To fully understand the importance of Svadhyaya, you must go deeper into its metaphysical and psychological implications. By Svadhyaya you gradually transform your interior, wherein lies the problem of bondage as well as its solution of liberation. In that area of your being you bring about an awakening, you bring about a transformation. You bring about a total renewal. The old mind is cast out and a new mind is created by Svadhyaya, by daily, regular, unfailing intake of luminous life-transforming, positive, creative spiritual ideas of Truth-consciousness, Reality-awareness, of the consciousness of your eternal identity as opposed to your present consciousness of a temporary, false identity with the body-mind complex. The false identity is all propped up by Upadhis or limiting adjuncts, whereas the real identity is based upon Tattva. The basis or support for the real identity is Tattva. Whereas the basis or support for your false identity, your human identity, your Nama-Rupa identity, your name and form identity, is the Upadhis or limiting adjuncts that are ever-changeful, that are temporary, that do not constitute your essential nature, that belong to Prakriti, as distinct from your true Self or Reality which is Purusha. So, that is the value of Svadhyaya. It creates a new mind. It puts an end to the wrong thought, the wrong knowledge or the Viparita Jnana that your mind has, namely, “I am So-and-so, I amsuch and such, I am this and that”, and in its place, brings about real Jnana. Svadhyaya of Jnana Granthas, the regular study of wisdom scriptures which are a source of light and enlightenment, brings about right knowledge as opposed to erroneous knowledge. Erroneous knowledge is the result of a lack of proper enquiry and a lack of proper discrimination. Viparita Jnana is due to Avichara (non-enquiry) and Aviveka (ñack of discrimination netween the real and the unreal). In the place of Avichara and Aviveka, you bring about Vichara and Viveka through Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya gives rise to Vichara and Viveka. The human individual suffers from a loss of self-awareness, suffers from a wrong identification with Prakriti in the form of body, senses and mind due to a basic nescience which we call Ajnana or spiritual ignorance. One of the metaphysical objectives of Svadhyaya is to remove the covering of this Ajnana from your consciousness and bring in a new awareness, a new knowledge about yourself.
There is also a second important metaphysical objective of Svadhyaya. Within the psyche of the human being, the bondage to body consciousness and sensual propensities lies in the form of various subtle impressions and latent tendencies called Samskaras and Vasanas. They have to be completely reshuffled. They have to be completely taken out. And a new mind has to be created. The old Vasanas and Samskaras which are characterised by ignorance, Avidya, Ajnana, body consciousness and grossness have to be eliminated, and in their place, new Samskaras of a different variety, divine and spiritual, have to be created. And Svadhyaya serves a very valuable purpose towards this end. It is a great exercise, and gradually, day after day, it brings about a transformation of the mental contents, the inner contents of your mind. Svadhyaya replaces the old worldly Samskaras and Vasanas by new spiritual Samskaras and new spiritual Vasanas such as would be helpful and supplementary to your effort at attaining Self-awareness. Svadhyaya is a great exercise in this way.
Psychologically, Svadhyaya helps you by creating a permanent background of thought, so much so, when you are free, when you are not occupied, when you are disengaged from outer occupation, you do not fall a prey to all types of chaotic, miscellaneous thoughts crowding in your mind and trying to sweep you away in one worldly direction or the other. Rather, by Svadhyaya, you gain or acquire a certain stable basis on which to stay. Your mind no longer gets swept away by the onrush of miscellaneous thoughts when you are disengaged from work, or when you try to sleep, or even before waking up or during dream. This is because Svadhyaya creates in you a permanent type of background of thought of the right quality, of the spiritual quality. Normally, whenever you are occupied with some work, your mind creates no problem for you, because its attention is caught in the work outside. It is when you are not occupied that all your inner Samskaras and Vasanas start showing their hideous face, that your mind becomes a devil’s workshop. It is then that your mind runs riot, goes into all sorts of sensual grooves, into various disturbing thoughts. So, to secure yourself against this mental mischief, the spiritual masters have advocated or suggested the creation of a certain permanent background of thought in your mind. If such a background of thought is created in your mind, then, the problem of mental mischief ceases.
When you are occupied, everything is okay. And when you are not occupied, then also you are okay, because you have already created in your mind a certain background of thought which is spiritual, which is positive and good, uplifting and elevating. By providing the right material, Svadhyaya helps you in creating such a permanent background of higher thought, ennobling spiritual thought. This is one psychological gain of Svadhyaya.
Yet another important psychological advantage of Svadhyaya is that it gives you, creates in you new material for contemplation, for reflection, for meditation. It is very necessary for you to have clear-cut, vivid and well-defined concepts and ideas about the Ultimate Reality, about the ultimate object of meditation, upon which your mind will have to get focussed later on in the practice of Yoga. If there is only a vague type of understanding about these things, effective meditation is not possible. For successful meditation, it is necessary to have very clear-cut ideas about the Ultimate Reality. And Svadhyaya provides the right type of psychological exercise which clarifies things in the mind, removes many doubts, answers many questions, provides inspiration and deeper insight, and more than anything else, gives you clear, well-defined, vivid material upon which to reflect, upon which to cogitate, upon which to contemplate and meditate.
If your mind is having only vague ideas, nebulous ideas of what Brahman is, what Reality is, you can only discuss a little; you can only talk a little. But, since you have not caught very clear-cut and well-defined ideas about the ultimate object of meditation, about the ultimate reality and goal of your life, your mind cannot take hold upon it, your mind cannot get focussed upon it in a steady way. Svadhyaya provides for this problem also. Through constant concentrated study, with all your attention fixed upon the subject of your study, what happens is that gradually within your mind there comes a very clear-cut and very clearly defined idea of what it is that you have to achieve.
There comes into your mind a very vivid and clearly defined idea of what really is your goal, what really is your object of meditation. Then, Brahman becomes to you not merely a world, not just something vague and nebulous and ill-defined, but very clear-cut and very well-defined. Thus, Svadhyaya provides for you material for effective meditation, for effective inner reflection and contemplation, by creating within you a clear-cut, definite idea of your object of meditation. Only when you have a clear-cut idea of the object of meditation can you truly meditate. And meditation is the ultimate process which the whole science of Yoga is trying to bring about, trying to make possible. Because, Raja Yoga is nothing but the science of meditation. Its ultimate process is meditation. It is in order to train your entire interior to be able to do effective meditation that all these various preliminaries, various steps, have been expounded by Patanjali. For the process of meditation, the Niyama of Svadhyaya becomes a very, very invaluable and priceless preparation.
So, psychologically, Svadhyaya has this to recommend it that not only does it safeguard you by creating a background of ennobling spiritual thought in the mind, but also provides for you clear-cut, well-defined material which becomes the support of your inner reflection and meditation, Manana and Nididhyasana. This is the psychological rationale of Svadhyaya.
The whole problem of human bondage is neither in the Self nor in the body. It is in the interim area of your mind and intellect, your inner being, inner nature, which is called Antahkarana Prakriti (the fourfold mind: Manas, ego, buddhi, chitta). It is there that you have to find a solution, because the problem is there and the solution is also to be found there; and the solution is obtained by bringing about a transformation of your mind, by creating a totally new mind with new mental contents. Of the three, namely, Satsangha, Sravana and Svadhyaya, Svadhyaya is the most reliable, because it is always available and it can be practised daily. Whereas, Satsangha and Sravana are not so continuously available. Therefore it is that Patanjali has made Svadhyaya an important part of his second Anga or Niyama. Lastly, there is one thing more to know about this important spiritual exercise of daily Svadhyaya. It is that Svadhyaya is not merely reading; it is study. It is not Patha or Parayana, but it is Adhyayana (Study, learning, and remembrance).