The Yoga Tutor

Ishvara Pranidhana - Devotion to Divine

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 460 ]

Isvara designates a level of Cosmic Consciousness that is very close to the Western idea of God. Pranidhana means "uninterrupted devotion" or "Self-offering."

Isvara Pranidhana, therefore, is the state of permanent communion with the Cosmic, Supreme Consciousness, and of total surrender to the Cosmic Will. However, it is very important to understand here that by surrender we are not simply assuming a posture of resignation. This surrender is a wilful giving over or abnegation of the individual will to the will of the Highest Power. It means placing your consciousness, mind and body completely, absolutely and thoroughly into the Higher Self and Supreme Cosmic Will.

At essence, it should be easy for the student of yoga to see what is at work here. We know from our discussion about the ego in an earlier lesson, and also from our general understanding of the yogic view of reality, that it is the ahamkara, the I-Consciousness -- that sense of separation and individualism, the Ego-Self -- that ultimately prevents us from seeing the fundamental truth of our existence and from recognizing our Divine nature.
The 'obscuring power' is what is referred to as chitta-vrittis, or 'modified states' of the lower mind. Recall Patanjali's definition of yoga in the Yoga Sutras:

~ Samadhi Pada, Verse 2
Translation - yoga is the inhibition (cessation) of the modifications of the mind.

In other words, it is the interruption, or rather, the complete eradication of this lower mental activity—that which holds the consciousness within an illusionary state in which it perceives itself as a separate, living, breathing entity—which results in the state known as yoga.

Sage Patanjali later reveals that it is through Isvara-pranidhana that one can achieve this cessation of 'lower mind-stuff', and thus achieve union or realization of the essential Self within the highest state known as samadhi.

~ Sadhana Pada, Verse 45
Translation - As a result of the complete abnegation, samadhi is achieved.

This same sentiment is echoed in the Yoga Bhashya (Ch.1, V.23):

"On account of devotion (Bhakti), the Lord inclines (toward the Yogin) and favours him alone. By reason of his dis-position only, the Yogin draws near to the attainment of ecstasy (Samadhi), and the fruits of ecstasy -- liberation."

This is quite a revelation, in that it suggests that Isvara-pranidhana itself is essentially an alternate or independent path to attaining the supreme goal of yoga, that same thing which is sought after through the practice of the entire eight-fold path of ashtanga yoga. I.K. Taimni, in his book, The Science of Yoga, expresses the profoundness of this astounding disclosure:

"That by refining and intensifying progressively and systematically an attitude of self-surrender to God, we can by stages attain the Supreme Enlightenment, is something which should make us pause and marvel at the wonderful mysteries hidden beneath the common things in life."

The fact that Isvara-pranidhana can ultimately lead to the high state of samadhi shows that there is definitely a deep process of transformation which occurs with its progressive practice. It is through Isvara-pranidhana that the driving force which keeps the mind in a state of constant agitation, under the influence of chitta-vritti (and hence unaware of its own essential and true state of Oneness and Divinity), can be destroyed. In other words, the firm and resolute practice of Isvara-pranidhana leads to the dissolution of the 'I'...


NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

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