ISWARAPRANIDHANA

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

Normally in Sutras, the same term/idea should not be repeated. But in
the yogasutras of Patanjali the term Iswarapranidhana is used three
times. It is acceptable if the term is used with different
connotations  in different places/contexts.

According to my Guru, the yogasutra even as it deals with subject of
(Raja)Yoga, caters to the needs of three different groups or levels of
yoga aspirants. The first one the highest or the uttama adhikaris are
the intended group of aspirants in the first chapter called the
samadhi pada. Here Patanjali used the term Iswarapranidhana as an
independent means of achieving  the goal of Kaivalya or spiritual
freedom the set goal of yoga. It is the complete quietening of the
mind or chitta  vritii nirodha. According to Patanjali it is possible
to achieve this yogic goal by intense devotion to Iswara (pranidhana=
bhakti visesha) as indicated by the term Iswarapranidhana in this
context. By the proper Japa of pranava which would indicate the mystic
syllable or mantra “OM” the highest aspirant (adhikari) who already
has the ability to go into a stage of samadhi (hence dealt with in
Samadhi Pada) will be able to achieve this extraordinary result.  An
intense faith and devotion to the eternal unfettered spirit,
Iswara,whose essence is pure consciousness and still endowed with
omniscience would do the trick and nothing else is needed. If however
this devotional fervor is lacking even if the samadhi capacity is
there, the more step by step process of going through stages of
mastering Prakriti (24 aspects ) may be resorted to following the
path of Niriswara Samkhyas who have difficulty in subscribing to a
nimitta karana or an efficient cause for creation.

In the second chapter, Sadhana Pada, Patanjali takes the case of those
who without the yogic skill of Samadhi, but still wish to start to go
along the path of Yoga, the first step in a 1000 mile long yoga
journey. To them, the absolute beginners, he would include
Iswarapranidhana as one of the steps in Kriya yoga . Here
Iswarapranidhana has a different application. It is not the use of
Pranava Japa as the Samadhi Yogi would do but Iswarapujana or worship
of Iswara as per many yogis. Simple to complicated rituals are
available for the interested to remain focused on Iswara for a period
of time every day. This in practical terms is much easier to resort to
following the well established procedures of puja (worship rituals) of
the Lord. This is possible for anyone with faith in God, but lack the
samadhi capability. One may not be able to achieve Samadhi with this
but it will slowly prepare the mind to go along the path of yogic
samadhi. Concurrently it will also reduce the mental pain caused by
several kleshas like avidya etc.

One may ask if Iswarapranidhana or Iswarapujana as it is said in Kriya
yoga can by itself lead to samadhi bhavana  or is it part of a whole
practice called Kriya yoga. Another corollary question would be what
if one has difficulty believing in God, could one still take advantage
of  kriyayoga?  There are references to practices of kriya yoga used
without the Iswarapranidhana component. The great epic Ramayana
describes a sage as one established in austerity and scriptural
studies. The Ramayana opens with the two traits of Kriaya yoga viz.,
tapas and swadhyaya. (tapas swadhyaya nirataam). So we may see that
there are occasions where the first two traits are mentioned
independent of Iswarapranidhana. Of course it would be best to use all
the three parts of kriya yoga.

When a start up yogi belonging to the iswarapranidhana stream
practices iswara pujana assiduously, the mental klesas come down and
she/he will be well on the path of conditioning the mind for samadhi.
Then we have the next yoga stage called ashtanga yoga a more elaborate
and complete yoga sadhana or yoga practice. Herein also is
Iswarapranidhana mentioned and the result of this practice as part of
niyama would be Samadhi itself, which also is the goal of the entire
ashtanga yoga as samadhi is the last anga. Commentators give a
different interpretation of Iswarapranidhana here in ashtanga yoga
than what is found in first chapter and in  kriya yoga.. They would
say that it would refer to doing one’s prescribed duties diligently as
God’s work and surrendering oneself to the Lord and also the fruits of
all actions. This intermediate stage yogi or madhyama  adhikari the
one not having the skill of going into samadhi  but is totally
committed to yoga as a life long pursuit. For  her/him Patanjali
suggests the classical ashtanga yoga. Here as per my Guru and several
commentators it would mean total surrender to the Lord or Saranagati
or prapatti. One may say that the prescribed duties would also imply
practicing the stipulated duties in ashtanga yoga and doing them as
God’s work with a complete sense of surrender to the Lord. This “karma
Yoga” in which the results of the practices do not cloud the yogi’s
mind is “karma phala tyaga”. This devotional path will lead to Samadhi
the necessary skill to take the last lap in the yoga journey.

My teacher being a devout Bhakti Yogi stressed the importance of the
Iswarapranidhana stream in the Yoga Sutras. The Yogis who have an
intense devotional fervor could do well to follow the devotional path.
For most yogis a judicious combination of samkhya yoga and bhakti yoga
would be helpful as is the direction of the sutras. But it is also
necessary to point out that Iswarapranidhana even though it is
mentioned just three times in the whole text forms an independent and
complete system of Yoga in the Yoga sutras. For the start up Yogi it
prepares the mind for samadhi and also simultaneously reduces the
mental klesas. At the intermediate level it leads to dawn of Samadhi a
necessary tool for both Siddhis and Kaivalya and a reduction in
impurities of the mind, the Rajas and Tamas. At the highest level
Isawarapranidhana leads to understanding the true nature of oneself
(pratyak cetana)and also the removal of all spiritual obstacles
(antaraya).

Many other acharyas also have taken the efforts to stress the
importance of  both the streams. Adi Sankara the advocate of Advaita
or nondualism, wrote great works not only on the intellectually
challenging subjects as advaita like the Brahma Sutra Bhashya,
Vivekachudaani etc., but also wrote such wonderful devotional works as
Bhaja Govindam, Soundarya Lahari and several others. Sri Sankara apart
from being the most revered exponent of Advaita also came to be known
as one who established the six methods of orthodox worship of the
divine in India (shan-mata-sthapana-acahrya), The six methods are
worship of Ganesa (Ganapatya), Kumara (Kaumara), of Mother Sakti
(Saakta), of Siva (Saiva), of Vishnu (Vaishnava) and of the Sun
(Saura). He wrote numerous works of poetry on all these deities.
Patanjali, Adi Sankara, my own Guru Sri Krishnamacharya and several
orthodox teachers of yesteryear were at considerable ease with both
the paths of wisdom and of devotion.

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