Addition of Niyama to Experiment
A week or so into the yama Experiment, we were invited to begin another Experiment with one of the niyamas, the individual observances, outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Ishvara Pranidhana is one of these niyamas and is often translated as surrender (or devotion) to Ishvara or God. At a very early age, I opted out of organized religion due to its exclusionary nature and history of abuses. It also seemed that God could easily be a human construct that gives us the certainty, permanence and ‘truth’ that we crave. Again, being rather practical, this background made it easy for me to step onto the nonreligious (albeit spiritual) path of yoga. However, according to Patanjali’s Sutras, Ishvara Pranidhana brings perfection in samadhi or freedom (II.45). With my rejection that the Gods of Western religions were the exclusive be all and end all of ‘God’, where was I left in terms of the yogic path? To probe deeper into this question, it made sense to add Ishvara Pranidhana to my Experiment. And, I decided it made most sense to start with an inquiry into how the applicable Sutras defined Ishvara, God, and find out where that would lead in terms of insights and practices.
In the Sutras, Patanjali provides a different description of Ishvara, God, from the anthropomorphized images of my Catholic upbringing. In Chapter I of the Sutras, as elucidated by Baba Hari Dass, Ishvara is depicted as a special purusha (I.24), not touched by afflictions, and in that there is the seed of limitless omniscience (I.25), which is not limited by time and is the teacher of all teachers (I.26), with Om being the word denoting Ishvara (I.27). Then we are told that constant repetition of Om and meditation on its meaning [are surrender to God] (I.28), and from this practice, Ishvara Pranidhana, consciousness turns inward, realization [of the Self] occurs, and obstacles are overcome. Zeal in practice and self study are the other acts of Yoga that reduce afflictions and, with Ishvara Pranidhana, lead to samadhi (II.1 and 2).
Reflection and Insights
Certainly I have felt the beautiful stillness and sense of oneness arising from chanting Om and meditating. Given this experience, it is inviting to adopt Patanjali’s form of Ishvara as ‘God’. But could this stillness merely be a consequence of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems coming into a balanced state – or some other very predictable physical cause and effect- without more i.e., Ishvara? After all, brain scans are now capable of tracking the physical changes occurring in the brains of meditators. Yet, these intellectual debates produce no answers, just more questions since we are inherently limited by the human form from which we are analyzing the questions. Instead, using Patanjali’s definition of Ishvara Pranidhana, namely, surrender to God through meditation and chanting Om, I experience something which brings my mind to stillness and in that stillness, my being opens to something greater than this individual wave of humanness. And, with ease, I am able to set aside the brain games and surrender to this oneness. Certainly, there will be times when I wrestle with ideas around God and surrender, but the experiment produced a surprisingly gentle shift in my perspective. As to reincarnation, while I am not convinced reincarnation is anything other than a creation to justify caste systems, merely pondering the possibility of reincarnation takes me to a broader view than this one form and one moment of existence, and for that I am both grateful and intrigued.