Importance of Ishvara-pranidhana


By Durgadas, Ved Kovid, A.Y.T, Ved Kovid

(c) Durgadas (Rodney) Lingham.
All Rights Reserved.

Ishvara-pranidhana is the highest of the niyamas or yogic observances, that is often ignored along with the previous limb (yamas) and also previous niyamas or observances that precede it.

The preliminary niyamas such as shaucha (purity) also have to be adhered to before even Ishvara-pranidhana, which include dehika shaucha (purity of the body) – meaning adopting a sattvic diet and lifestyle and avoiding unwanted impressions as well as manasika shaucha or purity of the mind by abstaining from unwanted discussions, negative thoughts and impressions through words, mental thoughts and media impressions.

The three higher niyamas are tapas (heat – austerities), swadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara-pranidhana. Of these, tapas relates to our own internal agni or fire of surrender (namas) and faith (shraddha). Various vratas or fasts, penances, japa and such are all forms of tapas. Only through tapas can we gain deeper ability and steadfastness to perform swadhyaya – the study of the Self – but first we must study the shastras or sacred texts in their entirety (vedas, upavegas, vedangas, shad darshanas, tantras, puranas, their bhashyassamskrta bhasha or language etc.). Only then can we perform Ishvara-pranidhana as only then we know the Devata or deity we are devoting ourselves to through vedanta, yoga, vedas and the pujas and such rituals first.

For many people, achieving even up to the tapas stage alone takes numerous lifetimes. Hindu Brahmins (Priests) spend their entire lives from birth in swadhyaya to be able to perform Ishvara-pranidhana correctly and know all of the pujas, yajnas etc. required.

The various devotional offerings, however, especially pranidhana or surrender (namas) to the deities have a powerful effect in negating the ahamkara or ego and cultivate a deeper sense of vairagya or detachment within us, helping with these also. Here, pujas and such help by purifying the causal paratomic stages behind the physical elements they compose and help us understand them at a deeper level, transforming the mind to help create stillness before we even consider asana or posture. 

The niyama in Yoga, Ishvara-pranidhana that means surrender and devotion to the divinity comes in here. Before higher limbs of Yoga – even before the primary limb of keeping the body still (asana) which precedes pranayama or breathing techniques to purify the body-mind of impurities, the primary steps must be taken. Ishvara-pranidhana is the highest niyama or observance in Yoga and constitutes devotion to the personal Devata or deity (Ishta-devata) through mantras, poojas or offerings and such and cultivating bhakti or devotion on a daily basis, as well as graha-pranidhana or devotions to the planetary deities relative to our charts and behind our biological, mental and other afflictions, reflecting the karma of this life (known as prarabdha karma). Traditionally, Yogis and sadhaks or spiritual aspirants perform these, along with tapas (spiritual austerities, such as observation of vratas or fast on sacred dates or specific days) and also swadhyaya or study of the sacred texts and expanding one’s knowledge of the system of Yoga on a daily basis.

The rituals such as poojas, as noted also help purify and transform the panchamahabhutas or five great elements around us (viz. space, air, fire, water and earth) and also act as a prana-shodhana kriya or technique to purify our Prana or life-force and oxygen and thereby mental channels within us, before we can try other higher steps, as noted, such as posture (asana) and breathing techniques (pranayama), before going in for pratyahara or withdrawal from toxic impressions and senses and dharana or training the mind to be focused before dhyana or meditation.

There is hence much to consider than simply walking into a classroom or studio and trying to do meditation! Dharana or concentrated efforts first had to be perfected, which also took decades of practice or again even lifetimes to make the mind ekagrata or single-pointed and focused without wavering – before their Gurus would allow them meditation, where objects had to be stilled internally in the mind and focused upon. Several trained for decades upon decades and left their bodies, were reborn and started such practices by gazing at external flames, pictures, murthis or sacred images etc. to bring their mind to stillness. It wasn’t simply as today’s emotional stillness that simply temporarily shuts down or deflects the mind from the physical wanderings of the the material world and mundane affairs of our lives – what is known as a vikshipta-samadhi or distracted absorption of the mind, not an actual spiritual one.

We seek today to see meditation as simply being a manavikakshipta-vairagya-kriya or practice of detachment from our mundane human agitations and concerns – here, even our own sufferings, anxieties etc. are generated by our own abuse of technology and the senses alone (bright lights, sounds, movies, Sci-Fi films, thrillers, fast-moving cars, scenes, media and advertising etc.), through which were generate a complex that would be considered unmada (insanity) in the classical yogic sphere – yet today we label this as “mainstream / normal” human life, thus our escape from it is simply equal not to any yogic state classically, but only to the “mainstream / normal” life of a non-yogic lay person in classical yogic times!

Here, many advanced yogis would spend decades or even entire lifetimes consisting of 1,000 human years or more to perfect these; for others it could be 10,000, 100,000 or even 1,000,000 human years, depending on their samskaras or subtle karmic impressions, generated from numerous past lives or evolution of the bound-soul removing it’s bonds and regaining its inner knowledge. Advanced yogis spent about 1,000 human years or an average of ten births (the vedas and Ayurveda enjoin that we should live 100+ years at least to reach these yogic goals in one lifetime – not simply for mundane egotistical purposes of avoiding death), prolonging their lives to perfect each yama and niyama of yoga alone, what to speak of the other six limbs of yoga that came after them!

Great saints such as Adi Shankaracharya (who composed the stotras we use in modern Hinduism and also the puja system that was updated by him), the 63 Saivite Nayanar Saints, Tulsidas, Guru Nanak, Sri Chaitanya, Ramprasad Sen, Sri Ramakrishna and numerous others spent their entire lifetimes that we remember them for, perfecting Ishvara-pranidhana alone and reached the highest stages of its parabhakti or transcendental devotion. Many of these attained the highest or “ninth limb” of yoga, samyama or complete perfection, unflinching oneness, absorption and perfection into the deity through intense concentrated efforts. It was also the basis of their many past lives in higher and lower forms, past-life austerities and such as also wisdom gained that brought this to the fore in their present lives.

This is how difficult it actually is to really perfect the deeper side in yoga, why there are so many delusions. In higher yugas when humans lived longer periods, more time was available to perfect such in one lifetime. Today however, our lifestyles and our entire culture is so narcissistic, it thinks it can fast-track this, dismiss all of these subtle tenets and achieve in a few months or years, or even one lifetime without having yogic samskaras, what took even advanced yogis born into Vedic lineages and bloodlines great periods of time, sincere dedication and effort, often falling down and overcoming many obstacles beforehand. This derives greatly from the Christian Colonial influence upon the east and west and the historical Christian teaching in the west, where the soul can be purified through simple blind devotional practices or ‘Hail Marys’ alone; it has no place in the yogic sphere, even modern Vaishnavism within Hinduism that requires numerous recitations of mantras and other devotional practices in a pure state of mind and intense devotion to even begin to attain mental, let alone karmic purity!

Such cannot be forced. We have culturally appropriated dhyana (meditation) and asana (posture) and pasteurised them by turning them into a mental or emotional pop-culture regime. The Devatas or deities we also disrespect, turning them into either egotistical decorations for our homes and studios, or seeking materialistic rewards from them along with the whole modernist regime of ‘Wealth Creation’ and ‘Law of Abundance and Attraction’, calling this also “yogic” and “spiritual”, when it is simply the culture of the asura – the opposite of the celestials (suras), the perverted reflection that thwarts true sattvas or purity that yoga epitomises by disguising itself as such, but actually being in the modes of rajas or materialism and excess action and tamas or inertia, dullness and with no true organic sense of creativity!


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