Living as Offering
YS 1.23 īśvara-praṇidhānād vā
By giving your life and identity to God you attain the identity of God.
īśvara-praṇidhānād vā: By giving your life and identity to God you attain the identity of God. This does not mean you become God, rather, you attain God-like qualities: happiness, bliss and ecstasy. This is your True Nature, the state of Yoga, union with the Divine (PYS 1.2). In the Yoga Sutra, Sage Patanjali shares with us how to attain this state. How to stop identifying with the fluctuations (vṛtti) of the mind (citta) and identify instead with our True Nature. How to do this? According to Sage Patanjali the one step method is; īśvara-praṇidhānād-vā.
īśvara, stemming from Sanskrit roots: ish (lord) and vara (very best), is your own choicest lord. Call it Sat Chit Ananda, God, Sunshine, however you want to identify īśvara is fine, but something outside of your own mind-stuff. Because our stuff, we have discovered, is not really taking us to that place of Yoga. If you are going to choose an ish, you’d better make sure it’s the vara! Doubt is a certain barricade to Yoga. With confidence in your choice, you can shed the water wings and dive into the sea of bhava (divine mood). Krishna (or Govinda) is my “choicest lord.” When you use the name Krishna you are celebrating the all attractive one, who removes obstacles and attracts you to your True Nature, Yoga.
The word, praṇidhānād contains within it praṇi. Prani is a living being, one full of prāṇa. Prāṇa is our livingness: the activating animating force that brings life. Without prāṇa our bodies would just dissolve, fall apart, go back into the elements of the earth from which they came. If your aim is Yoga, while practicing asana (the physical postures of Hatha Yoga) it is helpful to practice with a remembrance of the sacredness of prāṇa, the sacredness of life.
Introducing the terms inspire and expire can help to achieve this remembrance. The word inspire (commonly used to mean motivate) actually comes from the Latin roots: in (in) and spirare (to breathe or spirit). The word inspire indicates that we are breathing in Holy Spirit, drawing in divine energy. Throughout the class, use this imagery to maintain focus on the Holy Spirit moving in and out of the body, residing within the breath.
The ease in which we breathe reflects the ease in which we live. By calming the breath and becoming completely at ease, even in a challenging asana, not pained, not wishing it was over, or thinking of the next thing coming, we come closer to the state of Yoga. When you feel anxious or your mind is full, don’t hold on to those pesky citta vṛttis instead let them go. How to do this? Sri Patanjali instructs us to dāna: offer everything to the divine; your anger, jealousy, fear, even your, annoyance, financial problems, etc. We don’t know what to do with them, īśvara knows. Give your life, all effort and results to that which brings you closer to Yoga.
Bringing īśvara into the focus during the physical practice, we come closer to Yoga. During challenging asanas, remember to “Do your best and leave the rest. Perfection may not be possible, but your best always is. Devote your efforts completely.” Savasana is a wonderful place to practice this through the physical body. Make this silent prayer: “Feet, take them, Oh īśvara, they are yours. Legs, īśvara make them an instrument of your will”, and so on, from the feet up, offering each part of the physical body.
Citta prasadanam is to make the contents of your mind a serene offering to the divine. As you practice, or prepare food, or travel, keep that little part of the mind that tends to wander off focused towards your īśvara. Chanting a mantra, such as Shri Krishna Sharanam Mamah, silently or out loud will help you stay focused on the divine. Krishna is joyful and fills everyone and everything with bliss: Yoga. By offering all efforts and actions to Krishna, you attain his lotus feet. (For further insight study texts such as: Shyamdas’ Inner Goddess, Shri Vallabhacharya’s Sri Subodhini and Shri Gusianji’s Tippani and the Srimad Bhagavatam.)
To give your life and identity to God is really a practice of humility. Teaching Yoga at such a young age I sometimes do suffer a puffed up ego, but more often I feel, “I am an imposter. There is no way I should be leading these Holy Beings in the pursuit of Yoga.” I become shy, nervous and tongue-tied (all symptoms of Ego). In these moments, I have learned to come back to my breath, attaching the words “let go” with the inhale “and let God” with the exhale. I remind myself that all I can do is serve īśvara, and act as a conduit. When I remind myself to dedicate my actions to īśvara, the teachings flow through me.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, our offerings could be anything; a little bit of food, a flower, some water, our very thoughts and actions. In praṇidhānād pra and ṇi are sanskrit emphasizers, marking the importance of the word following: dhānā. Dhānā is a mere grain, a seed, a humble token. I like to carry birdseed with me. Before teaching I’ll often place a few grains on the altar. That simple moment I have alone with īśvara becomes a powerful offering.
In sanskrit vā means or, implying that this is A way, not the ONLY way to Yoga. You have the decision of how to invest your prāṇa, what to do with your precious life. With the humble act of offering all actions to your chosen īśvara, your world becomes God’s theater. As actors in the play, you drink the nectar of His bhava. Or, as the great teacher Shyamdas-ji so eloquently reminds us: If you don’t love Shri Govinda, what are you doing with your days?