“The ability to perceive directly and fully [comes] from turning toward the source within.”
Who or what owns it all? Who or what do I defer to, commit to, surrender to? What brings me the widest perspective that I can have? What support lies underneath the support?
Just as sūtra I.23 introduced īśvara-praṇidhana as the ultimate yogic act, implicit in all yogic practices, so does Patañjali’s discussion of the yamas and niyamas culminate with this same great injunction: turn inward, turn to the source.
As I have described, the word īśvara (from īś, “to own,” + vṛ, “to choose”) can be an adjective that means powerful, capable. As a noun, it refers to one who is the owner, a rich person, a king or queen. It is commonly translated Lord or God. To understand Patañjali’s idea of īśvara, it is useful to return to chapter one and consider sūtras I.23-29. There, Patañjali describes īśvara as the self that is untouched by circumstances (I.24), a place within, beyond time, the holder of the seed of knowledge, the original teacher (I.25-26), understood by vibration, not concept (I.27-28). The sound of īśvara is OM, and OM takes us inward, to the connection to what īśvara is in us (I.29).
Praṇidhāna (from pra-, “towards,” + ni-, “under”, + dhā, “to place”) carries with it the sense of placing something down and before, turning something over, as it were. It is translated surrender, devotion, commitment.
In the context of the practice of yoga, and specifically, Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, what we surrender–what we lay down–is our preconceptions, patterns of thought, reactive tendencies. Rohit Mehta translates īśvara-praṇidhāna as aspiration to what is highest, orientation to ultimate reality. He says the yoga aspirant must be “poor and penniless in the psychological sense” to come to the view of reality, to “live in the open spaces.” (See quotation below.)
To view reality, to see clearly, is samādhi, and Mehta here echoes the definition of samādhi that Patañjali will give in sūtra III.3, where he describes an “emptying” of citta so that the object alone shines there. This emptying allows the fulfillment (siddhi) of what samādhi is. In today’s sūtra, Patañjali simply says, samādhi-siddhiḥ īśvara-praṇidhānāt, which I have translated: the ability to perceive directly and fully [comes] from turning toward the source within.
Patañjali will describe the turn inward, the how of it, in the following sūtras. It is worth pausing here to reflect on a quality that Mehta mentions in his discussion of santoṣa and that relates to īśvara-praṇidhāna as well: self-containment. The spiritual person, says Mehta, is neither a conformist nor non-conformist, but finds authority within. I was fortunate to see an interview with the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg this week. Greta is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and has chosen to be forthright about it. Asked how it affects her as an activist, she answered:
It is thanks to my diagnosis, my Asperger’s syndrome…because without that I wouldn’t have noticed this crisis…. Everyone else saw the same pictures and films that I did, the destruction of nature and what was happening with the climate, but no one of them seemed to really … I didn’t understand why their lives weren’t turned upside down like mine was. —https://theintercept.com/2019/09/13/greta-thunberg-naomi-klein-climate/
Most of us gauge our responses based on what our families or neighbors or fellow citizens do. Greta Thunberg took in the facts of climate change directly and has directly responded. She is an exemplar of what we aspire to as yoga practitioners.
The turn inward, the surrender or commitment to seeing as the seer within sees, is central to yoga practice. So, is īśvara-praṇidhāna–and therefore yoga—theistic? Rohit Mehta argues that Patañjali’s īśvara is neither anthropomorphic nor a personal deity. And though religious practitioners can readily recognize the principle of surrendering to God, īśvara-praṇidhāna is a more universal expression of faith–non-sectarian, even secular. To not know, to let go, to trust, these are the attributes of Patañjali’s īśvara-praṇidhāna.
What supports me? What do I turn to? What is the support under the support?
There is a basket of fresh bread on your head, yet you go door to door asking for crusts. Knock on the inner door. No other. Sloshing knee-deep in clear streamwater, you keep wanting a drink from other people’s waterbags. Water is everywhere around you, but you see only barriers that keep you from water. A horse is moving beneath the rider’s thighs, yet still he asks, Where is my horse? Right there, under you. Yes, this is a horse, but where’s the horse? Can’t you see? Yes, I can see, but whoever saw such a horse? Mad with thirst, he cannot drink from the stream running so close by his face. He is like a pearl on the deep bottom wondering, inside the shell, Where is the ocean? His mental questionings form the barrier. His physical eyesight bandages his knowing. Self-consciousness plugs his ears. Stay bewildered in God and only that. –Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks
“Patañjali says that while making effort, while training, while studying, become aware that there is a principle permeating everything. Toward It, have an attitude of surrender–otherwise you might mistake yourself as this master of your body and master of the cosmos or the universe. You are in a limited form and all your actions are limited. You have to work in a conditioned, limited structure, so whatever you do has limitation. But there is an unlimited, all-pervading principle that is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent–these three beautiful terms explain everything that is indicated by the word īśvara. There is no other meaning to the word īśvara as far as Patañjali is concerned.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 37
“Īśvara or Reality is not in some one direction. It is all-pervading. So right orientation means opening oneself to Reality, and therefore living in the open spaces. It is a condition of an open mind, not open to something or in some direction, but just open. It is a state of openness. … To come to this state the mind has to be divested of everything. To be poor and penniless in the psychological sense is to know what non-possessiveness [aparigraha] is.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 183
“Pupil: ‘Sir, can one see God? If so, why can’t we see [her]him?’ Sri Ramakrishna: ‘Yes, [s]he can assuredly be seen. One can see [her]him with form, and one can see [her]him also as formless.'” –quoted by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 158
• What are you committed to? Devoted to?
• In what ways is surrender a rhythm that underlies your practice? What is the interplay between effort and letting go, for you?
• Has yoga practice brought you to a state of openness? What is required of you to become more open?
• What form does God take for you (if any)? What is faith for you?
masculine noun in compound(I.41
absorption (from sam-, “with,” + ā, “towards,” + dhā, “to place, to hold”)
|feminine noun, 1st case
power, ability, completion (from sidh, “to fulfill, to reach, to succeed”)
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”)
4 thoughts on “II.45 समाधिसिद्धिरीश्वरप्रणिधानात”
Always appreciative of your sutra studies. Today I am at family funeral and this sutra resonates with that perspective.
It is good to hear from you, Nancy, and good to know we are connected in this way. I am sorry to hear of your loss. Much love.
Is–to own and vara to choose. That is our capacity to choose or what we call free will. When we surrender our personal will and allow his will to work through us i is Ishwar Pranidhana. That is we place our personal capacity to choose down and under. (nidhana). The resultant is surrender to god. The active here is not surrender to god but the practice of putting personal will on the side every time it manifests. As we keep practicing this we reach the state of surrender.
Īśvara-praṇidhana is a profound and personal injunction. For me, it means that I open my mind, that I take in the wider view, and that I come present with love to the world around me. Thank you for this comment!