Spiritual Discourses: The six aspects of surrender
By Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati*
Surrender and Inner Freedom: The definition of surrender
In surrender, our unhappiness, fears, anxieties, and insecurities are destroyed or removed. According to a school of Vedanta known as Visista advaita, Saranagati or Prapatti is considered to be the most important means to attain God. Saranam is to be translated as ‘refuge’. According to them, there are six aspects to Saranagati:
änukülyasya sankalpah prätikülyasya varjanam, raksisyati iti visväsah, goptrutve varunam tathä, ätma-niksepakärpanye sadvidhä saranagatih.
The acceptance of those things favourable to God; the rejection of unfavourable things; the conviction that He will give protection; the acceptance of God as one’s protector; the relinquishing of one’s ego, and the cultivating of humility are the six aspects of surrender.
Anukulyasya sankalpah is the resolve to do what is agreeable or favourable to God. Our sankalpa or resolve is in keeping with His will; whatever He likes determines our will. It is a determination that we will always submit to Him. This requires us to surrender the tendency to violate the order.
Pratikülyasya varjanam is the giving up of what is pratiküla, not agreeable. Doing what is agreeable to God and refraining from what is not agreeable implies living a life in keeping with the order. The order that is manifest in the universe is the will of God. The whole universe is considered to be the manifestation of his will. The Taittiriya Upanisad [2-6] says that at the beginning of creation, the Lord desired to manifest as this universe, so kamayata bahusyam prajayeya iti, he wished, “Let me be many, let me be born.” The universe appears to function in keeping with the order, and, therefore, the order itself is the manifestation of the will of the Lord.
Raksisyati iti visväsah means having a firm faith in His ability to protect. Sometimes, we are very insecure. The Mundakopanisad [3- 1-6] says, satyameva jayate nanrutam, truth alone wins, not falsehood. Truth is his will and falsehood goes against his will. Therefore, our determination should be to follow the truth and give up falsehood. We try to follow these rules but often get disheartened. We find that many people get away with falsehood and dishonesty. They even seem to get ahead while the truthful ones are left behind. This makes us feel insecure, and this insecurity comes in the way of our following the order. Yet we must trust that we are in safe hands as long as we follow his will and trust that he will protect us. This is Sraddhä, faith or trust. In this, there is a surrender of our insecurity, which is a product of our false perception of ourselves.
Goptrutve varunam is the acceptance of Isvara as the protector. We need a protector to help us let go of our insecurities. The last two aspects of surrender according to this definition are atma- niksepa, the offering of one’s ego, and karpanya, the spirit of humility.
Surrender lies in correcting errors at the intellectual and emotional levels
Whenever our perception seems to contradict what is said by the scriptures, we have to be willing to let go of them in favour of the words of the scriptures. Each one of us has erroneous perceptions regarding ourselves, the world, and God. The only way to shed this ignorance is to shed these perceptions. This error is at two levels – at the level of wrong thinking on one’s part and that of the resultant habitual wrong behaviour. Thus, there is an intellectual error and a habitual error. Even if we correct our understanding, it will be quite some time before our habits are corrected. We often hear people say, “I understand everything, but I am not able to put any of it into practice.” In his helplessness, even Duryodhana says, janami dharmam na ch me pravruttih janami adharmam na ch me nivruttih, kenapi devena hrudisthitena yatha niyukto’smi tatha karomi. “I know what is right but cannot pursue it, and I know what is wrong but cannot refrain from it; in whichever way I am impelled by the one sitting in my heart, that way do I act.” Similarly, despite knowing what is right, we are often controlled by our own impulses.
In surrender, we have to understand the realities of life. Unfortunately, our lives are based on false understanding, which is responsible for many habitual patterns of thinking and behaviour. We are bound to have ragas and dvesas, attachments and aversions; these are products of our own perceptions. Our lives seem to be governed by a subjective perception of the desirable or the undesirable and the resultant attachment or aversion. There is no such thing as that which is desirable or undesirable to everyone. Moreover, that which is desirable now can become undesirable later. For instance, the doctor may tell you that you should not be eating anything sweet because sugar is not good for your health. However, you find all sweets desirable and it takes some effort to desist. Alertness, self-control, and discipline are required to overcome habitual errors. Understanding the realities of life at an intellectual level is not difficult. An analytical or logical mind can appreciate this easily. The difficulty is in aligning one’s entire personality with the newfound understanding. The disparity between understanding and behaviour is a habitual error and has to be corrected.
The first stage of surrender is the graceful acceptance of Isvara
Surrender, in essence, amounts to surrendering our false notions. There is freedom in surrendering our false notions and perceptions. These wrong notions and perceptions about the self, the world, and God only serve to bind us. Graceful acceptance helps us to acknowledge what is right. A fundamental truth is involved in this statement. As the Isavasyopanisad  says, Isavasyamidam sarvam yatkinch jagatyam jagat, whatever there is in this creation is nothing but the manifestation of Isvara. Isvara is not only the creator; He is also manifest as the creation. He is immanent even while he transcends all names and forms. This is the right perception. Until you gain the perception that everything, including yourself, is Isvara, you do not gain total freedom. When it is said that you are Isvara, it does not mean that you are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Isvara is infinite in all aspects, whereas you have a personality with limited knowledge, power, and capacity. You are seeking oneness not at the level of your personality but at the level of your true nature. The true nature of Isvara, the essence of love, freedom, happiness, and fullness, is the true nature of yourself.
We tend to think that we are free and complete only when we can control the world. Therefore, we get frustrated whenever we cannot have our way. This perception of freedom and completeness is false. Freedom is not to be equated to a specific situation or an event. Discovering the truth of what is and what we are is freedom. We discover the reality of our wholeness only when the false perceptions are no more.
Vedanta says that one does not have to ‘become’ free and whole because one is already free and whole. But this does not seem to be our experience; one does not feel either free or whole. There are thus two opposing perceptions. Which one of these perceptions should form the basis of our lives? Surrender is in letting go of our perception of incompleteness in favour of Vedanta’s assertion of our wholeness. As we progressively give up our false notions, our perceptions begin to coincide with the perceptions of Vedanta. The perception that we are limited cannot be dropped just like that. It has to be surrendered in stages. The first stage is the graceful acceptance of Isvara.
The second stage of surrender is conformity to dharma, the order
Our perception that we are limited beings makes us needy. One is constantly in need of security, comfort, acceptance, and approval, and whatever we do is essentially motivated by a desire to fulfil these needs. When this perception is compared to what the Upanisads teach, we discover that it is not legitimate. Therefore, the neediness is also not legitimate. Since security and fearlessness are our nature, nothing needs to provide us with security. The Taittiriyopanisad [2-7] says, abhayam pratishtam vindate, the wise person gains abidance in fearlessness. Whatever one does on the basis of fear or insecurity cannot be right. We compromise our values out of fear and insecurity. We lie and cheat to protect ourselves. Very often, following these values comes at a price; one has to let go of one’s likes and dislikes in order to be truthful and honest. Therefore, the impulse of insecurity and fear has to be kept in check in order to conform to the order, dharma.
If we can ‘bring’ Isvara into every aspect of our lives, it becomes easier to follow the order, and it also becomes easier to follow the teachings of Vedanta. We seem to need a ‘protector,’ and usually look upon wealth, power, name, and fame as protectors. For that reason, there is insecurity whenever we let go of them. An important aspect of surrender is the faith that the Lord will protect us, raksisyati iti visväsah.
*Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati has been teaching Vedānta Prasthānatrayī and Prakaraṇagranthas for the last 40 years in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Throughout the year, he conducts daily Vedānta discourses, accompanied by retreats, and Jñāna Yajñas on Vedānta in different cities in India and in foreign countries.