Self-surrender and Self-inquiry are the two highest sadhanas (spiritual paths) in Hindu spiritual tradition. What is self-surrender, what are its benefits and how is it to be done?
In the Bhagavad Gita 18.66, Sri Krishna says:
sarva-dharman parityajya; mam ekam saranam vrajaaham tvam sarva-papebhyo; moksayisyami ma sucah
“Abandon all forms of religion and just surrender to Me alone. I shall protect you from all sins. Do not fear”.
Here is God’s promise for our freedom from pain and suffering in the world, if we surrender to God. Many scholars consider this verse as the final teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.
To understand the doctrine of surrender, we must keenly review our own daily experiences to understand who we really are and how we mistakenly perceive ourselves to be. In deep sleep, one’s physical body is unconscious and the mind is non-existent, yet one exists. No one denies his or her existence in deep sleep. So whatever it is that exists in deep sleep needs no physical body or mind to exist. It is a nameless and formless existence and we call it consciousness. This consciousness is not associated with one’s body and mind when one is asleep.
It is our common experience that upon waking up in the morning, the thought “I am” suddenly arises. Where does it arise from? It must arise from the consciousness that was present in the deep sleep but not associated with the body. When the thought “I am” arises, it immediately and mysteriously identifies itself with the physical body in which it appears and the concept of individuality is born. “I am” is the primal thought and is also referred to by other names such as ahamkara, ego, I, I-consciousness, body-consciousness and individual self (note small s). Prior to its identification with the body, “I am” is pure and is called pure ego. Being pure, it is same as the Self from which it arises.
Wrong identification of the primal thought “I am” with the body-mind complex results in the false sense of individuality (personality), which gives rise to the false sense of doership, the primary cause of human unhappiness and misery in the phenomenal world. Surrender means giving up this false sense of separate identity (individuality or doership), i.e. surrendering one’s ego to the Self.
Complete self-surrender means to abide in one’s Self. In religious language, it means to abide by God’s will, whatever that may bring us. When we surrender we carry no further thought of ‘I am so and so’ or ‘I am the doer’ of worldly activities. Self (God) is the real doer. This means that one must perform all one’s duties and responsibilities in the world, but never think that one is doing it. Just do it without ever thinking that you are doing it. The thought of doership must given up.
The thought ‘I am not the doer’ may be counter intuitive to an intellectual because of the way we are brought up in the present culture since our childhood. We are taught to be strong individuals, be proud of strong personalities and compete with others (not with ourselves?) in this busy world. The truth is that individuality is a false concept. It is assumed but does not actually exist. It is Consciousness that operates our bodies and brains. Our bodies and brains don’t create consciousness. Consciousness is universal. Consciousness (God) operates our bodies and minds and uses them as tools to explore this world.
It is understood that in the worldly life we have to use words such as “I”, “me” and “mine”, but in the deep recesses of our hearts we must know that there is no real “I”, “me” and “mine”. These are false concepts. Only Self is real. Surrender does not mean that no harm will befall on us or that everything will work out the way we want. Surrender is a simple acknowledgement that we are not separate from the Self or God. The body and mind are used by the Self to explore the physical world. We are not doers; God is the sole doer.
How to Surrender?
The following are the practical steps to surrender to God and yet perform all our worldly duties and responsibilities, thus living a meaningful and fruitful life in the world:
Step 1 – Mental Purification
The mind is what separates us from our Self and the mind is also what unites us with our Self. Our old mind is a maze of age old habits, confusion, and superstition, thoughts of separate identity and symbolic rites and rituals. We need to develop a new mind in which we have to cultivate a new divine thought of ‘I am the Self’, or oham, aham brahmasmi or shivoham. This new thought reflects our reality and must be affirmed more often in our waking hours. When affirmed with full attention and awareness often times, it will eventually take deep roots in our minds. It will replace the old and impure thought of ‘I-am-the-body and mind’. This is mental purification is needed for self-surrender. This is the mind purifying the mind and no symbolic acts or rites or rituals can accomplish this goal.
To affirm this new thought (‘I am the Self’, or soham, aham brahmasmi or shivoham) one must close one’s eyes for ten to fifteen seconds as often as possible to affirm this new thought silently but with full attention. It is a waste of time if not done with full attention. With sincere regular practice and in due course of time this new thought will become a part of one’s conscious being. As an example, if you are a father or a mother you do not need to remind yourself that you are so. You do not need to see yourself in the mirror or see your children to remind yourself that you are a father or a mother. It is natural for you to know this fact and no external aid is necessary. In the same way, affirmation of the above new thought will eventually become natural to you. Once it gets deeper in your psyche, your mind will become calm and peaceful. It also cuts down the fear and you become more intuitive. Peace and joy will shine in your heart.
Step 2- Renounce ‘I am the doer’ Idea
The second new thought one must nurture in one’s new mind is that “I am not the doer. God is the doer.” The thought that “I am not the doer” is the door to Self-surrender and ultimate freedom from pain and suffering in the world. This thought makes one humble and fills one’s mind with humility. In turn humility makes us real, whereas pride makes us artificial.
An Example of Fake Surrender
A man was walking in the mountains just enjoying the scenery when he stepped too close to the edge of a mountain and began to fall suddenly. He managed to grab hold of a branch of a small tree. The tree was old, thin and weak. With each passing moment, it seemed to be pulling off the roots.
In desperation the man called out to God for help (surrender?). No reply came and the tree was crumbling by the second. Not giving up, he called out again and again. A few minutes later he heard a heavenly voice from the sky.
“Let go of the branch,” the voice said. “I’ll protect you.”
The man looked down and saw a deep and dark rocky gorge. He saw no chance of survival. He looked up and yelled, “Are you sure?” “Yes, let go,” the voice said again. “I am God.” The man thought for a second and then said, “Is there anyone else up there?”