This article is the fifth and final part of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)
The fifth of the five Niyamas is Ishvara Pranidhana. In its simplest form, the Sanskrit term is a combination of the words; Ishvara, meaning Lord, God, Supreme Being or Life Force, and Pranidhana, meaning attention to, love for, surrender to, faith in, or reunion with. “Attentiveness” and “Surrender” are both close English approximations.
Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) is considered the “final” step, stage, practice or observance (Niyama) for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Patanjali says of Ishvara Pranidhana: “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.” (Yoga sutra 2.45 – samadhi siddhih ishvarapranidhana).
For Patanjali, Ishvara Pranidhana is a powerful “observance” for dissolving the seemingly endless fluctuations (or agitations) of the mind, and is therefore a means to the realization of the ultimate unified state of yoga, “Samadhi.” By embodying the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana we can shift our perspective from our obsession with the “ego-I” that causes so much of the mind’s distraction and creates the sense of separation from our Source. Since Ishvara Pranidhana focuses on the sacred ground of being rather than the ego, it reunites us with our true Self. As B. K. S. Iyengar states in his Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and…grace…pours down upon him like a torrential rain.”
A note on the meaning of Ishvara (from Swami Rama): “In the Upanishads, the word Īśvara is used to denote a state of collective consciousness. Thus, God is not a being that sits on a high pedestal beyond the sun, moon, and stars; God is actually the state of Ultimate Reality. But due to the lack of direct experience, God has been personified and given various names and forms by religions throughout the ages. When one expands one’s individual consciousness to the Universal Consciousness, it is called Self-realization, for the individual self has realized the unity of diversity, the very underlying principle, or Universal Self, beneath all forms and names. The great sages of the Upanishads avoid the confusions related to conceptions of God and encourage students to be honest and sincere in their quests for Self-realization. Upanishadic philosophy provides various methods for unfolding higher levels of truth and helps students to be able to unravel the mysteries of the individual and the universe.”
In the West we commonly view surrender as giving up; a last resort when all else has failed and we are exhausted or in a weakened state, but on the other hand, the type of surrender indicated by Isvara Pranidhana requires tremendous strength and courage. This is why the observance of the other four Niyamas precedes it.
In order to surrender the “fruits” of our actions to God we are required to give up all illusions that we know best, and instead accept and trust that the way our life unfolds is most likely part of a much larger pattern too complex and/or beautiful for us to understand. Isvara Pranidhana instructs us to make a conscious choice to love regardless of the harshness or comfort of our current circumstances.
This surrender is definitely not a passive inactivity. Isvara Pranidhana requires that we completely and whole heartedly surrender to all that “is”, while simultaneously acting with an abundance of goodness and love.
The practice of Isvara Pranidhana is relatively simple. Just let all the activities of body, mind and spirit be consciously rooted in unconditional love, the love of an open heart radiating kindness and compassion. Actively surrender to reality of Life, the Divine and Existence Itself. As we actively surrender to what “is” while we intentionally move towards the highest expression of our spiritual Self in each moment with no attachment or thought of any “attainment”, a great sense of freedom and peace arises within us and we become a healing light to all.
Isvara Pranidhana inherently requires a profound trust in the goodness of the Universal Divine which permeates all existence, both within and beyond our finite understanding.