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Wholehearted Devotion

For December, the Jivamukti focus-of-the-month is on the last of the five niyamas: īśvara-pranidhānā: whole-hearted devotion, surrender, and dedication to the symbol, image, or enlightened being that is the practitioner's most cherished connection with divinity.

One's personal conception of the divine is known as Ishta Devata. In his book Inside Patanjali's Words, Jaganath Carrera says it "... is the best, highest, holiest, all-pervading image the seeker has encountered, can imagine, or has fervently hoped to realize. One's Ishta Devata can be any name and form of the Divine or one's Guru. For devotees, the Ishta Devata is the nearest, dearest expression of God who is their support and protector, guide, and their most trusted source of wisdom. The Ishta Devata also serves as a role model, inspiring the seeker to cultivate the divine qualities they perceive in their Ishta Devata" (pp. 228-29).

Yoga Sutra 2.45 (shown in the graphic above) tells us that by whole-hearted dedication to Ishvara, enlightenment (aka samādhi) can be perfected or attained. In his commentary on Sutra 2.45, Carrera says, " It is appropriate to use both perfected and attained in this context. That is because both wholehearted devotion and faith are enough alone to attain, as well as perfect, samādhi. The path of Bhakti Yoga (devotion) is complete, in and of itself. In the context of holistic practice--such as that presented in the Sutras--devotion is not only a central facet, but serves to sweep away the last vestiges of egoism, so difficult to overcome. The natural emptying of one's self-centered thinking, and a fervent wish for union with the beloved, is inherent to loving devotion. Not all Yoga practitioners are drawn to participate in devotional practices, especially in the beginning. The path of love and devotion to a form of the Divine requires a good measure of faith. For those not inclined to a path of devotion, meditation, knowledge, wisdom, study, self-analysis, and selfless service take them to the same goal. It should be noted that faith may arise naturally and spontaneously through the study of Yoga theory and application of the practices or through contact with great spiritual masters" (pp. 230-31).

The idea of īśvara-pranidhānā is also found in Book 1 of the Sutras. In Yoga Sutras 1.21 and 1.22 Patanjali tells us that intense practice brings the realization of the goal of Yoga quickly. He gives us a sense of the mastery over the mind and senses that arises through intense, sustained practice. Then in Sutra 1.23 (īśvara-pranidhānā vā) he tells us that samādhi/enlightenment can also be attained by wholehearted devotion and dedication to God or Ishvara, presenting us with another option: we can explore devotion as a source of deep, powerful support for our practices. No emotion is stronger than loving devotion.

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