SURRENDER!!!! Do I have to? YES! Bummer!
[Originally posted on January 22, 2011] Krishna’s final and concluding instruction in the Gita is that we should give up all materially motivated religions and just surrender unto him. Since surrender could be considered a filled out application for the keys to the Kingdom, so to speak, we need to really understand what “surrender” means. Admittedly the word surrender has a lot of baggage for most people. When the average person thinks of surrender, what do they envision? Something like the above picture of prisoners with their hands above their heads, looking none too happy. Surrender in this context means loosing or giving up one’s freedom to someone with more power than you. Most of the definitions of surrender imply forced surrender at the hands of someone else, though the latter ones speak of not giving into to something negative like despair or depression.
In devotee circles it used to be, and likely still is, an expression a temple leader might say to try to motivate someone to do a service that might be considered undesirable, as in, “Surrender prabhu, this service needs to be done, and there isn’t anyone else who will do it”. In other words, you may not like it, but this needs to be done, and you will be benefited even if you don’t experience it now. Thus even for devotees of Krishna, the idea of surrendering to anyone—Krishna or the guru included—can be unattractive or confusing.
Somehow due to our association with this word, surrender doesn’t feel that inviting. If we surrender it seems we will loose something—like our freedom or time, or miss out on life and our plans, preferred service or enjoyment. Surrender may imply doing undesirable things. For this reason, I thought after writing my last blog that it might be useful to explain what exactly surrender is.
Some Gita translations explain the Sanskrit word sharanam (surrender) as taking refuge or shelter in, which sounds ever so better and attractive then surrender. Why is this! For one thing, taking shelter seems to imply getting something desirable, such as protection, or peace—and our giving up is only of undesirable things. Since both ideas are supposed to be about the same activity or state of consciousness, we need to see how this is true. Language is a funny thing since it’s understood very individually or subjectively. This is why we often need to understand the context and the spirit behind a given word. Plus we need some saintly guidance from a spiritual teacher—just as Arjuna had.
To understand what Krishna is speaking about, and what the commentators are trying to communicate to us, we need to learn or be reminded about our fundamental nature and intrinsic characteristics. The Bhagavad-gita and all Vedic scriptures teach us that our true nature is spiritual. We are the observer or conscious awareness behind our eyes, only circumstantially, temporarily connected to the body. My guru Shrila Prabhupada called the soul in contact with a body, a conditioned soul.
This implies there is an unconditioned, unencumbered, or free soul. From this perspective, presently we are surrendered to our bodily, mental and emotional necessities. The pure light of consciousness is reflected through a prism. Although those who believe their identity is the body think acting on their colored vision is freedom, from the spiritual perspective, material vision is distorted, our actions based on them forced and unnatural.
It’s not that disease, scarcity, the cold or heat, or this person, place or thing is causing us a problem—our body and mind is the problem, or at least our identifying our self with them. This seems so contradictory to our modern way of thinking, yet understanding it, and endeavoring to realize it, is the beginning of our lasting happiness. It is our awakening from the ignorance of who we truly, eternally are. Our conventional sense of self is the problem. The virtual reality or material matrix isn’t our home.
There is a concept used in hypnotherapy which I have also heard used in watching movies which can be very important for a beginning student or doubtful reader. The notion of “surrendering disbelief” can be helpful when encountering something for which one may not have a frame of reference for, or for that which one has a prejudice against accepting. The Buddhists would call this a beginners mind.
For instance, even in Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is introduction, he tells us that in order to get the most benefit from reading the Gita, one must at least theoretically accept that Krishna is God. So it is with a discussion about our identity as a soul having a human experience. The process of bhakti yoga is a means for realizing not only the truth of our spiritual nature, but also in understanding our relationship to the Supreme Soul, God, or Krishna. We realize that in all circumstances we are completely, totally dependent on Krishna for everything. His mercy is all there is! It is what we are made of!
So let us go back to surrender. We don’t want to surrender to some belligerent or hostile force, but what about an infant’s surrender unto their mother to drink breast milk or a lover surrendering to the embrace of their beloved? Doesn’t this distinction make all the difference? Krishna is the supreme benevolent and loving force and person in all existence. Therefore surrendering to him is to find our shelter, refuge and source of happiness. He is the dear-most friend of all, the love of our life, the soul of our soul. Krishna consciousness, or the path of pure devotion, is meant to gradually awaken this understanding. We have not a blank check, but an investment which is gradually maturing for redemption. Actually, bhakti is the path of supreme redemption—uncovering our soul and our long lost love!
Surrendering or taking shelter of Krishna isn’t an overnight decision, but is a process of ongoing attainment. It begins by understanding that our suffering condition in the material world only has a spiritual solution. Then we associate with others engaging in the surrendering process and gradually gain faith and realization in a particular agent of divinity or guru. Such a spiritual teacher has considerable standing in faith, conviction, and realization in the process of surrender and the object of surrender, Shri Krishna. Under their guidance and by keeping good spiritual association, we engage in chanting the holy name and devotional service so we can also begin and advance in the “surrendering process,” or taking shelter of Krishna. We are speaking of a state of consciousness that enables us to live in the spiritual dimension as contrasted to our current consciousness which obliges us to surrender to the material laws of nature. We have a choice.
As I am out of words for this blog, I will leave you with the six items of surrender described by Lord Chaitanya to his superlative disciple Sanatana Goswami, and emphasized in recent times by our great predecessor teacher, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur.
"The six divisions of surrender are the acceptance of those things favorable to devotional service, the rejection of unfavorable things, the conviction that Krishna will give protection, the acceptance of the Lord as one's guardian or master, full self-surrender, and humility.” [Chaitanya Charitamrita Madhya 22.100]