The Bhagavad Gita says, 'Upanishadatsu Brahma vidyayaam yoga shastrae', acknowledging that the Truth Brahma vidya, understood by studying the Upanishads, needs yoga shastra to be realised and experienced by the student. Ishwara Pranidhanani - dedication to Ishwara - should be understood as an elaborate discussion on the yogic concept of Ishwara.
Suffice it to state that in Patanjali's Darshana, Ishwara is nowhere associated with a creator God or a controller God and represents the sum-total of all knowledge that has been in existence from time immemorial, and therefore, is the primordial teacher of all spiritual understanding.
The closest one can get to in attempting to define Patanjali’s Ishwara is the concept of purusha, especially the primordial purusha in Sankhya, which is an atheistic philosophy and from which the Yoga Darshana has borrowed most of its terms and concepts.
When the yogi reaches the culmination of the yogic process and attains nirvikalpa samadhi, then the pure consciousness called purusha alone shines forth. It is from this concept that dedication to Ishwara has also been interpreted as a dedicated yogi who has by realisation, ascended to the status of Ishwara.
But this concept is often misinterpreted and exploited by charlatans who demand abject surrender from their followers and make them utterly dependent on them.The term Kriya-yogah here does not refer to any particular school of yoga, but signifies the need to work (kriya) in one’s yogic practices.
As Vedanta declares, the root of the problem is that one considers the unreal phenomenal world, which appears so real as opposed to the real self, which, because it is not being perceived by the sense organs, is considered unreal. The famous 'assertation' often considered a prayer, Asatoma sadgamaya 'from the unreal may I ascend to the Real', sums up this idea.
What the Vedantins say is what scientists, particularly neurologists, have begun to say today: That what we perceive and feel as the real world, is merely the image of the world perceived through our sense organs which themselves are inaccurate instruments of perception, and based on which, the mind constructs images and presents to us as 'real'.
Different sets of sense organs or instruments of perception like the compound eye of the common housefly can project an entirely different image of the same world. The question that arises is, therefore:
What is the reality of even this world we experience and live in, except what the mind projects, which in itself is based on the erroneous data provided by the instruments of perception. To quote the poet, Alexander Pope, 'The difference is as great between the optics seeing, as the objects seen'.
The Vedantin, and here the yogi discards all the relative appearances and sensations and believes only in the Isness, which he understands to be Pure Consciousness, and which the unconditioned mind sees as the one Reality, the Pure witness.
Although Plato doesn't appear totally non-dual as the Vedantin is, this quote from Plato goes a long way in explaining this idea. "There are two things in the world," said Plato, "One IS and is never becoming and the other IS-NOT but is ever becoming."
What does seeing the impure as pure mean? Here, purity is not a moral precept but the mistaking of the imperfect and relative world as the pure consciousness.
And what is dissatisfaction as pleasure: This is the ordinary mind’s tendency to find pleasure in the objects of the senses, only to be eternally dissatisfied, and thereby missing the complete satisfaction of realising that the inner self is by its’ inherent nature, total bliss and absolute completeness (Purna).
Seeing the non-self as the self is seeing the relative world as real, and associating one’s self with it when on the contrary, one’s true self is independent of any adjuncts. From the coronavirus to the complex developed human being, the desire to not die but to continue and multiply is instinctual. It is linked to the ignorance that physical life is eternal.
This will last until the conscious-awareness is realised to be the real Self and not the body or the outside world, in which it appears almost inextricably enmeshed.
(Excerpted with permission from Yoga Also For The Godless by Sri M, published by Westland)