Svadhyaya- a study of sound

Just yesterday, I was helping out someone with a few concepts for an English paper and we were exploring semantics and pragmatics. The shastras are a rich example of pragmatics at play. Much of the lyrical shlokas are simple at first glance but nuanced with layers of meaning, subjective and objective.
Svadhyaya as a niyama is placed after sauca, santosha and tapah in that order. It makes logical sense to start with a clean page, a content frame of mind to engage in a fully present practice. That allows for reflection and study. Svadhyaya for me includes reading, writing, listening and reflection. It is uncanny how coincidences crop up when exploring some thought. It is almost as though there is an internal compass which attracts attention towards related concepts.
I’d love to study the Shastras the traditional way but it doesn’t look very possible at present. Yet I can’t seem to pry myself away from delving into the ancient texts. I’ve read them earlier but that was a semantic experience, now they seem like the beginning of study. In the absence of a formal structure, it is still possible to endeavour thanks to the easy availability of good books and commentaries. The interpretations of great masters help to open the wealth of the compact utterances. It provides pointers on how to reflect on what is implicit.

‘ऊॅ शीक्षां व्याख्यास्यामः | वर्णः स्वरः।
मात्रा बलम् । साम सन्तानः । इत्युक्तः शीक्षाध्यायः ।।१।।

‘We shall now explain the science of pronunciation. It consists of the sounds, accent or the pitch, quality or measure, the effort put in articulation, uniformity and continuity in pronouncing the letters. Thus has been explained the lesson on pronunciation.’
– Taittriya Upanishad, a commentary by Swami Chinmayananda

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Taittrīya Upanishad

This deft word picture paints the study of phonetics. Unlike English which has its quirks like silent letters, Sanskrit and the few Indian languages that I know are read as they are written, the pronunciation is uniform. Perhaps the oral tradition and emphasis on memorisation before delving into a study was part of the technique of teaching and studying a language. There is great importance attached to the articulation of the words during chanting. All the aspects mentioned above are taken into account while reciting shlokas. It boils down to sound, yet again. Somehow, words and sound and study all seem to be intersecting repeatedly.
Coincidence again… I don’t think so anymore.

5 thoughts on “Svadhyaya- a study of sound

  1. As I begin to delve into Sanskrit, I am noticing how many teachers here in North America mispronounce the Sanskrit names of poses. I suppose that it is good that they are at least trying to incorporate the original asana names into their teaching. But I sometimes wonder how someone from India who grew up schooled in Sanskrit and Hinduism would view the way the practice of yoga is interpreted here. Perhaps you could speak to that, Sonia?

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    • I have neither been schooled in Sanskrit nor Hinduism. However, if I consider the question, it really doesn’t matter. Ultimately, we are all fragments of the same divine seeking to go back to the source, in whichever way it calls to us.
      I suppose the common tendency is to view yoga as an exercise and a bit of an exotic practice but if my personal experience is anything to go by, sooner or later it seeps inside and the language of the spirit’s yearning is universal. But this is just my personal opinion.

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  2. I was reading Taittriya Upanisad and came across this same idea. It reminds me as a teacher how clear I have to annunciate my instructions. I remember a lecture from Prashantji where he talks about the Bhagavad Gita and puts the emphasis that it is a “song” of God, much like instructions should not be monotone. In refining instructions, actions that have Tamoguna are softly spoken, actions that have Rajoguna have loud instruction, and actions that have Sattvaguna have neutral instruction. To pull that off as a teacher is pure artwork. I am still very much a neophyte.

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    • Since I reach early for class, I get to see one of the senior teachers taking an intermediate class and it is like watching art. Her voice, choice of words and clarity of instructions as she takes the hall of students to experience a state of being.
      She uses all that is spoken of in the lines from the Upanishad- varna, svara, mātrā, balam, sāma and santānah to communicate!

      Liked by 2 people

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