What is īśvaraḥ?

क्लेश-कर्म-विपाकाशयैर् अपरामृष्टः पुरुष​-विशेएष ईश्वरः ॥२४॥

kleśa-karma-vipākāśayair aparāmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ

kleśa: affliction, pain, obstacle to clarity of mind.

karma: action, law of actions.

vipākāśayair: vipāka, result, consequence, ripening . āśayair, ‘by the receptacle, storage, or deposit of samskaras’ ¹.

aparāmṛṣṭaḥ: unaffected, unmoved.

puruṣa: consciousness as a soul.

viśeṣa: special, distinict.


īśvaraḥ is distinct consciousness which is unaffected by the law of karma, or by the afflictions which are stored as saṃskāras.

Bryant states that this is the sutra to which the longest and most detailed commentaries have been dedicated. It is no wonder that this would be the case as contained within these few words is the essence of a debate around the theistic nature of Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

īśvaraḥ is a special and distinct form of puruṣa. We first encounter puruṣa in the 16th sutra where Patanjali suggests that through dispassion we see the reality of the soul. The impression I got from sutra 16 was of some kind of all encompassing, nebulous, consciousness which pervades everything. Yet here it seems that Patanjali is creating a division or a differentiation between different puruṣas. If īśvaraḥ is a special kind of puruṣa then are there other kinds of puruṣa? Are we to think of puruṣa as a universal energy or one which is segregated?

Sri Brahmananda Saraswati describes īśvaraḥ as a force of puruṣa. īśvaraḥ is the “phycological consciousness (and) a symbol of God”² . īśvaraḥ as an element or an aspect of puruṣa. puruṣa is a big concept to try to wrap ones mind around, and it is potentially difficult to identify with an impersonal, universal force.

It is postulated by Bryant that the introduction of īśvaraḥ in this section of the yoga sutras is relevant to how Patanjali was asking us to relate to īśvaraḥ. Namely as a focus for our mediation. This is not a treatise on the nature of God as a creator or supreme orchestrator rather a description of how we can find a personal relationship with an element of puruṣa. The sutras between 23 and 29 detail a technique for mediation which has īśvaraḥ at its heart.

It is possible that Patanjali is providing us with a description of some of the qualities of īśvaraḥ to give us a guide as to what may constitute this special form of puruṣa to which we are surrendering, bowing down to and offering up out consciousness to. It is not, for example, a physical object or an idol, it is not an embodied being or another person. It is a reminder that although īśvaraḥ dwells within the murti (temple idol, statue) the murti is not the whole of īśvaraḥ. It could also be an attempt to make the yoga sutras accessible to all as a technique rather than a dogma. īśvaraḥ becomes a generic term for the force of puruṣa with which we can personally identify.


1. Bryant, E. (2009).The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New York: North Point Press. pg 87.
2. Mishra, R. (2010). The Textbook of Yoga Psychology. Monroe: Baba Bhagavandas Publication Trust. pg 139.

p.s fear not klesa, karma and samskaras will all be discussed at a later point. I thought it was more important to continue and remain focused on isvarah as a term for now.

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