I.23 ईश्वरप्रणिधानाद्वा

īśvara-praṇidhānād vā
īśvara-praṇidhānāt vā

“Or, [nirodha is near] from the act of turning to the source (īśvara).”

This most concise and crystalline of all the sūtras both reflects back to the “nearness” described in I.21 and introduces a new theme. It is the ultimate nature of yogic endeavor. By the process of removal that is nirodha, the practitioner goes in, to the root of experience and to the beingness within. The willingness to make that turn in and to identify with the primordial “I” brings the nearness. It is a kind of surrender; it itself facilitates nirodha.

Īśvara-praṇidhāna is an important concept in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras; it occurs four times (I.23, II.1, II.32, II.45), and in the next six sūtras (I.24-29) its meaning unfolds. Praṇidhāna (from pra-, “towards,” + ni-, “under”, + dhā, “to place”) is the act of devotion, of dedication, as one would place an offering at an altar. It might also be understood to be a placing of one’s support, as in the sense of locating where one’s support comes from.

But who or what is īśvara, according to  Patañjali? The word īśvara (from īś, “to own,” +   vṛ, “to choose”) as an adjective means powerful, capable, and the noun refers to one who is the owner, a rich person, a king or queen. It is, in this context, commonly translated as the Lord or as God. Yet who is God? What is God? In his powerful book The Shaking of the Foundations, the twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich proposes that the investigation of who we are, the journey to our deepest layers, is expressed by the word God. And yet, he says, the word is unimportant:

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. That depth is what the word God means. And if that word has not much meaning for you, translate it, and speak of the depths of your life, of the source of your being, of your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation.  –Paul Tillich

Patañjali speaks of the “infinite and inexhaustible”  in the following sūtras.


“The idea of sudden awakening is to be found in all mystical approaches…. Patañjali says that there is an intensity which can be described only by sudden turning towards God. There cannot be any action more intense and swift than this. This is turning in a new direction in the course of one’s spiritual endeavour. God in this context is the Ultimate Reality or the Ultimate Principle of Life.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 44-45

“[Īśvara-praṇidhāna] is the most theistic of all aspects of yoga. Īśvara is Divinity in a general and nondenominational sense. What it definitely does not mean is using the ego to second-guess the will of God. It is, on the contrary, the surrender, through meditation (dhyāna) and devotion (bhakti), of the ego itself.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 261

“And in the Gita we read: ‘Whatever your action, food or worship;/ Whatever the gift that you give to another;/ Whatever you vow to the work of the spirit:/ Lay these also as offerings before me.’ This kind of devotion requires, perhaps, a special temperament. It is not for everybody. But to be able to feel it is a very great blessing, for it is the safest and happiest way to liberation.” –Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 53

• Does devotion assist you in your practice? Surrender?
• How has your personal sense of Divinity developed over time? How do you feel about the word “God”?
• Have you experienced “a sudden turning in a new direction”? Would you describe this as an awakening?


masculine noun in compound

owner (from īś, “to own,” + vṛ, “to choose”)


neuter noun, 5th case singular

devotion, surrender, contemplation (from pra-, towards + ni-, “under,” + dhā, “to place, support”)

indeclinable conjunction


13 thoughts on “I.23 ईश्वरप्रणिधानाद्वा

  1. Hi Julia,
    After a moderate and favorable childhood in a Christian church, I came into adulthood with an established relationship with God, as a person/entity in my life. One for whom I mostly prayed to or tried to remember before eating. The major samskara I brought with me was that “God loves all his children.”
    Not attending church much at all in the ensuing years, and developing panic disorder, I remember times when my mind was spinning such that I would start a prayer and then before too long my mind was elsewhere. Yoga began the healing of the disorder, and also a re-establishment of my relationship with God. Isvara as a purusa visesa as in Yoga Sutra 1.24 coming up fit right in with my concept of God, but then the further Yoga Sutra descriptors expanded my concept. Other yoga texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and from the Bhakti traditions have expanded it further to include among other things, the trifecta qualities of omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent which clarified my understanding that with such qualities, God knows all my desires so why am I asking Him for anything? And so my prayers became focused on gratitude almost solely, with requests for guidance, and to be used as an instrument for His good work. And sure enough, I increasingly feel his presence, and that I am being used in ways that also help me grow, but they tend to be in 1-on-1 situations, not with the masses.

    A formal seated japa/meditation practice after my pranayama practice began very humbly with my 9-month trip around the world 2009-2010. My mantra has evolved over time but has almost always included the actual word “God” because there is an immediate emotional connection for me with that very specific word. I don’t use the word God to refer to anything else but God. When people use other words either more impersonal like space, or more specific like Krishna, my mind had to do an equation (space = God, or Krishna = God) and so I am always 1 step removed from the emotional connection. But my situation allows for me to spend time enjoying reading and listening about the many forms of God. Trips to India really opened my eyes to that beauty, as well as the poetry my yoga teacher used to read in class.
    I do find it difficult to find friends who are emotionally mature enough to discuss God and thus seek out places where the topic is not prohibitive.
    Lastly, as God is such an integrated part of my practice, I remember early on in Teacher Training thinking “How will I ever talk about God when I teach?” Would I have to advertise “theistic Iyengar yoga” classes? “Would that even be allowed?” These questions went to the back-burner and understanding who your audience is I can appreciate, so I have never been able to answer them while standing in my truth.

    • Hi Kristine, Thank you for describing so powerfully your emotional connection to the word “God” and to your experience of how the childhood samskara of God as loving and universal has stayed with you, supported you, and grown.
      In my own teaching–which is in the Iyengar tradition–I seek all the time to share my experience of love and support. But this can often be wordless, certainly non-intellectual, and often secular-sounding. As you say, it has to do with the audience. But I do feel I am in my truth; it takes different forms, as Krishna describes the many forms in the Bhagavad-Gita.
      I would like to question one part of what you have described: I do not see those who are uncomfortable using the word “God” as lacking emotional maturity. If positive associations with an entity, a person (the feeling you get from that contemplation) are not there, then the “form” of “person” is an obstacle, not a support. I respect that. We each have our own path.
      Best wishes to you as you continue to explore speaking from your truth!

  2. A little gem to share, from Matthew Dasti’s own reflective thoughts, as Professor of Philosophy, at Bridgewater State University in MA, with main interest in Classical Nyaya (reasoning/critical thinking):

    “We experience God through that which constrains us: 1) truth, 2) dharma, 3) and the external world.”

  3. Interesting! In contrast, I would say that, for me, experience of God has come through the removal of constraints–through transformation. Perhaps this is a more mystical view than the Nyaya way?

  4. Thank you Julia. To clarify, I wrote to discuss God, meaning as Isvara or Divinity in whatever form it takes, not the usage of the word God, as a topic of conversation. To have the interest, curiosity, and equanimity to really hear a sharing without taking it as proselytizing, especially when the person sharing needs to use the word God. I’ve recently had both a dear friend and a family member throw such type sharings back at me with a variety of accusations. While I could see the reactions were coming from anger, fear, or lack of knowledge, and I have great love and compassion for them both, it was quite painful and is still fresh.

    • Yes, I understood that you were sharing about the entity and not just the word you use for it. I thought you also were describing how the word “God” specifically is important to you. The conversations that you are referring to do sound painful. I am sorry.

  5. Regarding Matthew Dasti, a longtime Krishna devotee, husband and father to 2 sweet girls, and a big Ramanuja fan—thus our connection per Guruji’s sampradaya—over 3 weeks I observed no evidence that his thought that I shared was divorced from his experience.
    The beauty of Nyaya that I understood was that a person uninterested in anything mystical or routes of transformation can get to an understanding of the Self and God through rational thinking and reasoning, and thus open the door for experience.

  6. Hello Julia,
    I wanted you to know that my sister, Henriet, and I continue to meet regularly on the phone for lively conversations related to the sutras. Your blog is amazingly helpful and rich. I especially love that you bring in such a wealth of references to illustrate a concept, from Leonard Cohen to Paul Tillich, etc. Thank you for all you put into the blog. We very much appreciate it.
    We especially enjoyed 1.23, discussing our ideas of God. We loved your statement: “the name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God.” Thankfully, growing up as reform Jews, we didn’t have much doctrine get much doctrine and our conversation about God was easy-going.
    We also talked about pranidhana as support and how that functions in so many ways: using yoga props as support, reaching out to others, practices and teachings.
    In gratitude,

    • Hi Ani, Thank you. I am so glad to hear the blog is useful. Yes, the meaning of pranidhana as support is, for me, an important part of I.23 and it leads to reflection on what are the supports of our life–really–and how does that teach us (backwards, as it were) the meaning of what isvara is. I hope you and Henriet will continue to share from your conversations!

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