Are you one of those who sincerely turn to the path of knowledge of spiritual truths, the search for the meaning of life, the comprehension of the essence of being? Do you seek to understand the nature of your Soul and your true purpose? Then you are one of those spiritual wonderers who is able to see the world beyond the material limitations of the physical world and strive to live your life for a higher purpose. In this article, I want to introduce you to Ishvara Pranidhana which means attunement to the supreme consciousness. The practice of this Divine principle will help you to plant in your heart the highest degree of piety through which the mind comes to Samadhi.
Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a collection of 196 Sanskrit sutras on the theory and practice of yoga. It describes the goals of yoga and the principles of techniques needed to achieve them.
The two first stages that the Sutras describe are the principles of Yama and Niyama.
Yama is a set of ethical norms that teach us to communicate with others in the right way.
There are five Yamas:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.
Niyama is the step of forming self-discipline and uplifting spirituality.
Five Niyamas are:
- Saucha (शौच): purity, clearness of mind, speech, and body.
- Santosha (सन्तोष): contentment, acceptance of others, and of one’s circumstances as they are, optimism for self.
- Tapas (तपस): austerity, self-discipline, persistent meditation, perseverance.
- Svadhyaya (स्वाध्याय): the study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches, and actions.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality), attunement to the supreme consciousness.
All these principles are interdependent. If you break one of the Yamas or Niyamas, you are bound to break the others. And if you improve in the practice of one principle, then the practice of other yamas and niyamas will also be improved.
For example, if you violate Satya by allowing yourself to lie, you will not be able to practice Ahimsa. Or, if you do not observe the principle of Saucha and pollute your body and mind, it will be difficult for you to practice Brahmacharya.
What Is Ishvara Pranidhana?
Ishvara Pranidhana is the fifth niyama described Patanjali which means the contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality), or attunement to the supreme consciousness.
Ishvara is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “supreme, God, the Absolute Brahman, True Self, or Unchanging Reality”. Pranidhana means “dedication, devotion, or surrender”.
In the Upanishads, the word Isvara means “a state of collective consciousness”. In this sense, there isn’t a Godlike figure we are supposed to worship or devote our actions to, rather ‘God’ represents a state of collective consciousness, and therefore represents all of us too.
Thus, the fifth niyama teaches us to surrender to God or Higher self, meaning, cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe and making each action an offering to something bigger than us.
A person who practices Ishvara Pranidhana, dedicates the merits of his actions to the Supreme, and coordinates every step he takes (all actions, thoughts, words) with the expediency for the benefit of spiritual development. He is not looking for personal gain, his actions are pure and sincere.
Thus, when we are talking about the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana, we mean our complete surrender to God (our own higher self). If we can dedicate our lives to serving the God that dwells within everything and everyone, we will move beyond all feelings of separateness and free ourselves from the dualistic mindset. If we can say without reservation, “I give You myself: my body, my mind, and my heart, to serve the Highest Good of all,” then we will be freed from the stress, anxiety, self-doubt, as well as from negative karma.
The Idea Of Surrendering
In our modern society, the feelings of separateness and disconnection prevail. Ego and pride are people’s main motivators, and being strong and domineering over others are the main qualities of successful people. Most of us silently accepted that this is how life goes and there is nothing we can do about it. Our egos made us believe that we, human beings, are somehow in control of the universe. Therefore, the very idea of surrendering seems like something negative, as it implies a sort of weakness or defeat.
Our minds were programmed since ancient times that surrender means losing. This belief comes from military terminology where surrender means the opposition to the victory. And it makes sense since the very nature of any war or competition is built on duality. For us, human beings, it’s normal to see surrender as something bad because our minds are stuck in the duality and it’s hard to see something beyond these limited paradigms.
In spirituality, however, we don’t limit our beliefs with “right or wrong” labels. Instead, we are learning to see the hidden meanings of everything by overcoming the dualistic mindset. Thus, victory is attained as we willingly surrender our limited idea of who we are (i.e. our name, our jobs, our problems, etc.) and create the space needed to feel our true Self, our Divine Spark which is limitless.
Surrender requires self-discipline, trust, and faith. Ultimately it will take far more effort to cling to the smallness of the ego than it will surrender the Higher self.
Applying the Practice of Isvara Pranidhana to Life
#1: Examine your path
Start with introspection. Ask yourself what you are guided by in your life when you choose the path that you follow throughout your earthly incarnation. After all, intentions are the main criterion that reflects the sincerity of your actions, words, and thoughts.
Examine your path, the purpose you live for. Are your intentions dictated by ego, prestige, greed, or pride?
Think about your strongest motivation in life. Are you motivated by selfish motives? Or, is every action you do aim at improving this world, creating good, bringing light and love, joy and warmth to this world? Answer these questions honestly. What do you live for? A sincere answer to this question will clarify for you the meaning of your existence and direct you to the true path of life.
#2: Practice letting go and non-attachment
If we’ve put a lot of effort into something, we often get attached to a result of our actions. Questions like: “Will they like me?”, “What if I’m not good enough?”, “Will my project be successful?” are perfect examples of attachments to a result. All this worrying about things we have no control over is the main cause of our suffering.
Instead of worrying and focusing on the result, concentrate on the process and the idea of service – meaning, dedication of the process of doing to God. In this case, you’ll be fully engaged in the action without thinking about what might or might not happen.
The practice of surrendering requires us to acknowledge that we can do our very best in each situation, but we can’t really do any more than that. Realizing this simple truth essentially allows us to fully engage and be present in what we’re doing, bringing all our energy to the present moment and experiencing it fully just for what it is.
Such attitude to the process helps us to develop trust and faith that are essential for our spiritual development.
You can do the same action with or without God. However, when you’re doing it without God (guided by ego) you’re facing all kinds of challenges, obstacles, worries, and suffering. But when you’re acting with God (focusing on offering your action to the Divine), you know that any outcome is beneficial because this is what God wants. This approach gives you satisfaction with any result – because you have your trust and faith that whatever happens as a result of your actions is for the highest good for all.
#3: Stay open
In our daily life, Isvara Pranishana can be also seen as an opening up to what is. That is, instead of fighting against life’s twists and turns, you are remaining open to experiencing life as it unfolds.
When we are remaining fixed and rigid in our conditioned patterns, habits, and limitations, we are doomed to a limited life. Whereas surrendering has an expansive nature that boosts your development. Surrendering is hugely challenging because it means transcending the ego, and the ego will do everything it can to stay in control over your mind.
Worries, conditioning, judgments, and perceptions are the “hooks” that the ego pulls us by. Without those “hooks” the ego would not exist. Therefore, it tries desperately to cling on when we work on quietening it.
Surrendering requires trust in the Universe and the courage to express ourselves for who we are, as we are. Each time we choose to surrender, we move closer to freedom.
When we see ourselves as a part of one whole, we are no longer in the illusion of separation (duality). This leads to the emergence of healthy altruism towards all living beings and a sincere desire to share the divine light of our hearts, which becomes possible due to the disclosure of this light in our souls. When we observe the principle of Ishvara Pranidhana we become free from egoistic motivations in our behavior and in our activities.