The Bhagavad Gita and Sri Ramana Maharshi on
"The True Meaning and Nature of Surrender"
If there is one term describing an essential aspect needed for success that can be found in all schools of spiritual practice, irregardless of the methods prescribed and their scriptural foundation; one single aspect of approach or revelation of the Divine, the Self, the Eternal, the Perennial Ground of which all humans claim inheritance- it is “surrender”.
If there is one thing that can be universally said concerning this fundamental cornerstone upon which is built a life of what is deemed Spiritual and Real, it is undeniably that from it's very definition onwards – practically everyone has it wrong. Of course, this statement is bold and presumptuous, even arrogant. But before such judgment is passed, let us analyze the proper Sanskrit dictionary etymology and meaning of the word 'saranagati', which is commonly translated into English as 'surrender'.
The meaning of saranagati is derived from two root words. First is the word 'saranam', and finally from the word 'agati'. 'Saranam' is defined with a list of synonyms including refuge, shelter, protection, succor, and interestingly, a place of rest. 'Agati' means to come to, to go to, even to go to quickly as an arrow released from a bow.
In the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu Bible, Lord Krishna uses this word twice in His final summation to Arjuna. The Lord is revealing in verses 62 and 66 the highest and most profound secret regarding how to “surrender” and what is its result.
tam eva saranam gaccha Fly unto Him alone for refuge
sarvabhavena bharata With your whole being, Arjuna.
tatprasadat param santim From His grace, you shall attain
sthanam prapsyasi sasvata Supreme peace and the eternal.
sarvadharman parityajya Abandoning all duties,
mam ekam saranam vraja Take refuge in Me alone.
aham tva sarvapapebhyo I shall liberate you
moksayisyami ma sucah From all evils; do not grieve.
It is essential to note the words the Lord uses to imperatively modify 'saranam' in both verses. In verse 62 the use of the word “gaccha” signifies the exclamatory imperative act “to go!” In verse 66 the word “vraja”, coming from the root 'vraj', implies a command “take, vow!“ Grammatically both usages are to be defined with extreme emphasis, for they are both 2nd singular imperative acts. The implication that Sanskrit scholars derive from this is that the Lord is revealing the act of surrender as a process of determined and totally concentrated effort (prapatti, an often used synonym for “ull “saranagate” meaning total surrender to God through devotion and adoration combined with a life of purity and virtue).
Sri Ramana Maharshi clarifies the application of this secret revelation in the Gita when answering questions of devotees from both the Jnana and Bhakti Marga (way):
“The 'I' casts off the illusion of 'I' and yet remains as 'I'. Such is the paradox of Self-Realisation. The realised do not see any contradiction in it. Take the case of bhakti - I approach Iswara and pray to be absorbed in Him. I then surrender myself in faith and by concentration. What remains afterwards? In place of the original 'I', perfect self-surrender leaves a residuum of God in which the 'I' is lost. This is the highest form of devotion (parabhakti), prapatti, surrender or the height of vairagya…You give up this and that of 'my' possessions. If you give up 'I' and 'Mine' instead, all are given up at a stroke. The very seed of possession is lost. Thus the evil is nipped in the bud or crushed in the germ itself. Dispassion (vairagya) must be very strong to do this. Eagerness to do it must be equal to that of a man kept under water trying to rise up to the surface for his life.” 1
The Jnani “casts off”, the Bhakta “approaches, prays and becomes absorbed”. Both are an active effort requiring “strong dispassion and concentrated eagerness” to avoid being drowned in the waters of samsara (an ocean of sorrows).
Can we now pass judgment that to believe “surrender” a whimsical act of “letting go”, “giving up the effort”, or casually and shyly “going with the flow” is an erroneous and mistaken understanding?
Mistaken! For Bhagavan and the Bhagavad Gita are declaring that “surrender” means flying like an arrow to a shelter, a refuge and a place of rest in God!
And if we try and try again to attain this most Blessed state, but find no help, our prayers will at least give us “ears to hear” the proclamation from the Jagat Guru, the Spirit of Guidance:
Devotee: “ We surrender; but still there is no help.“
Maharshi: “Yes. If you have surrendered, you must be able to abide by the will of God and not make a grievance of what may not please you. Things may turn out differently from what they look apparently. Distress often leads men to faith in God.”
Devotee: “But we are worldly. There is the wife, there are the children, friends and relatives. We cannot ignore their existence and resign ourselves to Divine Will, without retaining some little of the personality in us.”
Maharshi: “That means you have not surrendered
as professed by you.
You must only trust God.” 2
1) Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Talk 28
2) Ibid, Talk 43