A few observations on īśvara-praṇidhānād vā ||

I made a quick trip to Rishikesh to get some of the books that I had in the library there. I offered to give a talk and was asked by Adhikariji to talk on Yoga-sūtra 1.23, īśvara-praṇidhānād vā, which is a rather significant sūtra for theists and devotees, since this is a rare direct mention of God. The phrase īśvara-praṇidhāna appears no less than four times in the YS, making it well worthy of attention, but we would be mistaken to read to much into it. After all, devotion to God is not the primary purpose of the YS, worship of God serves the end of liberation. But from a devotee's point of view, it is an opportunity to discuss the subject of God. But since it is not the subject most interesting to the yogis, it presents an interesting challenge, one that I have faced since the beginning of my relationship with SRSG.

I worked on the revised first volume of the YS written by Swami Veda Bharati (SVB), which is the main text that is followed by his disciples, so I spoke from that text, and the quotes here with a few exceptions are taken from his translation.

The five upāyas prese

In order to understand sūtra 1.23 we need to look at the context, which begins from 1.20

śraddhā-vīrya-smṛti-samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām ||20||

The kaivalya of others has as its preconditions faith, strength, intent mindfulness, meditation and the awakening of wisdom in samprajñāta. (SVB)

In one of the more famous phrases of Vyāsa's commentary, he defines śraddhā as śraddhā cetasaḥ samprasādaḥ | sā hi jananīva kalyāṇī yoginaṁ pāti | " Faith (śraddhā) means full clarity and pleasantness of the mind-field. Benevolent like a mother, she protects the yogi. Vīrya, translated by SVB as "strength" can also mean heroism and semen virile, all of which are masculine images. This then is the image of the hero venturing forth with the protection of a divine mother, to conquer the lower self and accomplish the quest for the Holy Grail of kaivalya, usually translated by SVB as "isolation" or "liberation."

Vachaspati Misra further defines faith: sa cāgamānumānācāryopadeśa-siddhānti-gata-tattva-viṣayo bhavati hi cetasaḥ samprasādo’bhirucir atīcchā śraddhā | "Full clarity and pleasantness is connected to the conclusive words of the scripture and the instructions of the spiritual master. It is a delighting in yoga practice, a great desire to achieve the goal."

Vijnana Bhikshu also adds: samprasādaḥ prītiḥ, "yogo me bhūyāt" ity abhilāṣaḥ |  "Full clarity and pleasantness means love, or the desire "May I achieve yoga."

As in bhakti, faith is not considered a part of the path, but a kind of ground of qualification, developed through the external practices of yoga. At any rate, the feminine imagery of the mother does play an important role in our understanding of what is to follow. In my view, the word "faith" should carry over into the īśvara-praṇidhānād sūtra. Faith is needed there too and should be considered integral to the word praṇidhāna.

So to achieve the goal of kaivalya the culture of these upāyas or methods, which are broken down by Vyāsa after faith as dhāraṇādhyānasamādhi and wisdom of realization, are necessary. The following two sūtras explain the development of these in terms of their intensity, which as they grow stronger lead to the final realization of kaivalya. 

"Practicing the presence of God."

Vyāsa now introduces our main sūtra:

kim etasmād evāsannatamaḥ samādhir bhavaty athāsya lābhe bhavaty anyo’pi kaścid upāyaḥ, na veti

Does samādhi become imminent by this fivefold method (upāya) alone? Is there some other way (upāya) for its attainment or not?

The word  in the sūtra:is usually taken to mean "or", which is what the Vyāsa is also indicating here. But Swamiji reminds us that the word can also mean "and." This is actually correct, and I also used the example of Mother Yashoda tying Krishna up but her rope was two inches too short. The two inches symbolize effort on the one hand and grace on the other. So the effort of the five methods along with this passive or feminine method of expecting God's grace should be combined in one practice..

īśvara-praṇidhānād vā ||

Or, samādhi [can be attained quickly] through practising the presence of God.

praṇidhānād bhakti-viśeṣād āvarjita īśvaras tam anugṛhṇāty abhidhyāna-mātreṇa | 

The practice of the presence of God (praṇidhāna) is a specific form of devotion (bhakti-viśeṣa). Through this practice God is won over and turns towards the yogi, and when the yogi merely directs his thought (abhi-dhyāna) towards Him, God favours him with grace.

tad-abhidhyāna-mātrād api yogina āsannatamaḥ samādhi-lābhaḥ samādhi-phalaṁ ca bhavatīti ||23||

Also, merely by the yogi’s turning his thought towards God, his attainment of samādhi as well as the fruits of samādhi come closer, become imminent (āsannatara).

Vyāsa here defines praṇidhāna it to mean a special kind of devotion (bhakti-viśeṣa). In other places in YS, such as II.1, he says that it means "surrendering all practices (kriyās) of yoga unto the Supreme Guru and renouncing the fruits thereof." Variants of this are used in the other iterations (II.32, II.45).

Whether there is any great significance in these differences of definition is debatable, but there does seem to be something here. At any rate, the mention of "a particular kind of bhakti" opens the doors to all kinds of possibilities that are not there in the mere offering of the fruits of one's activities, which in our categorization from the Bhakti-sandarbha (217-224) is considered āropa-siddhā bhakti, which is a kind of devotion mixed with karma and not considered to be direct devotion as intimated by the first definition. I don't know exactly where SVB got the definition for praṇidhāna as "practicing the presence of God," nor what he really intends by it, especially since bhakti is the word specifically used by Vyāsa to define it, though I do know that he was not keen on emotional displays in the name of bhakti.

The "practicing the presence of God" is really associated with the French Brother Lawrence, but SVB makes no reference to the specific culture of the Catholic saint, so I do not think he means the same thing. Nevertheless, such a practice, which is the culture of seeing God in everyone and everything, is indeed close to the Gita's vision as described in 6.35 etc

The word āvarjita (translated as "won over") carries the sense of being turned towards or descending, being brought down, to become attentive to. Nevertheless, "won over" is good because it shows that God needs to be "won over" before he bestows grace on the aspiring devotee. This seems to indicate the necessity of a stronger definition for praṇidhāna than merely feeling God's presence.

The double use of the phrase abhidhyāna-mātra by Vyāsa seems to me to refer in the first part to God's turning hsi attention to the yogi, and the yogi's attentiveness to God in the second instance.

So the resulting meaning is that the devotee attracts God's attention through devotion and this results in God's giving grace to the yogi, whereby he achieves his goal of yoga. From the Vaishnava point of view, of course, bhakti for the sake of attaining kaivalya seems like a dreadful waste, but Krishna fulfills the desires of everyone. And in the bhakti doctrine, without God's grace, no other sadhana can give its result.

The attributes of God

One thing that is perhaps remarkable about Swamiji's commentary on this sutra is that he takes an ambivalent stand as to the nature of God. After allowing for several interpretations by commentators as to the definition of īśvara-, he comments:
These discussions [on the nature of īśvara] have no bearing on the theory of the Yoga-sūtras, which do not concern themselves with the transcendental nature of Brahman. The Yoga-sūtras’ main concern is the kaivalya of the one who is in ignorance and in suffering. Because the nature of the transcendent most likely will become known to the individual puruṣa only after kaivalya has been attained, one should not concern oneself too much with this type of controversy concerning the nature of God.
Now this of course is something that as a Vaishnava and bhakta, I would vehemently oppose. Perhaps the Yoga-sūtras do not have much to say on the subject, but the Gita certainly tells us that the goal we seek is the one we attain. And of course that is paramount in the entire exercise of ekanta-bhava, or ekagrata. How can one focus the mind in meditation on something that is undefined? God reveals himself to his devotee in the way the devotee worships him. If you have no idea, you ill have a formless, impersonal something.

At any rate, the first definition of

kleśa-karma-vipākāśayair aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ |||

God is a special puruṣha not smeared or affected by afflictions, actions, their fruitions and the domains of their accumulated propensities. (1.24)

Some people read this sutra to mean that God is not God at all, but just another soul, only one who is liberated. But Vyasa's introduction asks for other qualifications of God than that he is the atha pradhāna-puruṣa or Supreme Purua or Puruṣottama. So he is a "special" spiritual conscious being who is never subjected to the limitations of matter  The later sutras say is the seed of omniscience and teacher of all teachers, never delimited by time.

In this regard, I think it is important to note Gita 7.4-5 which state that the jiva is another of Krishna's prakṛtis. So the key here is that although the jiva is a purusa in relation to prakṛti, it is a prakṛti in relation to the Supreme Puruṣa. Although this is not made expllicit in the sutra, it the Gita verses certainly clarify the point.

bhūmir āpo’nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca |
ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā ||4||
apareyam itas tv anyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām |
jīva-bhūtāṁ mahā-bāho yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat ||5||

I have the following prayer by Swamiji on my wall...

gurubhyo namaḥ
paramparā-gurubhyo namaḥ
parameṣṭhi-gurave namaḥ

Homage to my gurus--
the first Guru, my Mother
the second Guru, my Father,
the third Gurus, all my teachers
from a fly to all writers
whose books I have read.

Homage to the Gurus of my lineage
through H.H. Swami Rama,

Homage to the Supreme Absolute Guru.



Śakti said…
When sleeping women wake, mountains move. ~ Ancient Chinese proverb (-:

Popular posts from this blog

"RadhaKrishn" TV serial under fire

Getting to asana siddhi

What is sthayi-bhava?