1.23 इश्वरप्रणिधनद् वा
īśvara – Supreme Controller (God); praṇidhānāt – devotion, supplication, bowing before; vā – or (can also denote “indeed” or “verily” placing stress on the preceding word);
Asamprajñata samādhi is also[certainly] attained by devotion (complete surrender) to Īśvara.
Asamprajñāta samādhi is also [certainly] attained by devotion (complete surrender) to Īśvara.
So earlier we saw that in the attainment of samprajñata samādhi there was the promotion of the use of gross forms, or focus upon gross forms, and then reflection upon subtle objects as being a pathway towards samprajñata samādhi. And so that fundamentally divided things into that which is knowable – the ‘grāhya’…and then there was the ‘grahana’ – the instruments of reception…or we could say instruments of perception, and then the third being the ‘grahita’ – the receiver of perception. And it was indicated that the use of that process led one towards the state of samprajñata samādhi, or was described by Vyāsa as samprajñata-yoga, was practiced this way.
Now we are being introduced to another possibility; another path; another option to the person seeking self-realization. And this verse only is made up of three words: ‘Īśvara’ which literally means the Supreme Controller – the root ‘iś’, means to have extraordinary power and sovereignty, and hence the often used translation of this word is ‘Supreme Controller’…of course a reference to a supreme deity or God. ‘Praṇidhānāt’ indicates a great devotion; a bowing before; a complete supplication; a surrender. And then we have the word ‘vā’. This word ‘vā’ generally means ‘or’, or it can be ‘else’…’or else’, but on some occasions it can denote something like ‘indeed’ or ‘verily’, placing stress upon the preceding word. Krishnamacharya preferred this way of using the word ‘vā’ to mean…to put stress on things, meaning like ‘indeed’ or ‘verily’.
So Vyāsa…he places a question before this verse in order to more fully explain it. He asks the question, or places the question, “Does concentration (samadhī) become imminent from this (the earnest desire to concentrate on principles)…does it come from this… alone, or is there any other means?” And of course, then this verse: īśvara-praṇidhānād-vā, is the response. So here in this verse, Patañjali now introduces Īśvara into ‘the mix’, as it were. This notion of being dependent upon what we would consider, divine mercy, as a way to coming to self-realization, is not a new idea; it was an idea that permeated the Vedic culture since time immemorial. And the idea of attaining…for instance a vision of the self by the grace of God…I mean you could find this even back in the Upaniṣads.
Vyāsa, in his comments in explaining this verse, he states that – “Through a special kind of devotion…” and of course he uses the Sanskrit term ‘bhakti-viśeṣa’ which means a different kind, or actually a special kind of devotion. So, “Through a special kind of devotion called ‘īśvara-praṇidhāna’ on the part of the devotee, Īśvara inclines towards him and favors him with grace for fulfillment of his wish.” So, this is the commentary provided by Vyāsa. Now what’s happening here is, we are being now offered an understanding that there are literally two approaches on the spiritual quest: one is described as the ascending path – ‘āroha-panthā,’ and the other is called the descending process or the ‘avaroha-panthā.’
So in the ancient traditions connected with the Vedic culture and yogic teaching, there was this understanding that through one’s own qualification – ‘adhikara’ – by one’s own qualification and ability, one can seek to rise to an extraordinary level of spiritual understanding, experience and realization. But some of our teachers have likened this to someone attempting to climb a mountain. If you are going to attempt to scale Everest or some other great peak in the world, there is a need to have adequate training: high altitude training, know how to use crampons in ice and rock, rope techniques…so many things…so much preparation and personal excellence is needed in order to make it so that one can then, what they call ‘assault’ the mountain; to really launch an attack, as it were…to try and overcome all of the obstacles to rise to the pinnacle. But that idea is applicable with that which is impersonal or has no will of its own. The mountain has no will of its own, as it were. I can attempt to scale it pretty much at my will. If the mountain had a will of its own and chose to move, or was capable of… and chose to move, and I had to keep chasing it around and that prevented me from trying to climb the mountain…like if I set up a base camp and then rested for the night, with the intention of…you know…beginning to move my gear up the mountain to the first base camp, but in the morning I unzipped my tent and I look out and the mountain has moved 30 or 35 kilometers away. Then I would have to sort of pack up everything and carry all my gear over again to the foot of the mountain, rest…with the intention of next day, you know…setting up a base camp further up the mountain. And in the morning unzip the tent again, look out, and I see that the mountain has moved now in another direction, another 35 or 40 kilometers. This example or metaphor was used to actually introduce people to an understanding that there were two approaches: an ascending process and what was called the descending process – ‘avaroha-panthā’.
With the descending process, there is a focus on the fact that it is only going to be by some special grace; by some special mercy, that I am going to come to a position of any sort of realization. Before we get into talking about that, there has to be an acceptance of the limitations of what we’re calling the ascending process. So far everything that Patañjali has spoken about in the use of the different tools for meditation, it very much focuses upon the use of sensory organs and by limiting their use in examining them, but also the mind…the mind was a significant focus in this endeavor. There is a Sanskrit term that is called ‘adhokṣaja’. The highest truth; the greatest spiritual truth, has been described as ‘adhokṣaja’ and this term means, ‘that which is beyond the senses’, and beyond the senses includes being beyond the mind. And so if we understand that this highest truth is beyond sensory perception and it is beyond the mind, then we can instantly understand that if we are only going to rely on those tools, that there are going to be some limitations and there are going to be hindrances in our attempts to spiritually advance.
So going back to the descending process where one understands that I must approach this inward journey…the journey of self-realization, with tremendous humility and a recognition of my own shortcomings and deficiencies. And understand that it is going to be by the agency of some greater power; something much greater than myself…that this intercession or grace is going to be required in order for me to be able to make the necessary spiritual advancement and to have the spiritual vision actually awarded…or things revealed to me. So there are so many texts as I mentioned before, that deal with this idea, and one of them is from the Katha Upaniṣad where it states:
“Smaller than the small, greater than the great, the ātman (self) is lodged in the heart of every creature. One without desires and free of sorrows sees the majesty of the self by the grace of the Supreme Being.”
This is quite an extraordinary revelation. When we consider or contemplate upon this process of complete and utter self-surrender – ‘praṇidhāna’ as is stated by Patañjali, we see that this word is also…or the root of this word is applied in the Bhagavad-gīta. In the fourth chapter, the thirty-fourth verse, there is a very famous Bhagavad-gīta text that speaks to someone who is actually desirous of coming to know the truth:
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” So here we see these two words ‘praṇipāt’ or ‘…pad’. Praṇipāt is a word that is extremely similar…it’s a variation of the ‘praṇidhānā’ that was spoken of, and it signifies or speaks to complete surrender; the great humble bowing down and approaching someone of great status. It literally means in the Sanskrit dictionary, ‘to throw oneself down before’; ‘to bow respectfully to’ or to fall prostrate. The other term that’s been highlighted here – the ‘paripraśnena’… again this ‘ena’ on both of these words indicates the instrumental case. It is through…in this case submissive inquiry. And then of course the next word after that is ‘sevayā’- by the rendering of service. And so the information that’s given here in relation to how one should practice this process of self-surrender is being clearly described, and it’s exactly the same thing that has been advised by Patañjali . He is speaking of it though in relation directly to Īśvara, and it was always understood that guru is an actual representative; he is the representative of this Īśvara.
Īśvara is said to also exist within the hearts of all living beings. This feature is called Paramātmā, the Supreme Soul who is different from the ātmā; different from the living being. And this form of the Paramātmā who sits within the heart and alongside each living being is also described as being the ‘Caitya-guru’ which means the guru within; the teacher within. Whereas the outward or external manifestation of guru, is said to be a representative of, and somebody that is directly speaking on behalf of this same Īśvara.
Different schools have different concepts of what we will call the highest truth or the ultimate truth, and because of that, we see a large number of variations in how people may endeavor to interpret and even translate the Yoga Sutra, and even other Vedic texts. So, for instance, the philosophical school of Adi Shankara…Sri Sankaracarya is…and the school that he put forward is called…they’re Vedantins, as if that is a representation of the original Vedic teaching. But in reality, Adi Shankara…he proposes an idea that we don’t actually find in the older Vedic teachings. In the Bhāgavat Pūraṇa there is a very famous verse that goes: “Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.” So here we are seeing in this verse, that the Absolute Truth is manifest in three features. These features appear to be quite radically different from each other, and yet they are all categorized as being non-dual. Those who do not have a very good understanding of what it means… ‘Advaita’, they apply the concepts that are relevant to the material world and the limitations of the material energy to the spiritual truth; the spiritual reality. And so they don’t accept that there could be three features of the same ‘Tattva’ – the same Ultimate Truth, and so as with the case of Adi Shankara, he… Adi Shankara only accepted Brahman as being the Ultimate Truth – Tattva. He considered the features of Paramātmā and Bhagavān to be somewhat influenced by the illusory energy called ‘Māyā’, but this is not supported in the ancient Vedic teachings.
It may be interpreted by some in different parts of the Vedas to be that Brahman, is the only reality and the only truth. We accept that Brahman is the only truth, but we understand that Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān all constitute a higher understanding of Brahman. So what happens as a result of being influenced or directed by certain philosophical ideas or schools of philosophy, is that people have a tendency to try and alter what is very plainly stated here by Patañjali, due to some personal philosophical bias. I have seen where people have lent all types of imaginary interpretations to what is Īśvara; what Īśvara means.
So that is a very unfortunate thing and it leads to confusion in the mind of people that are sincerely wanting to study the practices of yoga and jñāna meditation. Krishnamacharya was very forthright in stating that attachment to Īśvara, which he also termed as divine, results in a great detachment from this world and that is a great reality. And so, yogis were very much focused upon the cultivation of an inward meditation upon this Īśvara, who manifested to them either as this Paramātmā – the Lord within their own heart and was a great focus of their meditation. And we have countless numbers of texts describing how the yogis would engage in this inward meditation upon Paramātmā, and by engaging in that activity become utterly withdrawn from the material world, and wonderfully detached and situated very transcendentally.
What we learn from this verse is that Patañjali is definitely promoting at least a degree of theistic practice in the Yoga Sutra. He mentions this term īśvara- praṇidhānā three times in this very brief work. The fact that he mentions it three times…it is quite an extraordinary thing, which means that he gives great weight to this particular practice. We know that due to the influence of so many Westerners…and in the Western world there has been a quite high degree of rejection of the idea of some supreme spiritual being or deity, but that is something that has then colored a lot of people’s learning and study in yoga. And many of the people from the Western world that in the earlier days went to India to study, they ended up behaving in ways that were quite shocking to people that are from these ancient traditions. Like the idea of arguing with a guru and saying, “No I don’t accept that,” was sort of like unthinkable. And so what you saw was a number of these teachers…and in particular I’m referring to Krishnamacharya here, who then ceased from speaking about these aspects of yoga to people from the West who are coming to learn, because there was an understanding that they just were not able to embrace, understand or accept this. And so there was this hope that, with a carefully cultivated practice and some devotion to the sadhana – their yogic practice and meditation – eventually people would become purified, and qualified to understand and appreciate some of these higher principles.
So while mentioning the importance of īśvara- praṇidhāna, one of the things that we see is Patañjali does not actually speak about how this is done; what this process was, and how this surrender and devotion was actually cultivated, because that was common knowledge. This was from a very ancient tradition and was very much part of the whole yoga system, but he did not feel for whatever reason a need to explain in detail how it was done, the Yoga Sutra itself, not being an actual manual or a ‘how-to’. But he mentioned what was common knowledge, and commonly understood and appreciated as being a very important part. His only reference to the practice of īśvara-praṇidhāna will come in a couple of verses from here…or actually, on the twenty-eighth sutra, where he speaks about how…at least there is one practice that he speaks of, that forms a major part of this process of īśvara-praṇidhāna.
Krishnamacharya, while he promoted and spoke of ashtanga yoga, he also did speak to some of his more intimate disciples on a process which he said was Satanga yoga, and this is the six limbs. And these six limbs of yoga are very much tied to this process of the cultivation of this mood of devotion, great humility, and surrender. This is called ‘saranagati’ – this very profound surrender of oneself in this great journey of spiritual discovery. So we’re not going to go into some of these practices in any detail here since we’re focusing on the Yoga Sutra itself, but if you are interested and would like to know more about these processes of bhakti or devotion, then you’re most welcome to visit either my YouTube channels. I have a YouTube channel in my name, Acharya das, and another Facebook page that deals with some of these other subjects, which you might find of interest. Thank you