You must have seen people swaying to the rhythm of Bhajans or devotional music in the temples and religious places. Their eyes are closed, palms folded together to form a namaskar, they seem fully into the devotional feelings generated by that music.
What is the significance of such an event or such a feeling? It is the respect and thankfulness toward the lord. We can easily figure out from the scene that a person or a group of persons is involved in some devotional activity.
This act of surrendering to God or the Supreme Power can be termed as Ishvara Pranidhana. Sage Patanjali, the father of classical yoga, mentioned Ishvara Pranidhana as one of the five Niyamas presented in yoga sutras. Niyama is the personal discipline that a yogi should follow if he wants to reach higher levels of spiritual practice.
What is Ishvara Pranidhana?
The literal meaning of the word Ishvara is Lord. However, Upanishads explain the word Ishavara as the collective consciousness. Either of the meanings is true in the sense of the Yogasutras.
The meaning of the word Pranidhana is to dedicate, devote, or surrender. It also means entrance or access. Another meaning of the word Pranidhana is abstract contemplation or meditation.
Hence, Ishvara Pranidhana together means surrendering to the higher power or the Supreme Reality. It is not merely surrendering but letting go of your ego and other aspects of your personality for immersing yourself in the creative source of the universe.
However, it should be kept in mind that surrendering does not mean giving up. It means trusting the Supreme Lord and his ways of operating this universe. Ishvara Pranidhana refers to believing in the Supreme Power to guide you through your life.
The term Ishvara Pranidhana has two important connotations. One is that it lies in the total surrender of your ego. And the other is reconnecting yourself with the Supreme Power.
As the ancient scriptures say that we are fundamentally the essence of the same Supreme Consciousness and through Ishvara Pranidhana, we try to revive this relationship. These two aspects better explain what Patanjali meant when he mentioned Ishvara Pranidhana as the fifth Niyama.
- Surrendering to the Lord
- Reviving the Connection with the God
Surrendering to the Lord
Why is it called the most powerful way in the Yogic journey? The answer to this question lies in the deep meaning of Ishvara Pranidhana. When we say that the Yogi is suggested to drop off all his personal identifications, we also say that he is asked to experience the authenticity of the higher powers. And when this is achieved through multiple means of Bhakti Yoga, the Yogi is said to be surrendered to the Lord.
Letting go of the ego is the most difficult aspect to achieve. That is probably the reason why we see many people calling themselves non-believers of God. It is more about believing in themselves so hard that surrendering the ego is almost impossible.
But when a person, going beyond his own identities, accepts the superiority of the higher consciousness, he becomes humble and selfless- the qualities required to attain Moksha.
Reviving the Connection with the God
God is called the collective consciousness by the Upanishads. It essentially possesses all the characteristics that we humans possess. That is why Lord Rama is called a human avatar (manifestation) of the Supreme force. It is called the God for that they have transcended all humanness, desires and experienced the subtlety of the universe.
The practise of Ishvara Pranidhana helps us establish the connection between us and God, which is in-essence the most natural relationship. Involving in such surrendering practices will bring the Yogi closer to the Supreme Consciousness and have him experience devotion and selflessness.
Importance of Practicing Ishvara Pranidhana
As the definition of the term goes, Ishvara Pranidhana involves the person to get rid of his own ego, false ideas of himself as the only significant entity. It asks the Yogi to forget his own self, let go of his identity and surrender with whole heart to the energy that is higher than himself.
The practice of Ishvara Pranidhana enhances the selflessness, the humbleness, and develops the gratitude toward the Supreme Reality for giving us this beautiful life. It asks the Yogi to drop his false associations and engage with the Lord. When the ego is set down, the Yogi opens new gates to peace, unconditional love, and his own divine nature.
A question might come to mind that why has Maharshi Patanjali included Ishvara Pranidhana as one of the Niyamas. The reason for this is- in order to achieve something, its regular and consistent practice is required. Just as we study regularly to appear for an exam, it is suggested to practice Ishvara Pranidhana consistently to attain liberation.
Ishvara Pranidhana in Daily Life
To bring the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana into our daily lives, we have to consider two important factors. It is considered to be the most common way to attain Moksha. And thus, we have a lot of ways available to practice Ishvara Pranidhana. You can participate in Sat-sanga (good association), good thoughts, various rituals, Kirtan, Bhajan, etc.
Another factor to consider here is, however simple it may seem, surrendering yourself to God is a process that demands careful attention and practice. The Bhakti Yoga ways create an outline for this. If we want to practice Ishvara Pranidhana, we should engage more and more in the activities that ask for selfless service.
Here are a few ways that you can adopt to practice Ishvara Pranidhana in your daily life-
1. Good Association
Good association refers to engaging in activities where you hear good things like Kirtan, Satsangas, etc. In these activities, praise to the Lord is sung together, which results in positivity and a blissful experience.
Similarly, a Yogi can sit in his own house, meditate upon an image, altar, or just on an imaginary idea of the Lord. Listening to various lectures on the topic of Ishvara Pranidhana can also benefit to believe more in that higher power, ultimately surrendering to it.
2. Engage in Selfless Activities
Offering service to others or society makes us forget our ego. It is also a kind of surrendering because it asks us to look beyond ourselves and be available for the ones who are in need. You can engage in selfless activities like donating, community clean-up, environment awareness, tree planting, animal care.
This allows us to go beyond the self-occupied identity and fill our minds with goodness. We start believing in the world larger than us.
When we close our eyes as we meditate, we basically surrender to that posture. We pray to stay still, unmoved. Regular Yogabhyasa or performing physical postures along with breathing exercises help expand ourselves.
When we focus on our breathing, we witness the existence of the prana (vital force) running within us. And as we feel its existence, we elevate to the next stage of witnessing the existence of energy that is beyond our mind and body. Ishvara Pranidhana is the same feeling of experiencing the larger self within the self and re-establish this connection for the expansion of the self.
4. Be Grateful
The belief that I exist because we all exist is the essence behind this exercise. Our lives are attributed to many people, many events, and fundamentally, the creator of this universe, the Supreme Lord. When we perform activities that include gratitude toward the Ultimate Energy, we take a step closer to joining that energy.
Thus, practice gratitude in your routine. Follow your Karmas with all your heart. And join your hands together in respect of the Lord who has offered this beautiful life to you.
Ishvara Pranidhana helps the yogi to achieve his spiritual goal with love, devotion, and bliss. We commonly see that before beginning anything good, people likely worship their revered Lord. Ishvara Pranidhana is the extensive version of the same with respect to Yoga.
Ishvara Pranidhana helps us connect with the Divine identity. It elevates our humanhood and we become able to respect our true nature. Maharshi Patanjali states that Ishvara Pranidhana is not just surrendering to God, but it is also surrendering of our self-limiting ideas, surrendering of our attachments with the material world.
Once we get rid of all the feelings that are superficial, we are able to see with more clarity, the universe as it is. Because it is the most sacred practice, it is most relevant to our daily Yogic journey!