The word itself doesn’t bode well with many of us. The word surrender evokes fears of losing freedom, of losing control, even of losing individual identity. Surrender can bring up connotations of ‘forced acceptance’.
For many of us, the first image that comes to mind when we hear ‘surrender’ is that of the battle weary soldier giving himself over to his enemies. We may picture ourselves as those soldiers, helplessly clinging to our attachments as they are torn away from us. Certainly if this is surrender, who wants it?However, this is not surrender…this is fear of surrender. Surrender is sweet. Surrender is voluntary. Surrender is what happens when we love. The holy name urges us to surrender – even begs us to surrender. But when we are afraid to heed its call, our japa suffers. There is a part of us that fears that the holy name will bring us too quickly to the ocean of surrender, an ocean that may be colder or rougher than we think we can handle. In this case we prefer to walk in the water slowly and gradually – and our japa reflects this mood.
One of my friends confided to me that he would get caught in cycles of surrender and retreat. The more he tried to surrender, the more the path became full of rocks and choked with thorns…the hardships grew stronger. He realized that if he fully surrendered he would have to make changes to his life that he feared he just could not maintain. So even as he hears the sweet, holy name calling him to surrender, fear of that ocean of surrender keeps its grip on his soul.In this newsletter we look at the subtle aspects of our resistance to surrender and how it affects our bhakti in general and our japa in particular.
May you always think of Krishna.
For many of us the word surrender bears negative connotations. We fear if we fully surrender to Krsna something “undesirable” may happen.
“If I fully surrender, what if Krsna takes something away I am attached to?”
“If I fully surrender, what if Krsna won’t allow me to do my favorite services?”
“If I fully surrender, what if Krsna makes my life more difficult?”
“If I fully surrender, what if I won’t be happy?”
Srimad-Bhagavatam states that one who reads or hears this great book will always be absorbed in thoughts of Krsna. In the Bhakti-Sandarba, Jiva Goswami poses the following question: “Why doesn’t this happen when we hear the Srimad-Bhagavatam?”. He explains that it doesn’t happen because we don’t want to fully surrender. In other words, we deprive ourselves of the full benefit of the Bhagavatam (and the other process of bhakti) because of our reluctance to surrender. Do you want to get closer to Krsna?. I am sure you do. But are you thinking, “Yes, I want to get closer to Krsna, as long as I don’t have to fully surrender, because I may not like the way Krsna brings me closer to Him?” Or maybe you are thinking, “Yes, I would like to surrender fully to Krsna, but not just yet.” “I don’t mind if Krsna takes away this attachment, but I don’t want Him to take away that attachment.”Krsna wants a relationship with us. If he didn’t care about us He wouldn’t have appeared in His various incarnations and He wouldn’t have sent so many pure devotees to this planet to try to deliver us. What is missing in the relationship is our reciprocation of His love for us. For so many lives we have taken from Krsna, now it’s our turn to give back.
What will Krsna do if we fully surrender to Him? Will He make our lives difficult? Will He take things away from us? Will He give us services that are full of difficulties, or that go against our nature? He may or may not do these things. But we should have faith that if we surrender to Krsna He will only deal with us in a way that brings us closer to Him.
Acts of surrender bring us into a more intimate relationship with Krsna. So we can say that one meaning of surrender is, “that which brings us closer to Krsna.” Yet on some level, perhaps a level we are not fully conscious of, many of us are actually afraid of having a closer relationship with Krsna.
Good relationships develop when we are willing to make sacrifices and compromises, be responsible and trustworthy, act with integrity, be true to our word, reciprocate with the love given, and love even when our lover is unkind.
How well does Krsna do this for us? Perfectly well.
How well do we do this for Krsna?
How often do you devote more energy to fulfill your own desires than you do to fulfill Krsnas desires? How often do you forget to be grateful for Krsna’s gifts to you? How often do you fail to remember Krsna during your day?
As conditioned souls we have a reluctance to allow Krsna to fully take control of our lives. In a Vyasapuja address to his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada described this as “causeless unwillingness” to serve. Causeless unwillingness means behavior motivated by a long standing desire to avoid Krsna. Satsvarupa Maharaja once asked Srila Prabhupada “Why, if Krsna is so attractive, is it so difficult to surrender to Him.” Prabhupada replied, “Because you hate Krsna.”
Do we really hate Krsna? It doesn’t seem like it. We serve Him, we glorify Him, we pray to Him, we chant His name. These are not activities of one who hates Krsna. So what did Prabhupada mean?
Even though we serve Krsna, the tendency to want to be like Him is still strong. In many ways we still want to enjoy like Krsna. We want to enjoy the opposite sex; we want to enjoy some honor, power, control or opulence. Granted, these desires may be fairly well subdued, but this means that in some way we are still trying to play out God’s role. In other words, we are often competing with Krsna in various ways, some subtle and some not so subtle. Although we might not think of these tendencies or actions as manifestations of hatred towards Krsna, at least we can admit they are not expressions of love for Him. So what are they?
We want to love Krsna and this is why we practice Krsna consciousness. But our conditioned nature is still afraid to fully love Him. Love entails giving our heart, losing our independence, and subordinating ourselves to the one we love. Love means our lover is first in our lives. Love is sacrifice and love of God is the supreme sacrifice. Divine love means we are controlled solely by Krsna’s will. Indeed, divine love is far more than simply reciprocating Krsna’s love. It is divine slavery. It’s such a high level of self-sacrifice that even Krsna cannot repay this love.
Surrender is full of sweetness, but in our conditioned state we tend to look at surrender differently. We often fail to see how total surrender can make us happy and how it will fulfill our desires. So we monitor our surrender by being cautious about what we are willing and not willing to sacrifice to guru and Krsna.
If you sat before Krsna, would you feel guilty or awkward about your inability to properly reciprocate with His love? If you sometimes do things that have little or nothing to do with Him, or are even in direct opposition to what He asks of you, how would you feel having to admit this to Him?
Each of us must confront our fears about surrender (about coming closer to Krsna). After all, the goal of Krsna consciousness is to repair our broken relationship with Krsna. Since sadhana bhakti is the process to do this, it is both a paradox and obstacle to put a threshold on how far we are presently willing to go in that relationship.
I would like to bring your attention to how I see this problem manifest for many devotees in their japa.
Teaching japa workshops over the years made it apparent to me that many devotees were not chanting well because they were reluctant to fully give themselves to the holy name. I sensed the reason was that they were afraid if they surrendered more to the name, the name would cause them to surrender more to Krsna and on an unconscious level they didn’t want this to happen.
We discussed this point in the workshops and discovered that many devotees didn’t want to surrender more than they were comfortable with (for reasons mentioned above, or for any number of other reasons). On some level they feared that good japa would push them over their surrender threshold, thus causing them to come to a level of surrender they fear they cannot handle.
In Saranagati Bhaktivinoda Thakura tells us of his experience with the holy names. He writes that the holy name speaks to Him. What is the holy name saying? What is the message the holy name delivers? What is the holy name ready to tell us if we really listen? The holy name is saying, “Just surrender to Me.” But He is doing a lot more than just instructing us to surrender. If we allow Him, the holy name will cause us to give up material attachments, and push us to give our lives fully to Krsna.
Why don’t we fully experience this? Because we don’t want to, because we are afraid to, because on some level we think we’ll suffer if we fully surrender.
Fear is a belief in our inability to handle something. Our fear of surrendering is a belief that increased surrender would make life difficult to handle (i.e. we would suffer). So we protect ourselves from allowing the Name to do this by subtly monitoring our chanting so we don’t fully surrender to the Name in the mood of, “Krsna, do with me whatever you want, whatever is best for our relationship.” In other words, we often take baby steps in our surrender to the holy name. (I think I can handle x amount of surrender, so I will only chant with x amount of surrender).
Of course, the reality is that any suffering we experience is a result of our unwillingness to surrender to Krsna. Thus, all suffering we experience is self-inflicted, not God-inflicted. This means the only person who is ever going to make us unhappy is ourselves, not Krsna If we have problems surrendering more, it’s likely we have gotten this equation backwards.
We discuss this point in our japa workshops to help devotees realize any inhibitions they have about chanting in the mood of full surrender. As devotees become aware of the fears they have about surrender, I ask them to look more closely at these fears. As they do this they begin to see that these fears are not real but are simply their own creations.
At this point we conduct a japa session that focuses on chanting in a more surrendered mood. While chanting, devotees confront their fears of surrender in an attempt to let them go and give themselves more to the holy names. Again, these fears are based on the concern that if I surrender, Krsna may do something to make my life more miserable. After the session they share the experiences and realizations they had while chanting.
One devotee shared a wonderful realization that sums up this article in a better way than I ever could. While chanting she was looking at a picture of Krsna she had on her notebook. It was a picture of Krsna sitting on a rock by the Jamuna River playing His flute. As she continued to chant, looking at the picture and facing her fears of surrender, the following thought came to her.
“How could this beautiful young boy ever do anything to hurt me?”
Tomorrow when you chant your rounds, allow yourself to give up any inhibitions you might have about surrender with this one simple thought.
“How could this beautiful young boy ever do anything to hurt me?”
Surrender doesn’t mean acting blindly or without intelligence. Surrender means acting in a way that brings you closer to Krsna. This may sometimes mean recognizing a certain nature or tendency you have and employing it in Krsna’s service. It can also mean taking extra care of your spiritual practice or health, changing your asrama or service, etc. In rare cases it can even mean not following an order given to you when you are certain (or have a strong feeling) the results will be spiritually detrimental.
In other words, sometimes surrender can externally look like a selfish act, as if you are compromising or giving into a material tendency. But surrender always means doing what is most favorable for advancing in Krsna consciousness.
Act in a way that brings you closer to Krsna and helps you think of Krsna more. This is surrender. And when you do this, automatically you will be able to help others surrender.
Explore your own fears of surrender by finishing this statement.
If I fully surrender to Krsna, what if _____________?
List as many “what ifs” as you can discover.
Imagine your list was presented to you as if it were a friend’s list who wanted your advice in dealing with these exact fears of surrender.
Write down what you would tell him or her for each one of your “what ifs.”
Acknowledge that these fears are your creations.
Practice chanting japa free of these fears or surrender these fears as you chant.