Surrender for Shelter

In one of the most important verses of the Bhagavad-gita ­– chapter 18, text 66 – Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that he should simply surrender to Him. The Sanskrit phrase Srila Prabhupada translates as “surrender” is sharanam vraja (sharanam – shelter, refuge; vraja – go). Krishna is inviting Arjuna to take shelter of Him. If Arjuna does so, Krishna says, he need not worry about suffering the consequences of neglecting routine religious duties; Krishna will take care of everything.

The phrase sharanam vraja also appears in Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.32.11, where Lord Krishna’s incarnation as the sage Kapiladeva says, “Therefore, My dear mother, by devotional service take direct shelter [sharanam vraja] of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is seated in everyone’s heart.”

I must admit that my mind tends to react negatively when I hear the word surrender; an invitation to take shelter is much more appealing. Maybe that’s because in the Hare Krishna movement, “surrender” often connotes agreeing to do something we don’t want to do. For example, a manager struggling to get all the temple services covered may say to a reluctant or overworked devotee, “I’m afraid you’ll just have to surrender, Prabhu.”

Although that connotation is common in ISKCON, when I look at how Srila Prabhupada uses surrender, the impression I get is that he’s not suggesting we just need to grit our teeth and do what Krishna wants. Rather, surrendering to Krishna is the most natural thing there is, just as it’s natural to run for shelter in a torrential downpour.

Life in the material world is like being stuck in a constant rainstorm. Or maybe a better metaphor is the kind of downpour we hear about in the Bhagavatam when Dhruva Maharaja is fighting against higher beings known as Yakshas, one of whom killed his brother. By their mystic power, the Yakshas created a terrifying “rainfall.” The sage Maitreya says, “In that rainfall there was blood, mucus, pus, stool, urine and marrow falling heavily before Dhruva Maharaja, and there were trunks of bodies falling from the sky.” (Bhagavatam 4.10.24) And that was just the beginning.

In a situation like that, who wouldn’t spontaneously surrender to Krishna – that is, take refuge in Him? The shelter Dhruva took advantage of was the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, which immediately destroyed the illusion created by the Yakshas. That same shelter is available to all of us. The Yakshas’ rain may seem much more terrifying than anything we will ever face, but what horrors haven’t we experienced in our countless lifetimes in the material world? The notion that we don’t need shelter – and that surrender is optional – is misinformed.

In wartime, surrender usually brings negative consequences; the losing side has fought to win but is now forced to submit to the will of the victor, who may not be in a charitable mood. But Krishna is never at war with us. Although we are His errant children, He is graciously waiting for us to take shelter of Him. He is ready – eager – to forgive our transgressions. He simply wants to know that we want Him exclusively and have abandoned all hope of finding shelter elsewhere.

– Nagaraja Dasa