What is Surrender?

by Beloo Mehra


Every time I find myself getting somewhat lost or scattered in the multiplicity of noises coming from here and there, I feel this deep need to go back to the basics, I mean the most basic fundamentals of the path I aspire to pursue. This helps me re-gain my inner poise, to re-center myself, to re-kindle and steady that flickering flame of aspiration.

A recent journey of this kind took me to a sentence I had written in one of my notebooks. This is from my notes from a Bhagavad Gita study camp I had attended last year: “It is significant to note that the starting note of the teaching of Bhagavad Gita is surrender, and that again is its last note.”


Painting by Keshav Venkataraghavan

Contemplation on this keynote of the Gita led me to re-search and re-discover some more treasures. Treasures that are not meant for merely safe-keeping somewhere in my heart and mind, but must be consciously ‘used’ on the path. But given my numerous imperfections, especially with this feeling of being bogged down by the daily chaos of life, I often forget to ‘live’ out my outer life in the glorious light of these treasures. Re-discovering them, re-committing to the truth and light of such gems is one way to crawl out of the mud that accumulates around and within me, I have learned.

I share today one such treasure. I share it first and foremost as reminder to myself.

But I share it also with a humble hope that some readers who often struggle with appreciating some of the basics of Indian spiritual traditions, such as Guru, Surrender, etc. might be inspired to discover on their own the true meaning of these. Too much ignorance and too much misinterpretation has led to much confusion about these fundamental truths. And for a truly awakened humanity, it is now imperative that modern minds shed their own ignorance and begin to re-discover the deeper spiritual truths.

Sri Aurobindo: Surrender is not easy. If one can surrender “unconditionally” and “sarva bhavena” – in all the parts of the becoming, as the Gita says – then there is nothing more to be done. But can a man do it? You can’t do it by merely saying, “I surrender.” It must become real; that is sadhana.

Disciple: But then would the idea of surrender to the Guru alone be sufficient?

Sri Aurobindo: What do you mean by it? Do you think it so easy to surrender? It is very difficult, it is sadhana itself.
Disciple: But supposing a man surrenders to a human Guru, would it be sufficient?

Sri Aurobindo: What do you mean by surrender to a human being? And “sufficient” for what?

Disciple: Sufficient for attaining Perfection or God.

Sri Aurobindo: I suppose surrender to a man means surrender to the Divine in him, and whether it would be sufficient or not depends upon the man to whom he surrenders.

Disciple: Is it the same thing as surrendering to God?

Sri Aurobindo: I suppose when a man surrenders himself to another man, he surrenders to the Truth in the man. In what other sense can one understand it? He can, of course, get whatever the Guru has got if he is sincere and if he has a still greater sincerity for the search he may be even greater than his Guru.


Disciple: I now remember how Girish Chandra Ghosh, some days before his death, said that though Ramakrishna had asked him to leave the burden of his sadhana to him, yet Girish found he had not been able to transfer his burden to Ramakrishna.

Sri Aurobindo: But the idea in India is that yoga is a work of abhyāsa – constant practice. How can one man do sadhana for another? Whatever may be the idea in other yogas, in our yoga, at any rate, to leave the burden to the Guru would defeat its own aim. Each must work out his way by himself. What the Guru can do at the most is that he can put the Power; but the rejection and the transformation are to be done by the sadhaka himself. He can get the help when he needs. And when the Guru can put the Power one may not be able to hold it, or one may even spend it away uselessly. Everyone has to work out his way. (16-10-1925)


Sri Aurobindo:  I do not know about other yogas; but this yoga means growing conscious every moment of what is going on in oneself. One has to give consent to the higher working, rejecting the lower movement. That is the basis. The conditions for receiving the Guru’s help are the same as those for receiving the help of the Higher Power directly. Unless you consent to his working, even God does not help man. In this yoga there is that perfect liberty to the individual to make his choice. (2-3-1926)

– Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, compiled by A.B.Purani

As the Force behind these words slowly washes away the grime or dirt or whatever else is clouding my consciousness I begin to feel the psychological comfort I seek. Of course, the precondition is that I am in a state of inner receptivity, because without that nothing works.

Equally essential is a complete surrender to the Guru. Sri Aurobindo explains the deeper reason for how this surrender works:

“Surrender to the Guru is said to be surrender beyond all surrenders because through it you surrender not only to the impersonal, but to the personal, not only to the Divine in self but to the Divine outside you; you get a chance for the surpassing of the ego not only by retreat into the self where ego does not exist, but in the personal nature where it is the ruler.”

– CWSA, Vol. 35, p. 396

But is surrender easy, dominated that we are by our ego and its demands? Burdened by a (false) sense of the doer-ship can we let go of our concerns and anxieties? Life has its own reasons and rhythms, its own way of helping us grow through circumstances and opportunities. Led by our lower mental-vital-physical nature as we journey through life it is only when things don’t work out our way, the desperate heart cries out – “I surrender! I give up.” That’s when we turn to something beyond us, higher than us, in whom we can put all our trust and say – “Now it is all in your hands, O Lord! Help me, help me.”

Is this surrender? It sounds like it. But is it really?

Or is it like asking the Lord to fulfil our desires, asking for help in making things go our way? An egoistic attitude leads us to such giving up – I have tried all, I can’t do it, so now we turn to You.

This is not surrender.

Surrender is when we don’t look for help elsewhere, when we don’t think we have to first exhaust all the possibilities within our limited capabilities and then turn to the Divine. It happens when our very first thought and our only thought is that it is only the Divine who steers our boat and takes us safely through the voyage, who takes care of us through all thick and thin, who not only knows what is in our interest but also gives us what is needed and when, and it is to the Divine only that we give our all, at whose Feet we give up all, all the time.

To turn once again to the essence of the Gita as described by Sri Aurobindo:

“Turn all thy mind to Me and fill it with thought of Me and My presence. Turn all they heart to Me, make thy every action, whatever it be, a sacrifice and offering to Me. That done, leave Me to do My will with thy life and soul and action; do not be grieved or perplexed by My dealings with thy mind and heart and life and works or troubled because they do not seem to follow the laws and Dharmas man imposes on himself to guide his limited will and intelligence” – CWSA, Volume 19, p. 557

This self-surrender is neither an escape from action nor an excuse for not making personal effort. Tamasic surrender is not true surrender; it is only an excuse for not doing anything. We must not cease from action, but perform all our works as offering to the Divine and leave the outcome to the Divine Will – that is surrender. This attitude of renunciation of all attachment to the fruits of our labour, to the expectations of reward of our labour is true surrender.

Surrender doesn’t mean that as seekers we give up all personal effort and aspiration, and expect the Divine Grace to do it all. Grace acts when there is Light and Truth. We must be ready in our being to receive the Grace and Light. We must cleanse our inner house first if we want the Divine’s Presence there. This personal effort at purification, this aspiration is not at all inconsistent with a true and genuine surrender to the Divine, because only when the Divine wills we make the first step towards such inner cleansing. Though of course, all that has gone by before this auspicious moment has been a preparation towards it.


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