This is an excerpt from a Yoga International online article titled Understanding Yourself : The Path of Svadhyaya by Rolf Sovik
The concept of svadhyaya is not limited to the East. In every age and place, East and West, poets, mystics, and philosophers have explored its ramifications. Shakespeare opens Sonnet 53 with these intriguing lines:
What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
If we interpret the words shadow and shade to mean individual human souls, then Shakespeare is portraying us all as strange shadows—shades who only darkly reveal the light dwelling within us. To paraphrase Shakespeare, then, we might ask, what is the substance in which every individual soul has its existence? As we have seen, this is svadhyaya’s essential question.
Walt Whitman, in Leaves of Grass, also illumines the concept of svadhyaya, but with a different kind of imagery. Whitman speaks in the first person, and in a voice that bridges the finite and infinite. Here are some lines from “Song of Myself”:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. . . .
Myself moving forward then and now and forever,
Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,
Infinite and omnigenous. . . .
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)
In his characteristic style and with unguarded innocence, Whitman proclaims here that his is a soul whose compass is universal. He speaks of himself as if he were both wave and sea—simultaneously embracing both. This is the vision of svadhyaya.