Ishwara is understood as being beyond one form yet expressed through all forms. Pranidhana means surrendering, dedicating or devotion. Thus, Ishwara Pranidhana can be translated as surrendering to a higher source.
I will begin with a story which demonstrates this quality and its advantages clearly:
The story is of a mystic, a man who had spent his entire life in devotion to God and his encounter with a slave. It was a dangerous and difficult time. Famine and diseases had spread through town and people had become cruel and angry, ready to do anything to survive. One afternoon, as the mystic walked home, immersed in his thoughts of worry and fear, he saw a slave walk by singing and dancing. The mystic, completely surprised to see someone so cheerful during such terrible times asked him how he could be so happy knowing that there was very little chance of escaping death in such circumstances.
The slave replied: “my master is a very rich man, he owns all the farms outside the town and he has many resources, I know I’m in safe hands, he’ll look after me. Then smiled and danced away!
When the mystic heard this he became shameful of his fears, came to prostration and asked for God’s forgiveness. He knew that in his times of despair, he had forgotten that he was in the hands of the most powerful, resourceful and abundant master. If a slave could feel safe in the hands of his human master, he could find security and comfort knowing that he was looked after by the divine.
When we know ourselves and know that in the core of our being is the most powerful and most abundant presence, we live life secure, strong, generous and joyous. When on the other hand, we see ourselves as individuals separate from the source; despite all that we gather around ourselves to cover our solitude, fear and deep sorrow, these take hold of us sooner or later.
Surrendering to the divine doesn’t mean not having anymore powers, it means connecting to a power much bigger that ourselves - a power which is connected to all other beings. The peace and joy that comes from practicing Ishwara Pranidhana can be experienced immediately. Think about a situation, a problem, a difficulty that take you away from peace and moves you towards worry, fear and insecurity. Mentally, emotionally hand this problem back to the source. Take the weight of the responsibility to fix the problem off of your shoulders and give it to the universal soul that sustains all. Feel the immediate relief of this mental letting go and relax into the knowledge that all is taken care of. You might even find that just the act of letting go, can uplift you and offer you more clarity to tackle the issue.
The only reason I find people resisting the practice of Ishwara Pranidhana is that they feel that by surrendering they are giving up their power and their ability to control. This is because we have learnt that our will, our input can change the course of events. And indeed it can, but only when our actions are in line with the highest good of all and don’t just serve our individual self. This Niyama is about letting go of having to control everything and trusting the order of the universe as it is.
We cannot surrender to the universal will if we don't feel in the core of our being, that there is order in the world. The ability to surrender to God's will goes hand in hand with the knowledge that the universal will is creating a perfect world as it is. A perfect world? I hear you say, how can we call this a perfect world, with all the wars, injustices and sufferings? Maybe the wars, injustice and sufferings are there to wake us up to what drives man to such cruelties and to learn from that. What do war, injustice and suffering represent? They all represent CONTROL and FEAR. The control that we want to exercise on everything and everyone regardless of the cost for our individual advantage.
This is the control that Ishwara pranidhana encourages us to let go of. It is letting go of the desires of the individual for the good of a higher purpose. It is letting go of the fear for the survival of “ME” and dying into the oneness with the DIVINE. It is inviting the drop of water to let go of the fear of loosing its power and recognise and trust the power of the ocean, of which it is a part.
Does a drop of water fear losing its power to the ocean?
Dorna Djenab February 2009