Sutra I.23 – Chapter I, Sutra 23



Or (dva), inner peace can be achieved through complete devotion and surrender (pranidhana) to God or a higher power (isvara).

PRACTICAL LIVING     Sutra I.20 talked about the importance of having trust in ourselves and in life, a feeling deep inside that gives us energy to keep on going. Some people develop that inner faith or trust naturally. Some develop it through faith in a God of their choice. Patanjali does not say what God someone should believe in. He is just saying that if one has an inclination towards an organized religion, or if someone has a belief of their own that brings them to a better place mentally, then this is the perfect object of meditation for them. If something brings us to clarity, then let’s dedicate ourselves to that.

The ‘dva’ means ‘or’. So Patanjali is clearly recognizing that there are different people in the world, with different needs and walking different paths. Throughout the first two chapters he offers different solutions for cultivating a calmer and clearer mind. For some, prayer and complete devotion to God may be one of the solutions. The ‘or’ also refers to using this devotion to a higher power together with other tools that he offers. The important thing is to always be practicing something, whatever takes us to a more peaceful place. So one may profoundly relate to this sutra, or not. Either way, it’s okay.

It’s important to point out that isvara can be a number of things. It can mean God. But it can also refer to anything that is not us, that we trust and helps us become better people. In this case, isvara can be a yoga teacher, a grandmother, the image of the moon, a group of people that make me a happier person…basically anything or anyone that I connect with on a deeper level. ‘pra’ means light. You may relate to the concept of an inner light, something beyond your body and your mind? The concept of light is similar to the concept of purusha (our true nature, soul or spirit) that Samkhya (the philosophy which Yoga is closely related to) proposes (see History).

IN THE YOGA WORLD     This sutra introduces the Yoga of surrender (bhakti-yoga). It is suggesting an alternative option for those whose personal faith (see sutra I.20) is insufficient, or for those who thrive on the path of love, service and total surrender to something other than themselves (isvara). Mastering isvarapranidhana is very difficult since it requires absolute surrender, overcoming our deepest fears, and complete detachment from the “I-am-ness” concept. This means surrendering the ownership of the things we do, as well as the fruits of their actions to God, achieve self-knowledge through the grace of God. In this state, we no longer do things for ourselves, we do them as service for a higher force, whatever that may be.

There are many ways of achieving samadhi (complete absorption). There is not one unique way. We are lucky that Patanjali had the wisdom to realize that. Just because we have a particular way of experiencing life, this does not mean that everybody else needs to experience it in the same way. By offering this sutra and the ‘or’ in this sutra, Patanjali makes this point clear.

For those of us who have faith in something bigger than ourselves, then consequently, trust from within begins to grow stronger. The stronger our inner trust is, the easier it is to live a meaningful life, one which takes us from pure sensorial pursuit to one with pleasure plus purpose. Inner trust also makes it easier for us to accept that there are certain things that we have no control over in life. If we can focus on the quality of our actions and let go of the results, we are beginning to understand this sutra.

INSPIRATIONAL PERSON     Menaka is a delightful woman. She has dedicated herself to yoga for the past many Sutra I.23-MenakaD

decades. Her faith is deeply ingrained. When one asks her complicated questions, her answers tend to be simple: have faith in God, or trust life. I am sure this answer would not have gone very well for me 10 years ago, but today, I understand her a little bit better. She is a big believer in the power of prayer, in the power of placing your attention on something that will give you qualities that you would like to achieve. Her devotion to her students, to her family, to her dharma (calling) is phenomenal. Her faith gives her the energy, the enthusiasm, the intensity required to teach continuously from 8am to 6pm, with 10 minute breaks in between. I am half her age and I am not sure I could follow this pace. Her faith gives her strength and stamina, and that I find amazing! Thank you Menaka for the power and simplicity of your words, your presence and your transmission of life teachings!

Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!

Thanks and we will look at how Patanjali defines isvara next week!

10 thoughts on “Sutra I.23 – Chapter I, Sutra 23

  1. Ishvarapranihana is one of my favorite sutras and is a strong focus of my daily practice. I never understood the power of letting go until I began to study Yoga. It has been very difficult for me to let go throughout life-to let go of my past actions and especially those things out of my control-which is truly everything! Yet, this sutra has taught me how I can reduce suffering in my life and distractions of the mind. The ability to let go is largely attributed to my trust in God. I love this about Yoga. That for my trust in God, for you can be trust in something completely different. But we still practice the same practice and live its benefits in our lives. Beautiful!

  2. I’ve mentioned a time or ten that I’m unhappy with my job and am very excited about being a yoga teacher and open a studio sometime in the future. From what I understand about isvarapranidhana it’s about letting go and just observing the quality of your actions. With this journey, I realize that I need to let go of the fact that this whole adventure is not going to happen overnight. I tend to be a person that likes to see immediate results, but I know this will take years to accomplish. I don’t know how many years, but I’m definitely aware that it is not going to be an easy process.

  3. My religion is Budhism and i was taught that there is an internal Buhda inside each of us, that is, when i am kind and do good deeds to others, the little Buhda in me shows up. We should respect the divine one, whether that is God or Buhda or whoever, so that we can align ourselves onto the right path, which has no harms to other lives or creatures, and leading us to a better place. We may encounter challenges along the path, and it may take forever, but faith and determination will help overcome the difficulties to achieve enlightenment. Enjoy the process, it should be fun, love more and smile more 🙂

  4. In the Western world, it is very difficult to detach the concept of and conversations about God from an anthropomorphic being and an idealization of a father figure. Some people may consider faith in God a naive displacement of trying to find some order/reasoning for the messiness of humanity. I am sympathetic to that view but don’t agree entirely. When I try and think about isvarapranidhana, I recognize the immense power that we gain, individually, and collectively, by believing in something other than ourselves and our own narrow field of vision. There is something to be said for looking for a “big picture”, and whether that’s through organized religion, a sense of naturalism, a love for all human endeavor, through a faith in Science – I, myself, choose to focus my “big picture” beliefs on some sense of connectedness that is beyond our understanding – indeed that we may never be able to truly understand.

  5. This sutra brings to mind the saying ‘give it to God.’ If we want to experience peace, we need to give our troubles, our worries, our suffering to a higher power and let that higher power determine how it is going to work out. And we need to have faith that however it does work out, that is how it was supposed to be. Worrying is a hard samskara to change, but it truly serves no purpose as we are not in control of the outcome.

  6. This is a tough one for me. I have fluctuated in my faith a ton throughout my life. What speaks to me most is nature. When I need a reminder of faith and guidance I go to nature which I believe is the closest to God as possible here. Having this “place” to go either physically or through meditation and prayer gives me the sense of giving this worry to God in order to let go of the worry or pain.

  7. I connect strongly to this sutra. I have always believed in God, but MY faith has varied. Yoga has brought me to a stronger place in my faith. And I am so thankful for that. I have found the “faith to have faith”. The letting go of worry, control, and responsibility of life is crazy. Realizing just having faith to be present for what is in front of me, not trying to figure everything out. Just knowing that there is a higher spirit, brings such peace. I know that because I am more at peace, I am able to give that peace to the people I love.

  8. Letting go of attachment to outcomes can be really scary. When I put effort into something it only feels right to be able to expect a certain result. But the reality is that I cannot control what happens. I can only control my actions. And when I can breath, when I can have faith that I’ve done all I can do, I find peace in letting go.

    • Letting go, detachment, surrender are ideas to practice one day at a time. Slowly we de-clench our fists and softness begins to permeate in our bodies, actions, words and thoughts. It is gradual…

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