If we examine the real meaning of “surrender” to Krishna, we will find the concept to be dynamic and reciprocal.
By Urmila Devi Dasi
Accepting Krishna’s invitation to come under His shelter doesn’t end our social engagement; it uplifts it.
The concept of surrendering ourselves to Krishna is at the heart of what it means to be Krishna conscious. Yet the word surrender may conjure conceptions of painful subjugation, perhaps as the regretful end to a war for the losing side. Conversely, if we do indeed feel the joy of Krishna’s call for our surrender in terms of accepting His love, we may define such surrender as a withdrawal from social engagement. Surrender may seem to imply a cloistered or monastic life. As we examine the real meaning of surrender, we will find the concept to be dynamic and reciprocal, rather than anything narrow or stereotyped.
The Bhagavad-gita (18.66) ends with a call to surrender to the Lord without fear and to engage with the world in that mood of surrender.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.”
In fact, proper social engagement can occur only with surrender, as explained in Bhagavad-gita (7.14), because only through surrender is the veil of ignorance and illusion lifted.
“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.”
Our illusion is an egoistic covering of the self, such as thinking oneself to be the center of reality. Social engagement without surrender and without the Lord’s consequent lifting of illusion is based on false premises of the identity of the self and others. Basing engagement with others on a false platform likely renders all interaction problematic, possibly ineffective, and perhaps even harmful. Therefore the message of the Bhagavad-gita is to engage in the world with a mood of surrender. Interaction in the light of truth allows us to have real meaning and value in our actions.
According to scripture, surrender to Krishna has six aspects. Two of the sixty-four limbs of bhakti epitomize some of these aspects. These limbs are called atma-nivedanam and sharanapatti. Let us first look at the six aspects of surrender to the Lord and then those two limbs.
Six Aspects of Surrender
(Ahirbudhnya-samhita 37.2 and Lakshmi-tantra 17.60 [quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa 11.676])
There are a number of ways in which Srila Prabhupada translates the above verse. First, we can look at his translation of each word:
anukulyasya – of anything that assists devotional service to the Lord; sankalpah – acceptance; pratikulyasya – of anything that hinders devotional service; varjanam – complete rejection; rakshishyati – He will protect; iti – thus; vishvasah – strong conviction; goptritve – in being the guardian, like the father or husband, master or maintainer; varanam – acceptance; tatha – as well as; atma–nikshepa – full self-surrender; karpanye – and humility; shat-vidha – sixfold; sharana-agatih – process of surrender.
With this as a reference, we will use this translation:
- Accept everything favorable to serving the Lord.
- Give up everything unfavorable for serving the Lord.
- Have a firm conviction that only Krishna can protect oneself.
- Always accept Krishna as one’s maintainer.
- Always be conscious that one is not independent in fulfilling desires.
- Always humbly think of oneself as most fallen so that Krishna will take care.
Alternatively, Srila Prabhupada sometimes translates aspect four, goptritve, as “to become a member of a spiritual family” or “to introduce oneself with the associates of the Lord.” He said, for example, “When you are advanced, you’ll understand what is your relationship with Krishna. Then if you introduce yourself with that association . . .”
Prabhupada gives an alternative explanation for aspect five, atma-nikshepa, as “dedicate one’s life for His service.”
We will look at each of the six in terms of both surrender and social engagement.
Accept Everything Favorable to Serving the Lord
In a narrow sense, this aspect of surrender would mean taking up the sixty-four various limbs, or angas, of bhakti. Rupa Goswami describes that the three most important angas all relate to a spiritual master. These are “accepting the shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, taking initiation from him and serving him with respect and reverence.” (The Nectar of Devotion, chapter 6)
This concept is certainly not unique to Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Surrender to the Lord in most religious traditions involves accepting a preceptor, prophet, guide, mentor, or leader, that acceptance often including some sort of ceremony of dedication to the specific path of that person or tradition. Among Gaudiya Vaishnavas this ceremony of dedication is called diksha, where one receives mantras for meditation and is connected with both a specific guru and that guru’s lineage. Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34):
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
In addition to those three most important favorable activities, a surrendered person follows as many of the limbs of bhakti as he or she is able to do, in line with individual circumstances. Rupa Goswami especially recommends “five kinds of devotional activities – namely residing in Mathura, worshiping the Deity of the Lord, reciting Srimad-Bhagavatam, serving a devotee and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra – [that] are so potent a small attachment for any one of these five items can arouse devotional ecstasy even in a neophyte.” (The Nectar of Devotion, chapter 13)
Some degree of social engagement is inherent, or at least implied, in many of the positive angas of bhakti. For example, living in a holy place includes assisting the residents there and serving the place by, for example, cleaning and maintaining the shrines and features such as rivers and mountains.
Generally, or at least ideally, recitation of scriptures such as Srimad-Bhagavatam involves engagement with others, as Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (10.9):
“The thoughts of my pure devotees dwell in me, their lives are fully devoted to my service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about me.”
Chanting the maha-mantra – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare – is done both as individual meditation and musically in groups, both among practitioners of bhakti and involving the public.
In a broad sense, accepting what is favorable for serving the Lord brings the possibility of a wide range of social engagement. Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.22:
All the sages and devotees of the Lord have recommended that the subject matter of art, science, philosophy, physics, chemistry, psychology and all other branches of knowledge should be wholly and solely applied in the service of the Lord. Art, literature, poetry, painting, etc., may be used in glorifying the Lord. The fiction writers, poets and celebrated litterateurs are generally engaged in writing of sensuous subjects, but if they turn towards the service of the Lord they can describe the transcendental pastimes of the Lord. Valmiki is a great poet, and similarly Vyasadeva is a great writer, and both of them have absolutely engaged themselves in delineating the transcendental activities of the Lord and by doing so have become immortal. Similarly, science and philosophy also should be applied in the service of the Lord. There is no use presenting dry speculative theories for sense gratification. Philosophy and science should be engaged to establish the glory of the Lord. Advanced people are eager to understand the Absolute Truth through the medium of science, and therefore a great scientist should endeavor to prove the existence of the Lord on a scientific basis. Similarly, philosophical speculations should be utilized to establish the Supreme Truth as sentient and all-powerful. Similarly, all other branches of knowledge should always be engaged in the service of the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita also the same is affirmed. All “knowledge” not engaged in the service of the Lord is but nescience. Real utilization of advanced knowledge is to establish the glories of the Lord, and that is the real import. Scientific knowledge engaged in the service of the Lord and all similar activities are all factually hari-kirtana, or glorification of the Lord.
And he writes in his purport to Sri Ishopanishad, Mantra 2: “There is no harm in becoming a family man, or an altruist, a socialist, a communist, a nationalist or a humanitarian, provided that one executes his activities in relation with ishavasya, the God-centered conception.”
Give Up Everything Unfavorable for Serving the Lord
The main things a surrendered person gives up are explained in the Bhagavad-gita (16.21):
“There are three gates leading to this hell – lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.”
These three mentalities and desires are directly opposed to surrender as well as to beneficial social engagement. It is not that a surrendered person represses these inclinations, but rather neither indulges them nor represses them. Surrender means a position of neutral observer towards lust, anger, and greed.
Letting go of lust, anger, and greed naturally involves uninterest in activities rooted in those psychological states. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada specifically had initiates vow to give up intoxication, illicit sex, gambling, and eating of meat, fish, or eggs. All those activities are both the products of those negative psychological states and the cause of an increase in them. A surrendered person would also give up all forms of deceit, lying, and cheating.
Clearly, a person free from vice in both behavior and motivation can engage socially in the world truly to help others in an atmosphere of affection and trust.
Have a Firm Conviction That Only Krishna Can Protect Oneself
This aspect of surrender brings on a state of fearlessness and acceptance of everything in life as part of the Lord’s plan for our protection. It is this mood that enables persons advanced in spiritual consciousness to take up service in dangerous or difficult situations. Worldly life is filled with various causes for fear at every moment. But one who feels the Lord as protector can minister to others in the most difficult situations without being personally affected.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great teacher in the Gaudiya line, demonstrates this aspect of surrender with a song about the cows that Lord Krishna herds. He writes in his book Sharanagati (translation by Dasharatha-suta Dasa):
Surrendering my soul unto You has lifted from me the burden of false pride. No longer will I try to provide for my own safety. I know that You will give protection to Your treasured possessions, O Lord. I now understand the mentality of Your treasured cows safely maintained by Your side. When You lead Your herds to pasture, O Madhava, on the banks of the Yamuna River, You will call to them by softly playing on Your flute. By slaying great demons such as Aghasura and Bakasura, You will always provide full protection, O Kana of the cowherd settlement! Fearless and confident of Your protection, I will drink the water of the Yamuna. The Kaliya serpent’s venom poisoned the Yamuna’s waters, yet that poison will be vanquished. You will purify the Yamuna, and by such heroic deeds enhance our faith. You will surely protect me by swallowing the forest fire. Thus You are called Gopala (protector of the cows) and Govinda (pleaser of the cows). In order to curb the malice of Indra, king of the demigods, You will protect me from his torrents of rain, O lifter of the mighty Govardhana Hill! When the four-headed Brahma abducts me along with Your cowherd boyfriends and calves, then also You will surely protect me, O Gokula Hari! Bhaktivinoda is now the property of Gokula, Your holy abode. O Keshava! Kindly protect him with gentle loving care.
Always Accept Krishna as One’s Maintainer
We often think that we are maintaining ourselves and our loved ones with our occupation, but even a brief time of careful thought will reveal that everyone is fully dependent on God for life. Regardless of how hard we work, how skilled, knowledgeable, or clever we are, no matter who our friends and family are, circumstances in nature and in human society in general can bring us prosperity or ruin independent of our endeavors. This aspect of surrender, therefore, is both a simple and an ongoing deepening acceptance of fact. Such an acknowledgement allows us to work for livelihood in the mood of service to the Lord rather than independently. This mood promotes social engagement based not on a desire to get aid or maintenance from anyone, but only to do good for them. It thus removes all exploitation and selfishness from our interpersonal dealings.
Seeing Krishna as our maintainer can also be understood as deeply meaningful for those who have realized their eternal spiritual nature. Such persons no longer identify with the temporary body and mind as the “self” that needs to be maintained. Rather, their identity is firmly rooted in the awareness that they are fully part of Krishna as a spiritual entity whose very self He constantly supplies with abundance.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in his book Sharanagati:
Within my mind I have always been anxious for the maintenance of my wife and children, my own body and relatives. How will I earn money? How will I acquire fame? How will I arrange the marriages of my sons and daughters? Now, through self-surrender, I have been relieved of all anxiety. O Lord, surely you will provide for the maintenance of Your own household. Recognizing me as Your own servant, You will certainly maintain me. While rendering devotional service unto You, I feel the greatest happiness.
Always Be Conscious That One Is Not Independent in Fulfilling Desires
Srila Prabhupada comments on the Narada-bhakti-sutra, verse 12, with the following explanation of this aspect of surrender: “One should always remember that one’s activities and desires are not independent. In other words, the devotee should feel completely dependent on Krishna, and thus he should act and think as Krishna desires.” In his Teachings of Lord Chaitanya (chapter 12), Prabhupada explains this part of surrender as follows: “A devotee is always conscious that he is not independent in fulfilling his desires; unless Krishna fulfills them, they cannot be fulfilled.”
Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in Sharanagati:
The soul inhabiting this mortal body has given up the false ego attached to the word “I,” for today the spiritual sense of being Yours has entered his heart. All my possessions – body, home, servants, brothers, friends, wife, sons, personal belongings, fencing, and gateways – all of these things are now Yours, for I have become Your servant. I am but a mere occupant in Your house. You are the owner of the house, and I am Your most obedient servant. My only activity now is endeavoring for Your happiness. My will has become merged with Your will. From this day forward Bhaktivinoda has completely forgotten himself. I have become supremely happy by surrendering myself at Your lotus feet. Sorrow has gone far away, and there are no more cares. All I see is joy in the four directions.
In this aspect of surrender, social engagement involves acting as the Lord’s instrument rather than on one’s own volition. As is stated in the Bhagavad-gita (11.33):
“Therefore, get up. Prepare to fight and win glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasachi, can be but an instrument in the fight.”
Always Humbly Think of Oneself as Most Fallen So That Krishna Will Take Care
Srila Prabhupada defines humility as follows: “Humility means that one should not be anxious to have the satisfaction of being honored by others. The material conception of life makes us very eager to receive honor from others, but from the point of view of a man in perfect knowledge – who knows that he is not this body – anything, honor or dishonor, pertaining to this body is useless.” (Bhagavad-gita 13.8–12, Purport)
Humility is a sense of the truth of our insignificance, our fallen state, our need of unconditional mercy and grace, and our awareness of total dependence on Krishna.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in Sharanagati:
Now please hear me, O Lord! I am utterly helpless. Without Your mercy, everything is lost. Please give me the shelter of Your lotus feet. I drank the deadly poison of worldliness, pretending it was nectar, and now the sun is setting on the horizon of my life. Were You to judge me now, You would find no good qualities. Have mercy and judge me not. Cause me to drink the honey of Your lotus feet.
The humility of surrender is part of a devotee’s willingness to do the most menial service in the world, and to engage socially in the total mood of a giver, without expectation of return on any level.
The six aspects of surrender are evident in two limbs, or angas, of bhakti that Rupa Goswami describes, namely atma-nivedanam and sharanapatti. We will look at each of them.
This limb of bhakti means to make oneself the possession of the Lord for Him to do with as He pleases. The word atma can refer to our body, our mind, and the soul, our eternal self. This anga of bhakti involves the surrender of each for the Lord to do with as He pleases.
Body: Commenting on Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.29.34, Jiva Goswami writes:
Because he has offered his body to the Lord, he gives up all activities for pleasure in this life and the next, which nourish his body and things related to that body. The Lord then thinks, “I desire to make him special. He then attains freedom from death (amritatvam) and attains similarity to Me (atmabhuyaya).” This means that he attains liberation in the form of attaining his svarupa (eternal spiritual form) and sarshti (powers) like those of the Lord’s.
In Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.197 Rupa Goswami writes:
“Offering the body as atma is illustrated in Bhakti-viveka: Just as one does not worry about an animal that has been sold, one should offer this body to the Lord and be uninterested in its maintenance.”
As is stated in the Bhagavad-gita (2.45): niryoga-kshema atmavan (niryoga-kshemah – free from ideas of gain and protection; atma-van – established in the self). “Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self.”
For, as further stated in the Bhagavad-gita (9.22): yoga-kshemam vahamy aham (yoga – requirements; kshemam – protection; vahami – carry; aham – I). “I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.”
Mind: Krishna takes charge of our life, providing not only the bodily necessities, but also whatever guidance we require for our spiritual progress. As stated in Bhagavad-gita (10.10–11):
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.”
“To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.”
Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes:
My mind, my household affairs, my body, whatever is in my possession, my dear Lord, I offer to You for Your service. Now You can do with them as You like. You are the supreme possessor of everything, so if You like You can kill me, or if You like You can give me protection. All authority belongs to You. I have nothing to claim as my own.
Soul: Rupa Goswami explains the surrender of the soul, in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.196):
“Offering the soul is illustrated in a stotra of Yamunacharya: My dear Lord, I may be living within some body as a human being or as a demigod, but whatever mode of life, I do not mind, because these bodies are simply by-products of the three modes of material nature, and I, who am in possession of these bodies, am surrendering myself unto You.”
In other words, surrender of the soul means the devotee of Krishna is willing to reincarnate in any species or type of body – to be put anywhere for whatever purpose of service the Lord desires.
In summary, atma-nivedanam relates to social engagement in that the devotee who practices this anga allows and accepts that the Lord will use his body, mind, and very self to interact with others and the world as the Lord desires. This practice is rare because it is difficult. One lets go of even the slightest sense of being an independent doer. Yet this type of surrender is available to both the practicing and the perfected devotees. Of the six aspects of surrender, atma-nivedanam most directly involves accepting what is favorable, rejecting what is unfavorable, acting only as the Lord desires, and deep humility.
Sharanapatti as an anga of bhakti encompasses the aspects of surrender where the devotee sees the Lord as protector and maintainer. Srila Prabhupada explains it as follows (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 22.39, Purport):
Surrender means not that we demand something from the Lord but that we completely depend on His mercy. If Krishna likes, He may keep His devotee in a poverty-stricken condition, or if He likes He may keep him in an opulent position. The devotee should not be concerned in either case; he should simply be very serious about trying to satisfy the Lord by rendering Him service.
Rupa Goswami explains in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.201):
“Accepting the Lord’s protection (sharanapatti), illustrated from Hari-bhakti-vilasa 11.677: He who, while saying “I am Yours,” accepts the protection of the Lord feels bliss.”
Srila Prabhupada indicates that this sense of protection is shown by the devotee’s activities of body, mind, and words. The practice of sharanapatti is demonstrated in a kind of freedom in social engagements, as explained in the Bhagavad-gita (3.18):
“A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.”
Relationship Between Atma-nivedanam and Sharanapatti
What is the relationship between atma-nivedanam and sharanapatti? While a surrendered devotee may engage in both of these limbs of bhakti, which encompass all six aspects of surrender, some devotees take up only one. For example, while Rupa Goswami describes atma-nivedanam as very rare because of its difficulty, many people will find sharanapatti a comforting and desired way to live. Conversely, at advanced levels of spiritual realization, some devotees have a mood that they are caring for the Lord. Such devotees include those who act as his parents and teachers in his various incarnations. Thus sharanapatti would be at odds with their ecstatic loving mood. Yet such persons could fully take up the practice of atma-nivedanam. Of course, from an ontological perspective, even those in an ecstasy of feeling they are the ones who care for Krishna are really under His care and protection.
Happiness Through Truth
While words such as surrender and submission seem to imply a kind of military or forced conquest with concomitant painful suppression of one’s own interests, the spiritual reality is entirely opposite. Any thoughtful person can quickly ascertain that all creation is fully dependent on the Lord in all respects and at all times. Surrender is, therefore, an embracing of truth. And when we understand ourselves and others in truth, our actions bring us the happiness, meaning, and satisfaction we all desire.