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Svādhyāya: Self-Study

As many of you know, I’ve just returned a few days ago from my first trip to India. I was part of a retreat that followed in the footsteps of Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba in the foothills of the Himalayas. It focused on practicing Bhakti yoga, or the yoga of devotion. One way Bhakti yoga is often practiced is by chanting mantra. During my two weeks in India, I blessedly was steeped and saturated in mantra…

For instance, at one point we were at an over 5,000-year-old Shiva temple that was situated 7,500 feet up on the edge of a mountain, and we chanted 108 rounds of the Mahamrityunjaya Shiva mantra.

We visited a Hanuman/Neem Karoli Baba Temple located in Delhi beneath a highway overpass where we were we had lively kirtan and Hanuman Chalisas with local devotees.

We were honored to chant, led by Nina Rao, in the Siddhi Ma temple at Kainchi Dham where Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba) stayed for 20 years.

We chanted the Mahamantra and Hanuman Chalisa at a small Hanuman temple located on the organic farm that grows food served at Kainchi Dham. The pujari (temple keeper) there was the most joyful one we met, and he welcomed us warmly and even broke into a sweet devotional dance.

We chanted at every temple we visited (lots of them), and while visiting we usually chanted multiple times. Sometimes we chanted on the bus and SUVs that were our transportation. We sometimes had kirtan in the evenings and sometimes just spontaneously broke into chant while doing things like shopping for souvenirs or washing our dinner dishes. We chanted when we watched the sun rise over the snow peaked Himalayas. We chanted after we served food to six very poor families living in tents up the mountain from Kainchi Dham. We chanted during two sacred fire circles and when we were welcomed by local women from the village. I chanted the Hanuman Chalisa in my room each day after my morning meditation. And this is just some of the chanting we did!

Going into this trip, I loved chanting and kirtan, and I knew Bhakti yoga had tremendous transformative power as a practice, but now that I’ve been truly steeped in it as a practice for a couple of weeks, I have first hand experienced the transformative power of it. Bhakti yoga is simple, but not necessarily easy: Open your heart, surrender to God/Grace, and repeat the sacred mantras and names of the Divine. Or “Let go and let God,” as my teacher Sharon Gannon often says.

Maharaji taught devotees to love everyone, serve everyone, remember God, and to tell the truth. He taught repetition of the name Ram and of the Hanuman Chalisa as practices. Chanting helps keep us connected to that part of us which is A Love Supreme.

In the November Jivamukti Yoga focus-of-the-month, Manizeh Rimer quotes the great wisdom teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj who said: “The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.” Manizeh continues by saying, “Chanting helps us get into the deep dark corners of our heart, where we may have buried feelings like shame, betrayal, guilt, hurt, and anger. It also reminds us of our heart’s innate capacity for joy. Ultimately, it reveals to us our longing to be re-united with our Self. For me, chanting has been the most potent of practices.”

For me also chanting has been the most potent of practices. And it is one of the ways we can practice the 4th Niyama, svādhyāya, or Self-study.

B.K.S Iyengar says: “The person practicing svādhyāya reads his own book of life, at the same time that he writes and revises it. There is a change in his outlook on life. He starts to realize that all creation is meant for bhakti (devotion), rather than for bhoga (enjoyment), that all creation is divine, that there is a divinity within himself and that the energy which moves him is the same that moves the entire universe.”

Om Namah Shivaya

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