Ishvara Pranidhana is the fifth Niyama or the ethical code of yogic observances. This is one of the Niyama which is often misunderstood.
It is not such a term that is to be discussed as on the mat or off the mat category. First of all, it has no relevance to simple postural yoga. It has a profound meaning. According to Yoga Sutra, it is not only an aspect of observance, but also a constituent of Kriya Yoga.
It is more than mere surrender or worship. Sometimes, it is also spelled as Ishvarapranidhana.
Let us have an insight into this.
Ishvara Pranidhana meaning
The Sanskrit word Ishvara means “the supreme ruler of the universe or simply God.” The term Pranidhana has more than one meaning. Here, it means “renouncing the fruits of action.” Therefore Ishvarapranidhana means renouncing the fruits of action to God.
The term Ishvarapranidhana explains the entire concept of Karma Yoga. If you could understand the real meaning of the term correctly, you have the right understanding of the doctrine of Karma Yoga.
One could not attain perfection by abstention from work alone or renouncing the world. Accordingly, one should always engage himself in work. Here he has to face the trouble of bondage or involvement to work. To come out of this bondage, one should do the work meant for him as a sacrifice to God.
Perform your duty and leave the fruits to God. If you have no expectations, you have no grief. If you bother about the outcome, you are attached. You are being controlled. You are not free. It yields trouble and it will put you in the vicious cycle of bondage and grief.
If you are in bondage or involved in something, your focus is lost. Your mind is prone to a cycle of modifications. That being the case, Samadhi could not be possible. To attain Samadhi, your mind should be free from modifications. It is possible only when you are unattached.
At the same time, you could not abstain from the work for sake of being in non-attachment. There lies only an option left to you. Perform your duty without any expectation, not bothering the outcome. Leave the fruits of work to God. This is Ishvara Pranidhana.
God’s Role in Surrender
You are sacrificing the fruits of work to God, not for the sake of God, but for the sake of surrender. God does nothing in return. God has no role to play in this. By surrender, you become unattached. It helps your progress. This is the real meaning of Isvara Pranidhana or the complete surrender to God. It is not God who helps you in your progress. The act of complete surrender only helps.
Perform actions for the actions’ sake and not for the fruits thereof.
Ishvara Pranidhana in Yoga Sutra
The Sadhana Pada, the second chapter of Yoga Sutra, starts with the following verse.
Tapa Svadhyaya Ishvara Pranidhanani Kriya Yogah
The Samadhi Pada, the first chapter elucidates the definition and nature of Yoga and Samadhi. The second chapter deals with the practical means for the attainment of Samadhi. The second chapter starts with the definition of Kriya Yoga. Kriya Yoga is the means to attain the Samadhi. Complete surrender to God together with austerity and study of scriptures is known as Kriya Yoga.
Verse 2.45 declares, Samadhisiddhirishvarapranidhanat. It means, “by the complete surrender to God, one gets mastery over Samadhi.” We have already seen that Samadhi can be attained by sacrificing the fruits of action to God.
Ishvara Pranidhana in Yoga Upanishads
Shandilya Upanishad defines Ishvara Pujita as “the worshipping of Lord Vishnu, Lord Rudra and other deities with the expression of happiness and to the extent possible to one’s ability.”
According to Darshana Upanishad, having a mind free from passion, a speech devoid of falsehood by foul and other means, and action devoid of violence is Isvara Pujita or God Worship.
Though worship leads to surrender, a deviation in meaning of this particular yogic code of observance takes place here. It seems that the real meaning of Ishvara Pranidhana is missed by these Upanishads.
The means to attain Samadhi is dispassion. The complete surrender to God or sacrificing the fruits of action to God is the only way to practice dispassion. As a result it leads to Samadhi.