Karmacology: Mindful Living, Sacred Practice

Isvara Pranidhana: Relinquishment

If we concentrate more on the quality of our steps along the way than on the goal itself, then we also avoid being disappointed if we perhaps cannot attain the exact goal that we had set for ourselves. Paying more attention to the sprit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us -- this is the meaning of isvarapranidhana.
-- TKV Desikachar, Heart of Yoga

Isvara Pranidhana is the fifth and final niyama, or observance towards ourselves, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This sutra is tricky for some, as it alone among the yamas and niyamas appears to be overtly religious. Isvarar is translated to mean "Lord," "God" or "the Divine Creator," depending on your religious context. Pranidhana implies a release of burdens, giving up, or relinquishment. Isvara Pranidhana is most often written in English simply as "Surrender to God."

In my mind, surrender is often analogous to failure or defeat, and so sets the wrong tone for the process of progress. A more helpful definition may be that which is the founding principle of Islam: submission to God. In addition, the Torah and Bible are full of teachings based on salvation through submission to the will of God. It is as if Patanjali has encapsulated a core concept of many of the world's religions in this single sutra.

Yet the closest word in English that I can find to illuminate this concept is relinquishment. In it's purest form, it is simply, "Jesus take the wheel."

Through Isvara Pranidhana, we are taught to cultivate the correct intention, live and act to the best of our abilities, and then relinquish all attachment to the final outcome.

A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
-- Holy Bible, Proverbs 16:9

Only by releasing our fears and hopes for the future can we really be in union with the present moment. To surrender the fruits of our actions to God requires that we give up our egotistical illusion that we know best, and instead accept that the way life unfolds may be part of a pattern too complex for us to understand.
-- Judith Hanson Lasater

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
-- Holy Bible, Proverbs 3:5

We must set our goals, focus our intent, be disciplined in our actions, but yet balance this with an openness to the limitless possibilities around us. Change is the only constant in our universe.

And it is our reaction to change which is the predominant cause of stress, frustration and worry in our lives. The human mind is an amazing organizer and planner. Every action begins with a thought and a planned outcome. Anger and frustration appear when real outcomes do not match our projected outcomes: when the traffic jam throws off our schedule, for instance. Stress and worry appear when the final outcome is out of our hands, and yet the mind struggles to exert its influence. We worry and fret and obsess over getting the job and loosing the job, the end of the world and the ending of Harry Potter. Some people -- and I know many -- live their entire lives in endless cycles of worry and stress. Isvara Pranidhana teaches the way out:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
-- Reinhold Niebuhr