īśvara praṇidhānā : surrender to the supreme
Who or what is iśvara (“ishvara”)?
Maybe yours is known as the Lord, God, Goddess, Gaia, Jesus, Buddha, Brahma, Vishnu, Allah, Kali, Krishna, Oshun, Rama, Durga, Shiva, Love…
Or maybe you don’t know…
If we have not found a sense of īśvara (this supreme causal principle/being/god/goddess) through our family, or guru, or even from an experiential circumstance, how do we know who or what our īśvara is? How do we develop a relationship of surrender and devotion to what we don’t know?
In the yoga sūtras, Patañjali describes the practice of svādhyāya (study of sacred knowledge) before the practice of īśvara praṇidhānā (surrender to our supreme causal principle/being/god/goddess). The general flow of the yoga sūtras of Patañjali is to move in a progressive direction, with each sūtra helping to better understand the next, with each stage of yoga described as a preparation for the next. So perhaps it is the same case here:
Svādhyāya leads to īśvara praṇidhānā.
The study of sacred knowledge can help us discern and surrender to a relationship with īśvara.
With a global pantheon of possible gods and goddesses, as well as distinct monotheistic and non-theistic approaches to understanding one’s sense of the Supreme, it does not seem wholesome to interpret the term “īśvara” strictly as “God” or “Lord”, or even “Divine Ideal” in a broad discussion of the yoga sūtras. And yet, this is how ALL of my readings of the yoga sūtras have translated the term īśvara thus far. I do respect their wisdom and applicability, but there is more to consider.
The beauty of the term “īśvara” (as it is used in the yoga sūtras of Patañjali as a spiritual manual) is in its spaciousness. The yoga sūtras do not mandate anyone to behold the same vision of īśvara as anyone else! Apart from recognizing īśvara in the sound of “Om” and as a “distinct awareness”, there is no further reference to a specific representation of the supreme causal principle/being/god/goddess! There is the space for choice, and it’s an important choice to respect, even in a mere discussion of the term. So I define īśvara more openly as “the supreme being/god/goddess”.
To each their own!
Once we recognize the presence of īśvara, in our hearts, the yoga sūtras emphasize the importance of surrendering (praṇidhānā) to īśvara both as a personal observance (niyama) in the context of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga as well as a direct yogic action (kriyā-yoga) for attaining the perfection of meditation (sābija samādhi).
Let’s look at īśvara as described in the yoga sūtras:
– pys I.23
or (vā) [samādhi can be attained by] surrendering to the supreme being/god/goddess (īśvara-praṇidhānād)
Samadhi can be attained by surrendering to the supreme being/god/goddess.
क्लेशकर्मविपाकाशयैरपरामृष्टः पुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः
kleśa karma vipāka-āśayaiḥ-aparāmr̥ṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ
– pys I.24
the supreme being/god/goddess (īśvaraḥ) is a distinct awareness (puruṣa-viśeṣa) untouched (aparāmr̥ṣṭaḥ) by the experiences of afflictions (kleśa), cause and effect (karma), and the ripening (vipāka) of accumulated impressions (āśayaiḥ)
The supreme being/god/goddess is a distinct awareness untouched by the experiences of afflictions, cause and effect, and the fruit of accumulated impressions.
तत्र निरतिशयं सर्वज्ञबीजम्
tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajña-bījam
– pys I.25
that [īśvaraḥ] (tatra) is the ultimate (niratiśayaṁ) seed (bījam) of all knowledge (sarvajña)
That (īśvaraḥ) is the ultimate seed of all knowledge.
पूर्वेषाम् अपि गुरुः कालेनानवच्छेदात्
sa eṣa pūrveṣām-api-guruḥ kālena-anavacchedāt
– pys I.26
this distinct awareness (sa eṣa) is also the primordial guru (pūrveṣām-api-guruḥ) unrestricted (anavacchedāt) by time (kālena)
This distinct awareness is also the primordial guru, unrestricted by time.
तस्य वाचकः प्रणवः
tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ
– pys I.27
this [(guru <the supreme being/god/goddess>] (tasya) is signified (vācakaḥ) by the sacred syllable “Om” (praṇavaḥ)
This guru is signified by the sacred syllable “Om”.
– pys I.28
through repetition (japaḥ) of that (taj) [syllable] its purpose (tad-artha) becomes realized (bhāvanam)
Through repetition of that syllable its purpose becomes realized.
– pys I.29
then (tataḥ) inner consciousness (pratyak-cetana) is attained (adhigamo) and (ca) obstacles [to samādhi] also (api antarāya) also disappear (abhavaś)
Then inner consciousness is attained and obstacles to samādhi also disappear.
tapaḥ svādhyāya īśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
– pys II.1
the transformative heat of practice (tapaḥ), study of sacred knowledge (svādhyāya), and surrender to god/goddess (īśvarapraṇidhānāni) are the actions of yoga (kriyā-yogaḥ)
The transformative heat of practice, study of sacred knowledge, and surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess are the actions of yoga.
– pys II.45
meditation (samādhi) is perfected (siddhiḥ) through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess (īśvara-praṇidhānāt)
Meditation is perfected through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess.
To summarize iśvara praṇidhānā :
1) Samadhi can be attained by surrendering to the supreme being/god/goddess. (pys I.23)
2) The supreme being/god/goddess is a distinct awareness untouched by the experiences of afflictions, cause and effect, and the fruit of accumulated impressions. (pys 1.24)
3) That (īśvaraḥ) is the ultimate seed of all knowledge. (pys 1.25)
4) This distinct awareness is also the primordial guru, unrestricted by time. (I.26)
5) This guru is signified by the sacred syllable “Om”. (pys I.27)
6) Through repetition of that syllable its purpose becomes realized. (pys I.28)
7) Then inner consciousness is attained and obstacles to meditation also disappear. (pys I.29)
8) The transformative heat of practice, study of sacred knowledge, and surrender to the supreme being are the actions of yoga. (pys II.1)
9) Meditation is perfected through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess. (pys II.45)
Translations for the yoga sūtras of Patañjali by Sandi Higgins, synthesized with thanks from the following sources:
Books : The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin F. Bryant (2009)
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda (1991)
Light On The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali by B.K.S Iyengar (1993)
The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-sutra-s of Patañjali in Sanskrit with Transliteration in Roman, Translation and Commentary in English by I.K. Taimni (2007)
SHANTI WITH SANDI © 2021