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Maitri musings: Isvara pranidhana (merging into love)

  • by Claire Ferry - Apr 26, 2019

And so I've finally reached the final niyama after this set of writing on the yamas and niyamas, tenets of yogic philosophy and practice. Ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (use of energy), aparigraha (non-grasping), saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (sustained practice) and svadhaya (self-study) all came first and led us to this point.

Isvara pranidhana is commonly translated as 'surrender to God', but as with much from Sanskrit there are multiple available translations and layers of meaning.

Isvara can be God, but also anything that has personal spiritual significance, so for the non-theists it could be any of the following: the Universal Divine; collective consciousness; the ineffable quality which we humans sense is around us, beyond us, of us and through us; the one-ness; the state of what is. And we are taught that God is Love, so that too.

Pranidhana is not just surrender, but application, attention and resignation in the sense of endurance or passivity rather than reliquishment of responsibility. Surrender is a complicated word with historical overtones (especially perhaps on this little part of a small island), implying capitulation or defeat. I personally move more towards the translation as acceptance, a state of just being, of abiding.

So I set isvara pranidhana as abiding in the infinite present, relaxing and merging into love.

The term yoga itself is from yog, to yoke or connect, to bring into union, the small egoistic self dissolving in the universal self, so isvara pranidhana brings us right back to the first sutra: atha yoganusasanam. Atha = now. This moment. Be here.

What does this mean for us on and off the mat? For me, it is a reminder to be here now, abiding in what is. Where we can offer all actions selflessly, letting each action be worthy of attention and presence.

“Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred.”
“Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

It feels appropriate to that my musings over this niyama occurred at Easter, a time of reflection and rebirth, of recognition of the universal divine in us all, and a time of forgiveness.

Sadly, I found myself at the funeral of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee over the Easter holidays. I wanted to be present in the face of this suffering, but to let that presence also bring hope. I was also inspired by the empowering actions of Greta Thunberg and young people over tackling climate change.

While we may abide here in the what is, we do not forget all the other yamas and niyamas. We do not need to accept injustice or inequality. From a place of acknowledgement in what is, we can then find clarity for compassionate action. This applies equally to ourselves.

In coming together for Lyra, social equality and for the world's environmental challenges, we recognise the connection between us all. Then we endeavour to act with generosity, love and selflessness for universal benefit.

"Through surrender the aspirant's ego is effaced, and...grace...pours down upon him like torrential rain" (BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras)

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 12-13)

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