Ishwara pranidhana means believing. I am only using the word ‘believing’. I am not using the words ‘believing in God’ or ‘believing in oneself. Many people think of ‘ishwara’ as indication to Godhood. Many people think of ‘ishwara’ as representing the state of God-realization. Many people think of ishwara pranidhana as belief in God. But ishwara pranidhana in yoga - does it mean believing in the God that we visualize in our own mind? To begin with, there is no concept of God in yoga. There is no Rama, there is no Shiva, there is no Krishna, there is nobody in yoga. In fact, yoga is considered to be a godless philosophy, because there is no mention of God. There is only the term ishwara, meaning something that does not change. That is the literal meaning of the word ishwara - something that does not change, something that does not alter, something that is permanent, without change. This idea represents the highest existence not evoking the image of Rama or Krishna or Devi or Guru, no. Ishwara evokes the image of that which is transcendental: beyond thought, beyond speech, beyond mind, beyond the senses, pure, supreme, unidentifiable, inexpressible, yet the container of all. And that does not change.
Ishwara and nashwara
In the Vedas they have definedishwara, the eternal principle, as Kham. Kham means space. Space is the container of every planet and all the galaxies, right? Star systems, universes, we do not know how big space is. What is our understanding of space? Whatever is seen through the telescopes.
We live in the Milky Way galaxy. This Milky Way galaxy stretches, from one end to the other, two hundred light years. But from Earth, with our latest equipment, we have only been able to monitor the area of it up to forty light years distance, not beyond, and that is just one galaxy. Like that, how many billions and trillions of galaxies are there, how far apart are they? Yet all are contained in space.
The Vedas say that the nature of the supreme is that of space, which is the container of everything, and that is ishwara. The galaxies may change, humans may be destroyed, life forms may be created and destroyed, galaxies can destroy each other, everything can collapse into itself, again creation can take place, but space is eternal, permanent, and never changes; it is the container. The Vedas say ishwara is that unchanging undying reality.
The opposite of ishwara is nashwara, the transformable, the changeable - we are all that, we change. Every six hours we have a different body. Our healthy cells divide every five to six hours. Our cancerous cells mutate and divide every minute. Right? So if you look at the cellular structure also, where there is balance and health, there is regulation, division every six hours, and where there is illness and imbalance, there is rapid production. If you look at the atomic structure: our body, though it seems solid, is space, concentrated space. If you look at your own body through a super microscope, what will you see? The space between the atoms, the space between the nucleus of the atoms, but when you come out you see this concentrated, solid body. So space is a very peculiar thing; from the perspective of tantra, from the perspective of the Vedas, from the perspective of the Upanishads, from the perspective of the spiritual philosophies which developed in Asia.
When we say ishwara pranidhana in yoga, we are not saying believe in God, we are saying believe, realize that there is an unchanging eternal principle, beyond name and form and idea.
It is spatial, devoid of every influenceof karma, free from every kind of bondage. That eternal principle, you have to have a belief in it, because you are a part of it. The soul within you is a part of that eternal principle. Just as water in a cup, although contained in a small cup is part of the greater body of water. If you pour that cup of water into any body of water, it will become one; you won’t be able to differentiate - but you can again, in a cup, take out a cupful of water.
Many times people ask, “How many souls there are in the world! From where are all these over populated souls coming?” Well, it is an opportunity for souls to realize themselves and their true essence as ishwara, which is beyond the realm of bondage, while experiencing the realm of bondage here, where everything is nashwara.
Therefore I said ishwara pranidhana only means believing. It does not mean believing in some image of God that we have conjured up due to our conditioning. It is believing in that pure and transcendental self of which you are a part - ishwara anshu jiva avinashi. And that is ishwara.
So ishwara pranidhana is an objective awareness of our own inner spiritual nature and identificationwith that inner spiritual nature: adhering to that identificationand expressing that higher nature. When you are fearful, when you are under stress and anxiety, when you are under pain and suffering that is samsara pranidhana; you identify with the world. In the state of samsara pranidhana there is no ishwara; when there is ishwara pranidhana then there is no samsara pranidhana, for you disassociate from that which is temporary and transient. When you disassociate from that which is temporary and transient and maintain your awareness of the luminosity and purity within yourself, that is ishwara pranidhana.
—17 August 2014, Ganga Darshan, Munger