Sri Chaitanya and Sanatana_Collection by Priya_krishna-art-consciousness


Surrender is the most fundamental step on the path of bhakti. It is like the foundation for the edifice of bhakti. The foundation is invisible but supports the edifice. Similarly, the activities of devotional service are based on surrender. Without surrender, service is nothing but work. The varṇāśrama system in Vedic society was designed to train a person to surrender. At present, the whole training is not to surrender. Therefore, most of us do not really comprehend the true sense of the word “surrender”. We may have a vague idea about it, but what it means in the context of bhakti has to be studied from bhakti literature. In Anuccheda 236 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī gives a detailed explanation of it. I present the translation of the original text with my commentary.

Translation of Anuccheda 236


There are various divisions of vaidhī-bhakti, including surrender (śaraṇāpatti), service to authentic devotees (sat-sevā), beginning with one’s guru, hearing (śravaṇa), singing (kīrtana), and other similar acts of devotion. It is understood from scripture that these divisions of bhakti, whether performed singly or in combinations of two or three, are instrumental in attaining the perfectional stage of bhakti [i.e., bhāva].

Among the above mentioned practices, let us first examine śaraṇāpatti, or surrender. A person who is bereft of all other refuge (ananya-gati) and who is oppressed by the fear of worldly existence (saṁsāra) instigated by the six enemies [of lust, anger, greed, delusion, pride, and envy],  takes shelter of Bhagavān. Even a person  who aspires for bhakti alone (bhakti-mātra-kāma), being driven to direct his regard away from Bhagavān (vaimukhya), induced by the same six enemies, seeks refuge in Him.

The state of being bereft of any other refuge (ananya-gatitvam) is also shown to be of two types—by declaring that there is no shelter other than Bhagavān, or by abandoning the shelter of other dependent gods, when a person who was previously lacking sufficient knowledge, comes to understand that Bhagavān is the only independent refuge.

An example of declaring that there is no shelter other than Bhagavān is given in this verse:

martyo mṛtyu-vyāla-bhītaḥ palāyan
lokān sarvān nirbhayaṁ nādhyagacchat
tvat pādābjaṁ prāpya yadṛcchayādya
svasthaḥ śete mṛtyur asmād apaiti

“O Primeval Being (ādya), terrified of the serpent of death and fleeing to every corner of the universe [for shelter], a mortal being is unable to find a single place free from fear. But having reached Your lotus feet by the will of Providence [i.e., by the causeless grace of highly realized devotees], he rests in peace, because even death withdraws from him.” (SB 10.3.27)

An example of abandoning all other shelter is spoken of by Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa:

tasmāt tvam uddhavotsṛjya codanāṁ prati-codanām
pravṛttaṁ ca nivṛttaṁ ca śrotavyaṁ śrutam eva ca
mām ekam eva śaraṇam ātmānaṁ sarva-dehinām
yāhi sarvātma-bhāvena mayā syā hy akutobhayaḥ

“Therefore, O Uddhava, abandoning all injunctions (codanā) and prohibitions (praticodanā), all prescribed (pravṛttam) and forbidden action (nivṛttam), and all that is worthy of study along with everything already studied, take refuge in Me alone with your entire being, because I am the Self of all embodied beings. You will certainly attain fearlessness through Me.” (SB 11.12.14-15)

Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The word codanā here refers to the śrutis [i.e., the injunctions found in the original four Vedas] and praticodanā refers to the smṛtis [or the injunctions found in the supplementary literature to the Vedas, such as the Purāṇas].”

We find a similar statement in the Gītā:

sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

“Forsake all forms of conventional dharma and take exclusive refuge in Me alone. I shall absolve you of all sins, do not worry.” (Gītā 18.66)

Surrender (śaraṇāpatti) is defined in the Vaiṣṇava Tantra:

ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ prātikūlyasya varjanam
rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāso goptṛtve varaṇaṁ tathā

“There are six symptoms of self-surrender: a firm resolve to act congenially to Bhagavān, to forsake all that is unfavorable to Bhagavān, a firm belief that Bhagavān will give one protection, deliberate acceptance of Bhagavān as one’s guardian and nourisher, submission of the self, and humility.”

Śaraṇāpatti is sixfold, being divided into the whole (aṅgī) and its constituent parts (aṅgas). The fourth item, goptṛtve varaṇam, or “the deliberate acceptance of Bhagavān as one’s guardian,” is the aṅgī, or “the whole.” The reason for this is that the act of selecting someone as one’s guardian or protector constitutes the true meaning of the word śaraṇāgati, or “approaching someone for shelter.” The other five items are aṅgas, or “parts,” because they are assistants to this principle.

The resolve to act congenially (ānukūlyasya-saṅkalpa) means to do that which is pleasing to Bhagavān and His devotees or to adopt a disposition that nurtures the mood of surrender. Avoiding unfavorable acts (prātikūlyasya-varjana) means to reject all that is displeasing to Bhagavān and His devotees or to give up whatever is detrimental to the mood of surrender.

Firm faith in Bhagavān’s protection (rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāsaḥ) is illustrated in the following statement:

kṣemaṁ vidhāsyati sa no bhagavāṁs tryadhīśas
tatrāsmadīya-vimṛśena kiyān ihārthaḥ

“Śrī Bhagavān, who is the master of the three worlds and of the three guṇas of material nature, will certainly act for my best interest. In this matter, I have no cause to be concerned at all.” (SB 3.16.37)

Submission of the self (ātma-nikṣepa) is illustrated in the Gautamīya Tantra:

kenāpi devena hṛdi sthitena, yathā niyukto’smi tathā karomi

“I shall act as directed by Bhagavān, who is situated within my heart.” (Gau. Tan. 7.20)

Submission of the self is also illustrated in the Uttara-khaṇḍa of Padma Purāṇa, in reference to the explanation of the word namaḥ, ”obeisance,” in the eight-syllable mantra:

ahaṅkṛtir ma-kāraḥ syān na-kāras tan-niṣedhakaḥ
tasmāt tu manasā kṣetri svātantryaṁ pratiṣidhyate
bhagavat-paratantro’sau tad-āyattātma-jīvanaḥ
tasmāt sva-sāmarthya vidhiṁ tyajet sarvam aśeṣataḥ
īśvarasya tu sāmarthyān nālabhyaṁ tasya vidyate
tasmin nyasta-bharaḥ śete tat-karmaiva samācaret

“In the word namaḥ, the syllable ma refers to the separate “I-sense” (ahaṅkṛti), and the syllable na means the negation of the same (tan-niṣedhaka). Therefore, the word namaḥ indicates the living being’s conscious relinquishment of the false sense of independence (svātantrya). The living being is dependent upon Bhagavān (pāratantrya). Indeed, the very essence of his existence is to be utterly under the shelter of Bhagavān. He should thus abandon in all respects, the sense of his own proficiency (sva-sāmarthya), separate from Bhagavān. By Īśvara’s omnipotency (sāmarthya), however, there is nothing unattainable for such a person. Remaining free from all anxiety by taking refuge in Bhagavān, one should act only for His satisfaction.” (PadmaP 6.226.41,44-46)

In the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa, it is therefore said:

ahaṅkāra-nivṛttānāṁ keśavau na hi dūragaḥ
ahaṅkāra-yutānāṁ hi madhye parvata-rāśayaḥ

“For those who are devoid of ego, Śrī Keśava is not at all distant. But, for those who are full of ego, mountain ranges stand between them and Bhagavān.”

Thus, in the prayers of Brahmā in the Third Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavata, we hear of the material bondage of those who are proud of their false sense of independence:

“O Bhagavān, as long as the living beings consider themselves to be separate from You due to the influence of the deluding potency, which entices them toward material sense enjoyment, they cannot get free from this material existence even though it is essentially unreal and generates temporary results, which in the end lead only to misery.” (SB 3.9.9)

Humility (kārpaṇya) is illustrated as follows:

parama kāruṇiko na bhavat paraḥ
parama śocyatamo na ca mat paraḥ

“O Bhagavān, there is no one more merciful than You and no one more deplorable than me.” (Padyāvalī 66)

Accepting Bhagavān as one’s guardian (goptṛtve varaṇam) is illustrated in Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa:

tvāṁ prapanno’smi śaraṇaṁ deva-devaṁ janārdanam
iti yaḥ śaraṇaṁ prāptas taṁ kleśād uddharāmy aham

“When a person takes shelter of Me, saying, ‘O God of gods, O Janārdana, I surrender unto You,’ I deliver him from all miseries.” (NṛsiṁhaP 8.29)

This acceptance of Bhagavān as one’s guardian is enacted in three ways—with the body, mind, and speech. This is expressed in the Brahma Purāṇa:

karmaṇā manasā vācā ye’cyutaṁ śaraṇaṁ gatāḥ
na samartho yamas teṣāṁ te mukti-phala bhāginaḥ

“Even the lord of death, Yamarāja, is unable to punish those who have taken shelter of Bhagavān Acyuta with their actions, minds, and speech, for they have become eligible to taste the fruit of liberation.”(BrahmaP 216.84)

Acceptance of Bhagavān as one’s guardian with the body, mind, and speech is explained in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa:

tavāsmīti vadan vācā tathaiva manasā vidan
tat-sthānam āśritas tanvā modate śaraṇāgataḥ

“One who has surrendered unto Bhagavān, who with his words exclaims, ‘O Bhagavān, I am Yours!’ who truly adopts this mood within his mind and heart, and who with his body takes refuge in the holy places associated with Bhagavān’s pastimes, experiences great inner satisfaction.” (HBV 11.677)

Those whose surrender (śaraṇāpatti) is complete in every limb (aṅga) thus described will swiftly attain the complete fruition of their surrender. Others, however, whose surrender is not complete but is deficient in some aspects, will attain a result in accordance with their actual degree of surrender. This is to be understood.

Uddhava has glorified this śaraṇāpatti in the following statement:

tāpa-trayeṇābhihatasya ghore
santapyamānasya bhavādhvanīśa
paśyāmi nānyac charaṇaṁ tavāṅghri-
dvandvātapatrād amṛtābhivarṣāt

“O Bhagavān, for those whose hearts are scorched by the threefold miseries on the blazing path of material existence, I see no refuge other than the cooling shade of Your lotus feet, which are like an umbrella emitting a delightful shower of nectar.” (SB 11.19.9)

In this verse, Uddhava declares that Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet dispel all the miseries of those who take shelter of Him and that they unrestrictedly shower such persons with the nectar of their sweetness.

Commentary by Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa

Śrī Jīva describes the various divisions of vaidhī-bhakti, the foremost being surrender (śaraṇāpatti). Surrender here means taking shelter of Bhagavān. In the material world, everybody has some sense of independent ego, although in truth nobody is independent. Everyone is encaged in a body-mind complex constituted of material nature. This material nature belongs to Bhagavān, and we have no control over it. If we analyze our own life, we will come to the conclusion that we are not independent. We had no choice in the matter of our birth. We did not choose the time and place of our births, our parents, gender, physical traits, or abilities. Nor do we have any control over our death. We can die anytime, anywhere, in any situation. Logically, it is argued that what is without existence both in the beginning and at the end is also nonexistent in the middle. So, if we had no choice in regard to our beginning and none in the matter of our end, how can choice be said to truly exist in the middle?

As babies, we do not have much freedom, and when we get too old, our movements and mental faculties become limited. As youths, we think we are free to act. But this is also not true. We cannot sleep at will. We eat food, but we really have no control over our digestion. We can become paralyzed anytime. We have no control over our breathing or heart functions. Without these two, we cannot live for more than a few minutes. Yet out of ignorance, which gives rise to egotism, we imagine ourselves to be independent, as Kṛṣṇa affirms in the following statement:

prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ
ahaṁkāra-vimūḍhātmā kartāham iti manyate

“All actions are conducted by the senses that are constituted of the guṇas of prakṛti. Yet, the person whose mind is deluded by egoic identification thinks, ‘I am the doer.’” (Gītā 3.27)

This is the cause of pṛthag-bhāva, “the separate self-sense,” discussed in the previous anucchedas (231–233). The sense of independent doership is all the more prominent at present, when the entire upbringing of children is oriented to make them think independently and egoistically. Promotional speakers are also expert in inciting the ego and making us believe that our destiny lies entirely in our own hands. There is no other power beyond our own mind and will. These are all anti-devotional ideas that are easily proliferated, because they are very soothing to our egos. Therefore, if we seek to know Bhagavān, the first thing we must do is to give up this false idea of independence.

According to Rūpa Gosvāmī, the act of surrender is carried out in relation to the practitioner’s guru, who is the physical manifestation of Bhagavān (BRS 1.2.74). This is also stated by sage Prabuddha to King Nimi (SB 11.3.21). Surrender is a serious threat to the ego, because the very basis of its existence is the condition of non-surrender. Consequently, if one does not surrender to a living guru, there is no certainty that one has actually surrendered to Bhagavān.

The mind is material and functions on the basis of past saṁskāras that are related to non-surrender. Our intelligence is influenced by the material mind and will therefore rationalize acts of non-surrender to make them appear like surrender. Thus, without the guidance of a qualified guru, one will not be able to know the truth of the matter—that one is really not surrendered. Bhagavān is not physically present, as Kṛṣṇa was to Arjuna, to advise us that we are rationalizing our egoistic acts to conceive of them as genuine acts of surrender. This is the function of the guru. Thus traditionally, the student lived with his guru so that he could be guided directly. The guru is the litmus test of one’s surrender.

We must become aware of our six enemies in the form of lust, anger, greed, delusion, pride, and envy. Lust, kāma, is the root cause of all the others. When there is an obstruction to the fulfillment of a person’s lust, he becomes angry. If the lust is satisfied, he becomes greedy for more. Both anger and greed result in delusion, which prevents one from seeing things as they are. This leads to pride, which culminates in envy, because a proud person cannot tolerate another’s progress. In the material world, conditioned beings are tormented by these six enemies. Generally, people think of enemies as existing only outside, but the real enemies are within. Even those who desire bhakti but who have not yet attained it are subject to these enemies. The solution is to surrender to Bhagavān.

Śrī Jīva explains that surrender can be undertaken in two ways. The first occurs when a person who has tried everything else but failed to solve the problems of material life finally surrenders to Bhagavān. An example of this type of surrender is Gajendra (lit., “chief of the elephants”), whose leg was caught by a crocodile. First he tried to release himself by his own power. Then he appealed to his family members for help, but still he was unsuccessful. Finally, he gave up and just surrendered to Bhagavān.

This story also hints at the plight of the conditioned beings. The word gaja, which means “an elephant,” is derived from the root gaj, meaning “to be intoxicated.” On this basis, a conditioned human being is also a gaja, because he is intoxicated by ignorance and caught in the clutches of māyā. He struggles to release himself in order to feel free. But whatever efforts he makes in this regard serve only to implicate him still further. Friends and relatives, whom he approaches for help, cannot deliver him, because they themselves are bound. Thus, the struggle continues until, like Gajendra, one takes shelter of Bhagavān, the Master of māyā. 

The second type of surrender comes about when someone who had previously surrendered to some other cause or person out of ignorance later realizes his mistake and surrenders to Bhagavān. An example of this is seen in the brāhmaṇas of Mathurā, who were first surrendered to varṇāśrama-dharma but later surrendered to Kṛṣṇa.

Śaraṇāgati has six divisions, consisting of the whole (aṅgī) and its parts (aṅgas). In the verse cited from the Vaiṣṇava Tantra, the fourth item, accepting Bhagavān as one’s protector (goptṛtve varaṇam), is the intrinsic feature of surrender, and the other five are its natural outcomes. Therefore, Śrī Jīva singles out this item as the core of surrender and the remaining items as its parts. The first two limbs of surrender are related not only to Bhagavān but to His devotees as well. This means that a surrendered practitioner acts congenially toward other devotees and never in an unfavorable manner. There is a subtle difference between the third and fourth items. In the third (rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāsa), one has faith that Bhagavān will protect him, but in the fourth, one consciously calls for help, as Gajendra did, or as Draupadī called for Kṛṣṇa when she was being disrobed by Duḥśāsana in the assembly of the Kauravas.

There is also a subtle difference between the fourth and fifth items. The fourth involves depending on Bhagavān for protection, which means to call upon Him in some precarious situation. The fifth item (ātma-nikṣepa) entails abstaining from doing anything for oneself and considering oneself as fully dependent on Bhagavān, like an animal that has been purchased by someone and is fully dependent on his new owner for its survival.

Sri Chaitanya and Sanatana Gosvami
Sri Caitanya and Sanatana Gosvami

The final item, humility (kārpaṇya), means to consider oneself completely insignificant in front of Bhagavān. This quality was seen in Sanātana Gosvāmī in his dealings with Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. When Caitanya Mahāprabhu called for Sanātana Gosvāmī during the latter’s visit to Puri, Sanātana did not take the short route that passed by the Puri temple, because he considered himself as a fallen being and thought that he might pollute the pujārīs of the temple by his proximity. Instead, he took the long route, walking on the midday burning hot sand on the beach of the Indian Ocean. Mahāprabhu was specially touched by his humility. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī writes that the fruit of surrender is attained in proportion to the actual degree of surrender. Complete fruition is thus possible only through complete surrender. In the next anuccheda, Śrī Jīva explains that after surrendering to one’s guru, one should render service to him.



8 thoughts on “Surrender”

  1. The word surrender has negative connotations. It can imply that one has given up or capitulated unwillingly. For example, a general in a battle doesn’t surrender willingly, but reluctantly.

    I notice in some verse tanslatations refuge is used instead of surrender. Refuge implies a willingness to seek shelter. This is positive.

    I would rather seek refuge of Krishna than surrender to him and I would rather seek the refuge of a guru than surrender to a guru. Refuge suggests protection.

    I feel Draupadī and Gajendra sought refuge of Krishna not submission to Krishna.

    What is the Sanskrit word saranam closest to, surrender or refuge?

    I want to understand the Sanskrit word properly and not rely on translation which often dilutes the Sanskrit meaning.

    1. The term “śaraṇāpatti” means to take shelter, to seek protection. Its definition is given in the article. It is also made clear by the verses cited by Śrī Jīva Gosvami.
      If “surrender” has a negative connotation, then it is a wrong translation of the word śaraṇāgati or śaraṇāpatti, unless there is also a possibility of voluntary surrender.
      If you want my samskritized meaning of the work surrender, then it means “ser + render” which is ser(vice) render!!

  2. Most of the Vedas would be meaningless is not for free will. Encouraging people to rise up to the mode of goodness?? What would be the point of that if they have no power to change the course of their lives? Varnashrama? Useless!!

    1. It is kind of like how you think you can teach Babaji what’s what by commenting on his article.

      It is your mental programs that made you do it, not your non-existent free will.

      sastra is designed to change mental thought patterns.

  3. We have to separate term surrender in material considerations and in spiritual,then it will be not problematic

  4. The most confusing and contradictory issue that faces students new to spiritual pathwork is surrender. Nothing rings more warning bells and produces more fear than talk of surrender to a spiritual teacher, and with good reason, considering the recent spate of power abuse by self-serving ‘teachers’. Surrender needs to be redefined in a spiritual context. Surrender has been associated with a vanquished army kneeling at the feet of the victorious opponent, or with a criminal giving up to the police. The word connotes the image of being taken over or controlled by a more powerful force, and as human animals that image triggers a healthy survival reflex. However, that image does not accurately describe what is meant in spiritual terms by surrender.
    True spiritual surrender is giving up our own control but not to something external. It is a self-empowered, conscious choice, and an action in which we open ourselves from deep within. It is really a surrender of the self to the Self. When a person ‘surrenders’ they are essentially saying to themselves that ‘this ego, this intellect, this ability to analyse has taken me this far on my spiritual path, but it cannot take me any further, and I know that inside myself’. That does not mean that you no longer function rationally. It means that you have identified your whole bag of trips, projections and wounds, and you consciously surrender them so that they no longer flavour your interactions with your guru.
    It is essential that a disciple continues to cultivate discrimination, but that is not at all in opposition to dropping your ego baggage. In the guru-disciple system, surrender is used to deepen the experience of spiritual life, not to turn people into mindless, non-discriminative servants of the guru. True gurus do not want vegetable-brained servants for disciples, and will do their best to awaken the student out of that dangerous attitude of unhealthy ‘surrender’ as soon as they become aware of it.

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