Isvarapranidhana, Embracing God
Īśvarapraṇidhāna (ईश्वरप्रणिधान) is the combination of īśvara (ईश्वर) and praṇidhāna (प्रणिधान). Patañjali tells us that īśvara is a unique being (puruṣa पुरुष) beyond all affliction (kleśa क्लेश), cause, and consequence (karma and the fruits of), the source of Omniscience (sarvajñabījam सर्वज्ञबीजं: literally possessing the seed of all knowledge), unlimited by time, and the spiritual parent (guru गुरु) of all spiritual parents; in short, God. Praṇidhāna means “complete surrender”, “devotion”, “embracing”. Together, īśvarapraṇidhāna may be translated as the absolute surrender to God.
As tedious as tapas (तपस्) may be, and as strenuous as svādhyāna (स्वाध्याय) is, īśvarapraṇidhāna in its strictest sense, is perhaps one of the most gargantuan of yogic tasks. Be not hoodwinked, īśvarapraṇidhāna is an advanced practice; indeed, it is the culmination of tapas and svādhyāya; it is the pinnale, with tapas and svādhyāya as the requisite foundation, for without purity and knowledge, numinous surrender is not possible. Although, it is the third and final ingredient in the practice of yoga (kriyā yoga क्रियायोग) as outlined in Yoga Sūtra 2.1, it should be practiced in conjunction with tapas and svādhyāya from the very beginning.
Neither for the novice nor the neophyte, īśvarapraṇidhāna is not an act of giving up; here surrender does not imply defeat. As is often the case, most people only turn to God, or surrender to God when one fails in life, or faces obstacles daunting enough to stir up one’s religious fervor! Nay, īśvarapraṇidhāna is not for the down and defeated but for the victorious!
Why? Because you cannot surrender a mutinous mind and because you can only give what you have; a pauper has nothing to offer. When you love someone, you only want to give the best to your beloved, so it must be with God. God is not a stray dog hanging around the masters’ table, or a liquidator; do not offer him crumbs, scraps, left-overs, or remnants!
A tyro, unaccustomed to unconditional giving, may tithe. One tenth of your income may buy you a diamond ring my friend, but money can’t buy you God; you must yield the remaining nine tenths. Truth is, we must offer everything – all of our material possessions, our passions, our thoughts, our talents, our actions, and the fruits of our actions. Perfectly practiced īśvarapraṇidhāna entails placing one’s body, mind, and soul at the feet of God.
Does this mean you must be materially poor to be spiritually rich? Does this mean you are to go without material possessions? Does this mean you must be mindless to embrace divinity? Certainly not! What it does mean is that you must direct the entirety of your material and mental resources to attain a spiritual end. For that, renunciation is not required, though non-attachment is a necessity; blind faith is not an asset, fides quaerens intellectum is.
All this is easier said than done; saying, “I surrender to God” is akin to the more pedestrian proclamation of “I love you”. Multitudes swear it, but most who do haven’t the faintest idea what it means. Which is why we can say, “I love you” to those near and dear to us, yet they are the very ones we hurt the most! Sadly, most of us know neither what love, nor surrender is.
As proof, I submit that everyone knows someone who has once uttered, “I surrender to you God”, and “Thy Will be done” but when things do not turn out according to their expectations, they wail and wonder, “Lord, I surrendered to you, why do You still do these things to me?” This is not surrender, this is bargaining.
In true surrender, the devotee asks for and expects nothing (not even samādhi or kaivalya), the sincerely surrendered devotee joyfully accepts everything – pleasure or pain, loss or gain, fame or no-name, as blessings from God. When this attitude is adopted, grace automatically descends upon the devotee, and samādhi (समाधि) is secured, and kaivalya (कैवल्य) is close at hand.
Allow me to flog that dead horse: none of this is possible without first mastering the mind and subduing the ego by the twin processes of tapas and svādhyāya. The mind and its associate, the ego, are perhaps the most crucial to surrender, but they also tend to be the most devious and defiant. Because of that, the mind must become an oblation and poured into the sacrificial fire of God.
The mind is like a dormant volcano, but with infinitely more power. As the mind is purified through tapas, tremendous power is awakened; siddhis (सिद्धि super powers) sometimes spontaneously manifest. At this particular juncture, it is imperative to surrender the ego to God lest vainglory rears its Hydra heads. This has led to the fall of many yogis past, present, and undoubtedly, future.
A mastered mind that is directed at divinity becomes divine; a mastered mind that is not, at best becomes highly successful at worldly matters (which usually precludes spirituality), and at worst becomes a deadly weapon capable of creating calamities of unimaginable magnitude. Patañjali was aware of this, which is why he chose to include the concept of īśvara into the Yoga Sūtra, just as Saint Francis was when he prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace”.
On the path of yoga, we too are to offer ourselves to become instruments of God. Always keep in mind that no matter how impeccably an instrument may be crafted, it cannot play itself. Only when all our actions cease to serve our own selfish little agenda, but are rendered in the selfless service and the glory of Īśvara will our ego be eclipsed by Omniscience. Thus eclipsed, and having obliterated the obstruction erected by the ego, will we become conduits of divine grace, as well as the immediate beneficiaries of said grace.