Many yoga practitioners never get to read ancient yogic texts. Why would you bother anyway and what could you possibly get from reading such old books?
Sacred texts are written on lots of levels, offering different levels of meaning. These texts are often clothed in metaphor and always rooted in cultural history and they often contain pearls of timeless wisdom wrapped in layers of what can appear as confusion. Amongst the simile, parable, metaphor, allegory and multi levelled composition is an essential teaching; a teaching intended to inspire regardless of time, place, cultural context or generation of the reader. The question is how do we find those jewels?
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Philosophical yogic texts are designed to inspire, they are meant to uplift and lead the reader to a sense of some deep mystical truth that the authors believed would be good to communicate for posterity and the wellbeing of all.
Svadhyaya is an ancient yogic practice. Literally this means ‘Self-study'; metaphorically it is ‘study of the greater reality’. Part of the yogic practice of svadhyaya is studying yogic texts. I for one have loved delving into a host of texts and found great value in the process. Both my practice and understanding of yoga have developed through svadhyaya and I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in ancient yoga texts.
Since yoga has always been interested and driven by the search, knowledge and realisation of this greater reality then these old books can often give precious clues as to what is possible. Like a basket of clothes in which precious jewels are hidden, it is up to us to find those jewels.
We are fortunate these days that so many texts often written in Sanskrit the ancient language of yoga have been translated into English. We have access to such a large array of fascinating texts, unparalleled in any time before ours. We are blessed to have access to this wealth of wisdom.
Such ancient texts are often seeking to cultivate a theophany; they are trying to put you directly in touch with the perceived greater reality of which they speak. As such they are yogic practices, they are a form of transmission.
If we equip ourselves with the basics of understanding them we stand a chance. Maybe we can find out who the author was and a bit about their cultural background. It can be useful to know which schools of yoga inspired them, who their teachers were and when it is claimed they were composed. All this contextual information can be helpful, yet not crucial to understanding the text.