1.23 Or, by wholeheartedly relinquishing the illusion of control (ishvara pranidhana).
After listing the twofold method of practice (abhyasa) and indifference (vairagya) and after showing the skills required to go on that path, including trust, vitality, remembrance, evenness of mind and wisdom 1.20; and the varying levels of intensity of application 1.21 and 1.22, verse 1.23 presents an alternative approach. In the original Sanskrit, ishvara pranidhana, is often translated as “surrender to God.” Some meanings of ishvara include: queen, prince, god, king, lord, ruler, god of love, Supreme Being, supreme soul, master. It is important to know that in the Yoga Sutra, Patañjali does not specify or suggest any particular religious tradition. From the perspective of seeing yoga as being with what is, one way of interpreting this verse, without interference from our preconceived notions or history with words like God, is to translate ishvara as Supreme Being. Supreme Being is understood as being in its highest form, pure being, and also as the totality of Being. This “Beingness” is the quality shared in equal measure by all that is, a quality that is unbounded, pervasive, unchanging and omnipresent. Being is, at the same time, particular and universal, local and transcendent. In other words, Being is happening everywhere, both as each individual instance of anything that is manifest, as well as the totality of all of existence. Regardless of how hard you may try, being cannot be grasped, manufactured or described fully with words. In fact, all the arts, literature and sciences have been trying for millennia to describe some aspect of life, or being, in different ways; yet not even the complete aggregation of the works from these fields can encompass the complete picture of life.
Pranidhana, the second word in this sutra, includes in its meanings: attention, vehement desire, profound religious meditation, great effort, prayer, endeavor, abstract contemplation of, assiduousness, vow, access, entrance. The final particle in the sutra, dva, means “or,” indicating that ishvara pranidhana is an alternative to the previous approach to finding deep inner peace and stillness (1.20). This verse invites you to recognize that you did not create yourself, or the Universe and, despite whatever you may believe, you are not in control of the world. Indeed, paying close attention to your mind, emotions and body will soon remind you that you hardly have control over your own mind, emotions and body.
One of the challenges most practitioners face is the pressing urgency of their internal activities and agendas. Living in your own drama creates a myopic perspective that tends to blow every thought and idea out of proportion. This sutra provides the perspective of distance from our own stories. One simple practice you can explore is to contemplate yourself and your immediate environment. Gradually you invite your attention to zoom out of your immediate internal environment by thinking about expanding concentric circles rippling out from wherever you are. You think about your house, then your block, your neighborhood, your city, county, state, country, continent, planet, solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Local Group of galaxies, the Virgo Supercluster, the Laniakea Supercluster and beyond, all the way to the fringes of the known Universe. As you embody the paradox of containing the infinite expanse of the Universe in your individual mind, it may be easier for you to recognize how little control you have and how small our species and planet are. Entertaining this longer and wider perspective facilitates a gentle humility that can put your individual worries and anxieties into their proper perspective. More importantly, it can keep in check the self-importance that fills your inner space and very often pulls your awareness away from this moment. Moreover, seeing yourself from this larger perspective can be instrumental in letting go of the tension generated when you try to carry the world on your shoulders.
Gaining a more accurate understanding of you and your sphere of influence can be an effective way of redirecting your energy to act effectively in the world according to your capacity, level of skill, ability and scope. Of course, for people who find solace in their own meaningful understanding of God, it may be easier to surrender themselves and their lives with complete devotion to God. Somebody else, who may see god as true love can choose to open her heart and mind to love everything, without conditions. When you offer your love, noticing your conditions and objections provides you with insight into yourself and your world view. You can choose to consider this information as an appropriate doorway, offering you a clear path to unravelling some of those objections and conditions.
There are as many ways of understanding this verse as there are people in the world. One more idea that might assist you is seeing this sutra as attuning to pure awareness. You may start by dropping your most external characteristics, weight, height, eye color. Then release your beliefs, preferences and dislikes. Then let go of your name and who you think you are. What happens if you attune to pure being and drop your conditions on this moment? If you anchor your awareness on the all-encompassing pervasiveness of being, what happens? If you expand your perspective to acknowledge the magnificent miracle of life, can this assist you in cherishing yourself and your life and to release self-importance? Whatever your choice, this avenue of exploration extends an invitation to living in harmony with life, both within and without. In your own understanding, is there anything that you can rest your trust on completely? Is there anything that offers you a sense of unconditional support, encouragement and hope?
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with all the words coming together:
1.23 īśvarapraṇidhānādvā ईश्वरप्रणिधानाद्वा ॥२३॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually: