Book 1, Sutra 24: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“GOD IS ETERNALLY FREE OF IGNORANCE, LIKES AND DISLIKES AND FEAR. GOD IS ALSO FREE OF THE CAUSE AND EFFECT RESULTING FROM PAST AND PRESENT ACTIONS.”
The same debate that I outlined in my notes to sutra 23 are, of course, present in the various translations for this sutra. Authors disagree on whether Patanjali is genuinely religious, acknowledges religious sentiment as a yogic tool or had no intention of instigating belief in God in any spiritual aspirants. Some might say that I am splitting hairs here but I see a big difference between each of these three possibilities.
The first possibility is that Patanjali is genuinely religious which, to me, means that he believes in a single, all powerful, all good, omniscient, omnipresent God with whom one can have a very real and effective relationship with (who hears and responds to prayers).
The second possibility is generally considered vedantic; that is, he believes that there is One God/One Truth but that one God doesn’t have a definite personality and in truth is abstract and beyond form. Such a vedantin might see the value in devotional religious sentiment because of its effective destruction of the ego but would not admit any such relationship is, in fact, real.
The third possibility is that Patanjali never intended the word “Iswara” to indicate “God” or anything with a personality that can be related to. And additionally, he is not supporting a pretense of such a devotional relationship to “Iswara” for yogic purposes.
According to the 27 translations I have reviewed for this blog the jury is out between which of the three possibilities is the correct one. Clear proponents of the first religious possibility include Iyengar. Those whose translations seem to take the vedantic position include AK Aruna, Satyananda Saraswati and Condron. Proponents of the third possibility wherein religious sentiment is subtly scoffed at include Tola and Dragonetti. Personally, I tend towards generosity and see Patanjali fitting into the first possibility. I believe that he is genuinely religious but also that he is writing a text that is more geared for the less-religious raja yogi and vedantin. Here are some quotes that characterize the wide swing of opinion and even some of the careful fence-sitting that happens within some of the translations:
“Patanjali does not believe in a personal god. . . . The fundamental basis [of all sadhana or spiritual practice] is a surrender to the supreme reality.” Satyananda Saraswati
“In addition to Iswara pranidhana (surrender to God), an aspirant should do his other sadhana. Surrender to God is one of the quickest ways to realization.” Satyananda Saraswati
“One’s own intuition will tell us about the existence of God. Spiritual experience will confirm it. Vedas also tell us about God. Belief in God is first—then comes the realization.” Sadhakas
Iswara “has no personality, no chitta (mind) even. So there is no karma hence no samskaras. Ishwara is God as he appears within prakriti, is prakriti’s ruler and not its servant.” Nambiar
“The idea of Iswara is not artificially grafted onto the Samkhya philosophy but is an integral part of Patanjali’s natural philosophy which is based on the direct experience of an unbroken line of adepts and mystics. . . .Iswara [is the] presiding deity of the universe.” KN Saraswathy
“The nondualistic Vedanta will maintain the co-existence of Brahman and Iswara by interpreting the latter as a conditioned manifestation of the former. . . The configuration of Iswara in Patanjali’s yoga seems to have been made according to this conception of Vedanta. Or [else] the sutras referring to Iswara . . . constituted instead an interpolation done by some [other] theistic author.” Tola and Dragonetti
“Iswara is the I AM . . .” Condron
“God or universal consciousness is the supreme ruler and author of the universe. It is the nature of transcendental consciousness.” Brahmananda Saraswati
“This Iswara is the soul. . .” Bailey
“Iswara is the Immortal Self, Purusa, with form. He is perceived as a being and yet He is totally untouched by the ignorance of unhappiness.” VishnuDevananda
“Ishwara is the Supreme Soul, the Lord of All and master of everything. . . . God is ever free but man has to wash away his selfishness before realizing freedom.” Iyengar