Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ishta Devata

In the book that I'm currently reading called Inner Tantric Yoga by Dr David Frawley, he discusses the importance of finding one's own deity to follow or Ishta Devata. The sanskrit word Ishta translates to "Choice" in English. And Devata translates to "Deity."

This Ishta Devata or the search for one's own God/Goddess to follow is an integral part of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (the main classic reading about Yoga). In fact, Patanjali states that Ishvara Pranidhana (the yoga of Istha Devata) is a key to the development of samadhi (enlightenment and the ultimate goal of yogic practice). This technique of following one God/Goddess is often overlooked by yoga teachers in the West today. I, a fellow western yoga teacher, am guilty of overlooking such teachings in my classes.

Frawley's book made me reconsider the importance of the Yoga of Istha Devata. Here are some steps that Dr. Frawley suggests in the quest for one's own personal deity (while knowing that practicing Yoga Ishta does not mean that other personal spiritual practices need cease):

1. Find a God in an abstract or impersonal sense, that assumes specific forms in order to teach and guide you

2. Find a God that reflects one's own inclinations, temperament, tendencies and manner of expression

3. Any divine power, principle, or representation can become a personal form of deity. Ishta Devatas are often formulations of the Divine in terms of a personal relationship i.e. father or mother, brother, sister, friend, guru

4. Remember that Ishta means choice, so no one can dictate your personal form of deity. Find what speaks to you and make it a part of your practice.

5. Take your time. Perhaps go through a few Devatas before you find the right deity for your personal practice.
Here are some optional personal deities from the yogic tradition. Buddha is often added as a sixth option:

1. Five Main Hindu Devatas of Shiva (Lord of all Gods): creator, preserver, destroyer, concealer, and revealer

2. Vishnu (including Rama and Krishna): preserving and protecting creation

3. Devi (Goddess) or Vishnu's wife Lakshmi: Goddess of light, beauty, good fortune and wealth

4. One of my personal favorites the elephant deity Ganesha: the remover of obstacles and often invoked in the beginning of a journey or experience. I especially love Ganesha because he is a happy creature who loves sweets. Many people leave him chocolate or candies at their personal alters for Ganesha.

5. Surya: the sun God. He presides over Sunday.

6. Buddha (optional God that enters as the sixth choice at times): a spiritual teacher whose teachings founded Buddhism.

Which Deity resonates with you?

The practice of Ishta Devata is new to me, but fascinating. If you're interested, look into which deity speaks to you. It's a personal practice that will probably lead to further self-discovery in either your yoga practice and/or knowledge of self. Even if your only research is reading this blog, take a few minutes to ponder upon it. Even klutzes deserve a deity...

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