Christian Yogi’s Perspective on Niyamas, Pt. 4: Svadhyaya

“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”
Lao Tzu

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists  Svadhyaya as the fourth Niyama (observances) in the Eight Limbs of Yoga.  Svadhyaya (pronounced “Svad-yaya”) is self-study or introspection.  To study yourself is to be gut-level honest about who you think you are and to have the courage to change the things that are causing roadblocks in your journey to seeing who you really are.  The main roadblocks I will discuss today are: pride and prejudice.


PRIDE

Luke 14:8-10 reads, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.”

When I was living in Los Angeles, I had a friend who worked for Universal Pictures film studio.  She was a coordinator of some sort there (I don’t remember exactly what her title was), and she used to be able to get tickets to some really cool events in the entertainment industry.  Some of the tickets were guest passes (where you actually have an assigned seat, pretty far back in the venues), and others were seat filler opportunities where you got to sit in the empty seats nearby big name celebrities.  I didn’t attend as a seat filler, but one of my other friends did, and he told me that he once got to sit right behind Halle Barry.  He was really excited until he was kicked out of that seat after an important actor showed up and needed that seat.  He said even though he knew that getting moved to a farther seat was possible, he felt kind of dumb getting up and moving back.  He said he felt a sense of humiliation, feeling like he wasn’t important enough to sit near Halle Barry.  Now, imagine if he walked into that venue, expecting to be seated next to George Clooney and Brad Pitt, only to be scolded or even kicked out of the venue.  People around him might’ve laughed at him for not having self-awareness.

How often do we think of ourselves in a puffed up, unrealistic way of thinking?  Maybe I’m being extreme, but I have met some people in my time who lacked an emotional intelligence.  They thought they were better than everyone and that they’re always right.  Sometimes they would do an “one-up on you” thing where whatever you share with them about yourself, they try to outdo your story.  In my experience, these people are clouded by their pride to see their insecurities that they cover up with pride or refusal to see themselves for who they are.  Whenever we think that we’re better (or worse) than someone else, we are not practicing svadhyaya because our authentic selves — aka the Atman/Authentic Self — are not more important or less important than anyone else.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
Romans 12:3

PREJUDICE
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
John 7:24

We are influenced by everything around us.  When I moved here from South Korea as a child, I was told by my relatives to “stay away from black people because they are violent.”  So when I saw that my first teacher at the elementary school that I was enrolled in was African American, I immediately remembered what my relatives told me.  But by the end of the week, I was more fascinated by her than afraid of her.  She had the most beautiful, white teeth and a warm smile.  She took care of me and made sure that I wasn’t being bullied by other kids. (Ironically, the kids that gave me a hard time were other Korean kids.  Go figure.)  From that point on, I embraced the many racially diverse cultures more than my own; in fact, I became prejudiced of my own race because of the cruelty I experienced from those mean Korean kids.  I have since then evolved into a person who strives to not judge people by their race, gender, age, religion, sexual identity, socio-economic status, and any other areas that my selfish/sinful nature wants to judge people by.  Prejudice is in us all because we as human beings jump to conclusions, judge books by their covers, etc.

We’re also prejudiced of the expectations or views we have of ourselves.  For example, if I state that I will never be able to pass the Bar Exam (which I’m not interested in doing, but bear with me), I have already set up the “Do Not Pass” sign on that road.  We must see ourselves the way God sees us.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One he loves.”
Ephesians 1:3-6

As a Christian, God tells me that I have been blessed with every spiritual blessings in Christ.  He chose me in Christ — BEFORE the creation of the world — to be holy and blameless in His sight.  He predestined me to be His daughter.  When I think of these things, the temptation to judge myself melts away.  The more I practice svadhyaya, the more I feel at peace with who I was created to be.



With Gratitude,
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