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Etymology and meaning
Īśvarapraṇidhāna is a Sanskrit compound word composed of two words īśvara (ईश्वर) and praṇidhāna (प्रणिधान). Īśvara (sometimes spelled Īshvara) literally means "owner of best, beautiful", "ruler of choices, blessings, boons", or "chief of suitor, lover". Later religious literature in Sanskrit broadens the reference of this term to refer to God, the Absolute Brahman, True Self, or Unchanging Reality. Praṇidhāna is used to mean a range of senses including, "laying on, fixing, applying, attention (paid to), meditation, desire, prayer." In a religious translation of Patanjali's Eight-Limbed Yoga, the word Īśvarapraṇidhāna means committing what one does to a Lord, who is elsewhere in the Yoga Sūtras defined as a special person (puruṣa) who is the first teacher (paramaguru) and is free of all hindrances and karma. In more secular terms, it means acceptance, teachability, relaxing expectations, adventurousness. 
Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali
Sanskrit: शौच संतोष तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः ॥23॥
– Yoga Sutras I.23
This transliterates as, "Śauca, Santoṣa, Tapas, Svādhyāya and Īśvarapraṇidhāna are the Niyamas". This is the second limb in Patañjali's eight limb Yoga philosophy is called niyamas which include virtuous habits, behaviors and ethical observances (the "dos"). The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali use the term Īśvara in 11 verses: I.23 through I.29, II.1, II.2, II.32 and II.45. Patañjali defines Īśvara (Sanskrit: ईश्वर) in verse 24 of Book 1, as "a special Self (पुरुषविशेष, puruṣa-viśeṣa)",
Sanskrit: क्लेश कर्म विपाकाशयैःपरामृष्टः पुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः ॥२४॥
– Yoga Sutras I.24
This sutra of Yoga philosophy adds the characteristics of Īśvara as that special Self which is unaffected (अपरामृष्ट, aparamrsta) by one's obstacles/hardships (क्लेश, klesha), one's circumstances created by past or one's current actions (कर्म, karma), one's life fruits (विपाक, vipâka), and one's psychological dispositions/intentions (आशय, ashaya).
Īśvarapraṇidhāna is listed as the fifth niyama by Patañjali. In other forms of yoga, it is the tenth niyama. In Hinduism, the Niyamas are the "do list" and the Yamas are the "don't do" list, both part of an ethical theory for life.
Īśvara as a metaphysical concept
Hindu scholars have debated and commented on who or what is Īśvara. These commentaries range from defining Īśhvara from a "personal god" to "special self" to "anything that has spiritual significance to the individual". Ian Whicher explains that while Patañjali's terse verses can be interpreted both as theistic or non-theistic, Patañjali's concept of Īśvara in Yoga philosophy functions as a "transformative catalyst or guide for aiding the yogin on the path to spiritual emancipation". Desmarais states that Īśvara is a metaphysical concept in Yogasutras. Īśvarapraṇidhāna is investing, occupying the mind with this metaphysical concept. Yogasutra does not mention deity anywhere, nor does it mention any devotional practices (Bhakti), nor does it give Īśvara characteristics typically associated with a deity. In yoga sutras it is a logical construct, states Desmarais.
In verses I.27 and I.28, yogasutras associate Īśvara with the concept Pranava (प्रणव, ॐ) and recommends that it be repeated and contemplated in one of the limbs of eight step yoga. This is seen as a means to begin the process of dissociating from external world, connecting with one's inner world, focusing and getting one-minded in Yoga.
Whicher states that Patañjali's concept of Īśvara is neither a creator God nor the universal Absolute of Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism. Whicher also notes that some theistic sub-schools of Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism, inspired by the Yoga school, prefer to explain the term Īśvara as the "Supreme Being that rules over the cosmos and the individuated beings". However, in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, and extensive literature of Yoga school of Hinduism, Īśvara is not a Supreme Ruler, Īśvara is not an ontological concept, rather it has been an abstract concept to meet the pedagogical needs for human beings accepting Yoga philosophy as a way of life.
Īśvara as a deity
Īśvarapraṇidhāna has been interpreted to mean the contemplation of a deity in some sub-schools of Hinduism. Zimmer in his 1951 Indian philosophies book noted that the Bhakti sub-schools, and its texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, refer to Isvara as a Divine Lord, or the deity of specific Bhakti sub-school. Modern sectarian movements have emphasized Ishvara as Supreme Lord; for example, Hare Krishna movement considers Krishna as the Lord, Arya Samaj and Brahmoism movements – influenced by Christian and Islamic movements in India – conceptualize Ishvara as a monotheistic all powerful Lord. In traditional theistic sub-schools of Hinduism, such as the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta of Ramanuja and Dvaita Vedanta of Madhva, Ishvara is identified as Lord Vishnu/Narayana, that is distinct from the Prakriti (material world) and Purusa (soul, spirit). In all these sub-schools, Īśvarapraṇidhāna is the contemplation of the respective deity.
Radhakrishnan and Moore state that these variations in Īśvara concept is consistent with Hinduism's notion of "personal God" where the "ideals or manifestation of individual's highest Self values that are esteemed". Īśvarapraṇidhāna, or contemplation of Īśvara as a deity is useful, suggests Zaehner, because it helps the individual become more like Īśhvara. Riepe, and others, state that the literature of Yoga school of Hinduism neither explicitly defines nor implicitly implies, any creator-god; rather, it leaves the individual with freedom and choice of conceptualizing Īśvara in any meaningful manner he or she wishes, either in the form of "deity of one's choice" or "formless Brahman (Absolute Reality, Universal Principle, true special Self)". The need and purpose of Īśvara, whatever be the abstraction of it as "special kind of Self" or "personal deity", is not an end in itself, rather it is a means to "perfect the practice of concentration" in one's journey through the eight limbs of Yoga philosophy.
Īśvara as pure consciousness
Larson suggests Īśvara in Īśvarapraṇidhāna can be understood through its chronological roots. Yoga school of Hinduism developed on the foundation of Samkhya school of Hinduism. In the non-theistic/atheistic Samkhya school, Purusa is a central metaphysical concept, and envisioned as "pure consciousness". Further, Purusa is described by Samkhya school to exist in a "plurality of pure consciousness" in its epistemological theory (rather than to meet the needs of its ontological theory). In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines Īśhvara as a "special Purusa" in verse I.24, with certain characteristics. Īśhvara, then may be understood as one among the plurality of "pure consciousness", with characteristics as defined by Patanjali in verse I.24.
Īśvara as spiritual but not religious
Notes and references
- N Tummers (2009), Teaching Yoga for Life, ISBN 978-0736070164, page 16-17
- Īśvara + praṇidhāna, Īśvara and praṇidhāna
- Āgāśe, K. S. (1904). Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Puṇe: Ānandāśrama. p. 102.
- Donald Moyer, Asana, Yoga Journal, Volume 84, January/February 1989, page 36
- Izvara ईश्वर, Monier Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany
- Monier-Williams, Monier. "Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Patanjali. "Patanjalayogaśāstra". YS 1.24.
- N Tummers (2009), Teaching Yoga for Life, ISBN 978-0736070164, page 13-16
- Y Sawai (1987), The Nature of Faith in the Śaṅkaran Vedānta Tradition, Numen, Vol. 34, Fasc. 1 (Jun., 1987), pages 18-44
- Āgāśe, K. S. (1904). Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Puṇe: Ānandāśrama. p. 25.
- aparAmRSTa, kleza, karma, vipaka and ashaya; Sanskrit English Dictionary, Koeln University, Germany
- Lloyd Pflueger (2008), Person Purity and Power in Yogasutra, in Theory and Practice of Yoga (Editor: Knut Jacobsen), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120832329, pages 31-45
- The Practice of Surrender Yoga Journal (August 28 2007)
- Lloyd Pflueger (2008), Person Purity and Power in Yogasutra, in Theory and Practice of Yoga (Editor: Knut Jacobsen), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120832329, pages 38-39
- Hariharānanda Āraṇya (2007), Parabhaktisutra, Aporisms on Sublime Devotion, (Translator: A Chatterjee), in Divine Hymns with Supreme Devotional Aphorisms, Kapil Math Press, Kolkata, pages 55-93; Hariharānanda Āraṇya (2007), Eternally Liberated Isvara and Purusa Principle, in Divine Hymns with Supreme Devotional Aphorisms, Kapil Math Press, Kolkata, pages 126-129
- Ian Whicher (1999), The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classical Yoga, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791438152, page 86
- Michele Marie Desmarais (2008), Changing Minds : Mind, Consciousness And Identity In Patañjali's Yoga-Sutra, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120833364, page 131
- Michele Marie Desmarais (2008), Changing Minds : Mind, Consciousness And Identity In Patañjali's Yoga-Sutra, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120833364, page 132-136
- See Yogasutra I.28 and I.29; Āgāśe, K. S. (1904). Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Puṇe: Ānandāśrama. p. 33.
- Ian Whicher, The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana, State University of New York press, ISBN 978-0791438152, pages 82-86
- Knut Jacobsen (2008), Theory and Practice of Yoga : 'Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120832329, page 77
- Zimmer (1951), Philosophies of India, Reprinted by Routledge in 2008, ISBN 978-0415462327, pages 242-243, 309-311
- Karel Werner (1997), A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism, Routledge, ISBN 978-0700710492, page 54
- Rk Pruthi (2004), Arya Samaj and Indian Civilization, ISBN 978-8171417803, pages 5-6, 48-49
- Radhakrishnan and Moore (1967, Reprinted 1989), A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691019581, pages 37-39, 401-403, 498-503
- Mircea Eliade (2009), Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0691142036, pages 73-76
- Dale Riepe (1961, Reprinted 1996), Naturalistic Tradition in Indian Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120812932, pages 177-184, 208-215
- RC Zaehner (1975), Our savage god: The perverse use of eastern thought, ISBN 978-0836206111, pages 69-72
- RC Zaehner (1966), Hinduism, Oxford University Press, 1980 edition: pages 126-129, Reprinted in 1983 as ISBN 978-0198880127
- Woods (1914, Reprinted in 2003), Yoga system of Patanjali, Harvard University Press, pages 48-59, 190
- Ian Whicher, The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana, State University of New York press, ISBN 978-0791438152, pages 80-81
- N Iyer (2008), Theory and Practice of Yoga : 'Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson (Editor: Knut Jacobsen), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120832329, pages 103-104
- Lloyd Pflueger (2008), Person Purity and Power in Yogasutra, in Theory and Practice of Yoga (Editor: Knut Jacobsen), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120832329, pages 32-39
- B Pradhan (2014), Yoga: Original Concepts and History. In Yoga and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, Springer Switzerland, ISBN 978-3-319-09104-4, pages 3-36
- Peter H. Van Ness (1999), Yoga as Spiritual but not Religious: A pragmatic perspective, American Journal of Theology & Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 1 (January 1999), pages 15-30
- Fritz Allhoff (2011), Yoga - Philosophy for Everyone: Bending Mind and Body, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 978-0470658802, Foreword by John Friend and Chapter 3