. This is the spiritual journey, and it is why spirituality is not just about God, but also about human transformation. God- Realization is no different from Self-Realization at the highest levels.
As Patanjali says, we reach God through self-study. All aspects of our being – the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual – are enhanced through self-study. It is up to us to use the practices we have been given for that purpose. And remember, the heart is central to self-study! Authentic self-inquiry is a magnificent tool once we have mastered the art of staying within the heart.
Self-study eventually takes us beyond the self
I have observed that whenever I am deeply connected with the Master everything happens naturally. For example, the heart becomes lighter, kinder, and melting. While I am aware of his presence within, mundane and unnecessary things simply wither away.
Can you face yourself when there is cunningness in your heart and selfish intentions? When you lack purity and contentment? I believe with all my heart that unless you become simple and pure, your peep into yourself will remain colored.
Self-study requires you to turn your attention inward so that you can learn about yourself with complete honesty. To me it means honestly feeling yourself, looking at your inner panorama. Honest self-study is the key. Can you look at yourself with all sincerity while craving certain desires? Can you make a rational decision when riding high on an uncontrollable ego?
Some of you approach me and say, “Sir, please accept us, we surrender to you.” There are multiple problems here. First, you cannot make others surrender along with you; you can only speak for yourself. Second, have you looked at yourself, have you practiced swadhyaya before expressing yourself with such a prayer? When you look at yourself thoroughly, from all angles, and consciously unload whatever you want to be rid of, later you will realize that the very “self ” is the stumbling block. You realize the need to unload the burden of your ego. Rather, as you study yourself with love, the unloading of the ego and your desires will happen naturally.
Kamlesh Patel is known to many as Daaji. He is the Heartfulness Guide in a tradition of Yoga meditation that is over 100 years old, overseeing 14,000 certified Heartfulness trainers and many volunteers in over 130 countries. He is an innovator and researcher, equally at home in the fields of spirituality and science, blending the... Read more