The Meaning of Surrender, Part 2


Picking up where we left off, once we have surrendered to the idea of a Supreme Being to whom we surrender, the next question is ‘how do we express our surrender’. One of my teachers tells a story of meditating on the idea of surrender and, having accepted in principle the idea that he must surrender to to the Supreme Being, closed his eyes and, directing his thoughts to the person to whom he wished to surrender with all the sincerity at his command, said ‘I surrender’.

Nothing happened.

He realized that more than just the verbal expression of his desire to surrender was required in order for a tangible transformation to take place. In this case, transformation means a purification of the heart, a removal of obstacles to pure devotion that makes surrender possible. I can say ‘I surrender” in a moment of sincerity or desperation, but moments later I may be dislodged from my mood of surrender by my selfish desires, illusion, the mitigation of my desperation, or any number of other things.  The wind blows in a favorable direction and my so-called surrender will be revealed for a whim or a conditional knee-jerk response to a distressful condition; we always pray to God to save us when all else fails.

Real, sustained surrender requires a process of purification. In the Bhagavata School of devotional philosophy, there are six acts of surrender that bring about sustained and sincere surrender. The first is to act in such a way that God is pleased by our actions (I’m getting tired of writing euphemisms for God, so, for the sake of brevity…). But how do we know that what we are doing is pleasing to God? By consulting a teacher who has advanced along the path of devotion, by consulting yoga scriptures that specifically concern themselves with the development of devotion and the process of surrender, and by looking into our own heart and being honest with ourselves, asking ourselves if our motivation is really selfless. It all adds up to svadhyaya, seeing the self through the eyes of scripture, teacher, and the example of self-realized souls.

The next act of surrender is sharanam,  accepting God as one’s only shelter. This requires the insight that this world we live in is like a day at the beach. A sunny day at the beach. A hot sunny day. So hot and so sunny that unless one finds some shelter, like a big umbrella, getting burned is inevitable. God is the Great Umbrella.

Having faith in the Great Umbrella, and acting on the basis of that faith in all circumstances is the next act of surrender. This isn’t easy, but faith – shraddha – is the mandatory prerequisite for acquiring knowledge of any kind. Before we can know anything we have to have faith in something. Acting on the basis of faith, no matter how trying the circumstance, is the only means by which we gain insight into how the Great Umbrella is protecting us (back to euphemisms, but I kind of like this one now that I’ve stumbled across it).

Dedicating one’s body,mind, and words to the service of God is the sixth act of surrender. And service requires humility. Cultivating humility is the seventh act of surrender and we can do it by contemplating the idea that no one is more merciful than the Supreme Being and no one is greater need of that mercy than our sorry selves; it’s hot out here on the beach.

So how does all this help us in our yoga practice? Well, let’s consider what it is we’re surrendering: we’re really letting go of the idea that we can control the outcomes of our actions and inviting divine intervention – not just for the fulfillment of some immediate need but on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis – to replace this illusory notion. We’re letting go of the idea that we are the rightful enjoyers of the fruits of our actions and instead offering our endeavors for the pleasure of the Supreme, acknowledging instead that God is the ultimate proprietor and enjoyer  of everything.

And that results in surrendering something we’re much better off without: our karma. Liberation means freedom from the obligation to experience the results of our past actions. Mercy is not the same thing as justice. And I don’t know about you but if I have a chance to choose between mercy and justice, I’ll gladly take mercy every time. Surrender to God brings us directly to liberation and that’s why Patanjali recommends it so highly in his Yoga Sutras (YSP I: 23-28).

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