How to Read Scriptures

I’ve written about the great benefits of regularly reading or hearing scriptural knowledge if you want to understand yourself as the eternal, unchanging, pure Being, rather than just the temporary, limited human body and mind. But how you approach this study will make a huge difference as to whether you end up feeling that you’ve read something that sounds like an interesting theory or whether you actually come to directly experience yourself as that unchanging Being, whether your choose to call it the Self, Brahm (Brahman), or God. 

In Vedanta, the approach to study recommended as being most effective is described by the Sanskrit words shravan, manan and nididhyasan. Shravan means hearing. This is obviously the first step of any study and includes you hearing your own voice in your head if you are reading a text on your own. If we use the analogy of eating, shravan is the stage where food is put in your mouth.

The aim of reading a scripture isn’t to finish it quickly but to take each line and really ponder what it implies for you and your existence, here and now.

Manan means to contemplate what you have read. This part is crucial. The aim of reading a scripture isn’t to finish it quickly but to take each line and really ponder what it implies for you and your existence, here and now. How does it sit with the assumptions and beliefs that you previously held? If there seems to be a discrepancy between the teaching and your beliefs or experience, why is this the case and how can this be resolved? It is at this stage of the process that a teacher can be extremely beneficial to help guide you to discover the real meaning, the jewel hidden in the words, and engage in questions and answers to enable you to come to know that meaning for yourself. Returning to the eating analogy, manan is the stage where the food is broken down and digested.

Once the manan stage has been given enough time and attention, nididhyasan will take place. At this point, the wisdom of the scriptures becomes your own wisdom. It is not known by your mind in the way that your mind usually remembers and knows information.

The food is then no longer food, it has become you.

This verse from part two of the Ken Upanishad sums it up beautifully: 

Those who know Brahm know that He is not known by the intellect. The one who says he knows Brahm does not know Him, because his egotistic expression of knowing is the outcome of ignorance. Those who know feel in themselves that God is known by God himself. Those who know that they are other than God will never know Him.

So nididhyasan is actually the stage where the unification of knowingness takes place. At this point it is clear that the undivided Self or Brahm is the very essence of your knowingness. So there is no longer a sense of there being a separate, individual entity who knows the Self, there is just pure Knowingness, God, Brahm. The food is then no longer food, it has become you. 

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