Svadhyaya or Self-Study in Hinduism

Traditional Education

by Jayaram V

In Hinduism learning (siksha) through study (adhyayana) and practice (abhyasa) to acquire knowledge and wisdom (jnanam) is an important aspect of self-transformation and spiritual practice. It is also considered an important aspect of Dharma since it helps people undertake their vocational and professional duties and responsibilities and ensure the continuation of their families, the world and beings.

Hence, traditionally teaching (upadesam) and learning have been considered sacred duties which ensured the continuation of family traditions and caste duties and the order and regularity of society, besides preserving knowledge of various kinds and helping people to achieve peace and prosperity or liberation.

Since knowledge is vital to achieving the four aims of human life namely Dharma, Artha (wealth), Kama (pleasure) and Moksha (liberation), Hinduism recognizes the importance of education (vidya) and training (prasikshana) in all aspects of life. With the help of education (vidyabhyas), one can overcome the impurities such as ignorance and delusion which are responsible for bondage and suffering upon earth.

Education also helps people achieve name and fame, fulfill their family duties and obligations, help others, serve gods and improve their own chances of liberation. However, Hinduism also emphasizes the importance of imparting knowledge or education according to merit qualification (vidyarhata). Certain types of knowledge should be disseminated only when a student has acquired mastery in certain other fields or branches of knowledge or proved himself to the teacher through his effort and dedication.

Hence, India has a long history of secular and religious education system, which ensured that the knowledge gained in one generation was passed on to the succeeding generations, without compromising its purity and authenticity. Ancient India had well established universities and teacher traditions, besides countless Gurukulas or traditional, homeschooling in one’s own house under the supervision of the head of the household or a reputed teacher in his house.

Both methods helped the young students, acquired the required knowledge and enter adulthood well equipped with vocational or scriptural knowledge. Many towns and cities in ancient India such as Takshasila, Pataliputra, Kasi were well-known educational centers, where students had an opportunity to acquire religious as well as secular knowledge, including arts and sciences. While education was mostly imparted to male children in the household, women in certain households and royal families were also allowed to receive education.

Svadhyaya, self-study

Hinduism also recognizes the importance of learning through self-effort (svadhyaya or sva adhyayana). While one may learn knowledge from teachers in childhood, one has to continue that learning in the adulthood also through self-effort. For humans learning never ends until they achieve liberation. Even after retiring from life and living in seclusion during the Vanaprastha, they may still have to study the scriptures to improve their knowledge or perfect their spiritual practice or overcome their ignorance and delusion as part of their self-transformation and purification.

Therefore, Svadhyaya or self-study is recommended in Hinduism for people of ages, professions and backgrounds. Patanjali’s Yogasutras (2.1) recognizes Svadhyaya as an essential and integral practice of Kriya Yoga. It is also important to cultivate purity, practice Yamas and Niyamas (rules and restraints) and engage the mind in the contemplation of God (Isvara paridhana). Different scholars suggested different approaches to practice Svadhyaya. The commonly prescribed method is the study and recitation of scriptures. Participating in debates and discussions, which was common in ancient India, may be part of that effort only. Vyasa and Hariharananda suggested Japa (repetitive chanting of devotional mantras or sacred names or syllables) along with the study of the scriptures.

In today’s information age, Svadhyaya has a great significance to keep learning and improving to update one’s professional and general knowledge and remain competitive. It is also helpful to spiritual people to pursue their spiritual goals in the comfort of their homes without having to go to Gurus and spend time, energy and money. Svadhyaha is the simplest and the best way to learn any technique or acquire any knowledge. In Svadhyaya, your intelligence is your guru and your dedication and resolve are your protection. Lastly, Hinduism is a complext religion, which can be best grasped through self-study.

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