This month, we examine śāstra, the last of the five tenets of Jivamukti Yoga. The Sanskrit word śāstra means an authoritative text on any subject, particularly science or religion. It is the study of ancient scriptures as well as the Sanskrit language. These wisdom teachings might take the form of instructions, texts, rules, manuals, books, works of authority, or scriptures. In her Jivamukti focus-of-the-month essay for September, Rima Rani Rabbath reminds us that these “texts, teachings, and instructions have been passed down through the ages as an act of generosity by those who have experienced them and taught them.” In the spirit of honoring my teachers Sharon Gannon and David Life, co-founders of the Jivamukti Yoga method, I’ll focus on what they have passed down to us about śāstra and study of the Self in their book Jivamukti Yoga. Below you’ll find a few quotes from their book. I invite you to spend some time this month unpacking these quotes and considering how the teachings in them might be applied in your practice.
Master Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (which is a śāstra) outlines for practitioners various paths toward realizing the state of Yoga. One of these paths has three steps and is known as Kriya yoga (see Yoga Sutra 2.1). In their book Jivamukti Yoga, Sharon Gannon and David Life write that, “Patanjali’s three-step plan is very straightforward. He simple states, in this sutra, that the hard physical work of spiritual practice must be combined with scriptural study and motivated by devotion. Patanjali tells us in this yoga sutra that the perfect action is one that meets three criteria: tapah (a burning desire manifesting in spiritual discipline), svadhyaya (study of the higher Self), and Isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)” (p.182). The second of those three Kriya yoga steps, study of the higher Self (svadhyaya), is practiced principally by reading and studying the śāstra of yoga. Sharon Gannon and David Life write that, “These scriptures provide guidelines for ethical, righteous, yogic action in the world. Reading about the lives of Self-realized, enlightened beings is also a form of Self-study. Their lives are examples of the joining of perfect intentions to perfect acts. The saints are role models for your own spiritual evolution” (p.182). They continue, “Chanting the names of God is another form of svadhyaya. Sanskrit chants are said to contain the vibrational essence of the form of God being invoked. When we chant the sound over and over, our cells begin to resonate at the same vibrational level as the Sanskrit. Repetition fo the names of God in Sanskrit builds the actual deity form within us” (p.183). Sharon and David explain that, “Svadhyaya is scriptural study, including recitation of scriptures and mantra repetition. Svadhyaya can also take the form of satsang with an enlightened master (either by reading a book by the master or actually meeting him or her). To find universal Truth we can study the words and actions of people who have attained the Self and transcended suffering. As we study, chant, and seek the company of enlightened beings, we lose identification with the body/mind. As we associate with the True Self, identity with the false self subsides. As identification with the false self subsides, knowledge of immortality arises. This loosens the grip of abhinivesha, the fear of death. The truth of the immortal soul revealed by svadhyaya becomes your foundation. Fear of death haunts us because we mistake bodily death for our death. Ironically, when we can let go of this fear and observe the body/mind container with detachment, we begin to live much more fully” (p.185). While there are many yogic śāstra, some I recommend you begin to spend time with this month (and I hope into the future) are the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali; the Upanishads; and the Bhagavad Gita. I have lost count of how many times I have read and studied these works, and yet each time I study them I take something new away from them. I have read various translations and commentaries as well, and doing so is always a valuable learning experience. I have even taken up the study of the Sanskrit language so as to deepen my understanding of these wisdom teachings. In her focus-of-the-month-essay, Rima Rabbath writes, “Spiritual teachings are often not understood the first time we hear them, nor the second or the third. Sometimes we need to change the way we hear the teachings, and see them with new eye from different angles.” This has been my experience—the more time I spend with these works, and by approaching them from different angles—the more that is revealed. Blessings and love, Jennifer