Lessons from Patanjali: Receiving the Divine Offering

by Charu Ramesh

There are many myths surrounding the birth of the sage Patanjali. In one of the myths, his mother was a skilled yogini who desired a son to whom she could pass on her wisdom and knowledge. One morning she was praying at the river, with her hands placed in anjali mudra filled with water that she was offering to the Sun. As she raised her hands and made her offering, a tiny snake fell into her cupped palms. She accepted him as a gift from the heavens and raised him as her son, calling him Patanjali. Patanjali went on to become a great sage, composing a range of texts including the Yoga Sutras as well as important commentaries on the system of Ayurveda and Sanskrit grammar.

anjali-mudra-suryaThe Sanskrit name Patanjali is a compound word made of the prefix pat which means “to fall”, and the word anjali, which refers to the gesture of placing the hands together, slightly hollowed, usually in reverence, supplication or offering. Patanjali therefore means “one who fell into hands placed in reverence”.

The story of his birth is itself a great teaching. Anjali mudra brings both the hands together, symbolizing the union of the left and right sides of the body. These represent the two poles of duality, prana and citta shakti, or yin and yang; complementary forces in the inner and outer universe that come together into wholeness when we perform this gesture. The slight hollowing of the palms represents our inner emptiness, letting everything go to create space for offering and receiving. When our inner and outer being comes together in this way, whatever we offer is sacred and whatever we receive is divine.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says:

Whatever is offered to me with devotion – be it a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water – I accept that devotional offering. (9.23)

Thus it is not what is offered which is important, rather how it is offered. In the space of offering, I can let go of my agendas, my desires, my sense of me, and out of this letting go, a pure and clear offering can be made. At the same time, the process of pure giving invites me to surrender and be an empty vessel, and somewhat paradoxically, allows me to receive whatever comes my way. I can then trust that whatever the universe gives me will be what is best for me and accept it gratefully, just as Patanjali’s mother accepted the snake that fell into her hands and her life. The attitude of open-heartedness with which I made my offering is the same attitude that allows me to receive reverentially what comes back to me from the universe. And what may at first seem like a surprising gift turns out to be one that has the potential to change not just our lives but those of countless others.