If one were to ask what is the most challenging thing about following a spiritual path, most of us would probably reply, “Meditation.” But perhaps something else is even more difficult: surrender. This requires us to view all of life’s events dispassionately and not through the prism of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In fact, during a recent question-and-answer session, Baba Ji said that practising meditation is easier than unconditionally surrendering to the Master. So what is surrender?
Shelter, obedience and bhana
The Sanskrit term for ‘surrender’ is sharan, meaning ‘to take refuge,’ which, in the context of spirituality, means to take the shelter of a Master. As mystics explain, the irrevocable law created by the Lord is that no one can meet the Lord without a Master. By taking the Master’s shelter, we commit to changing our lifestyle to one that is suited to the attainment of spiritual liberation. We may need to give up previous habits (such as eating meat or taking intoxicants) as well as any competing spiritual practices. As the Great Master writes in Philosophy of the Masters,Vol. V, “When one is reborn in the house of the Master, that is, when one takes shelter with him, one should give up all previous spiritual or other practices and ask him what to do. It is the duty of the disciple to follow the path taught to him by the Master.” The Great Master is not asserting the superiority of one form of spirituality over another; rather, he is stressing the importance of finding a path we can commit ourselves to. It is much more difficult to realize our spiritual goals if we keep changing direction.
A second aspect of surrender is obedience or, as the mystics put it, subordination of one’s will to that of the Master. By relying on him entirely, we are to give ourselves up to him in much the same way as, for instance, putting our life in the hands of a surgeon. Surrender means being confident that whatever the Master directs us to do is for our benefit, especially when his suggestions seem puzzling. The Great Master states: “When one takes shelter with the Master, one must be like a child. He must give up his own will and conform to the will of the Master. He must surrender himself to the Master in word, deed and spirit.”
Aside from the four vows we take during our initiation into the path of Sant Mat, how else might we obey our Master? Once we begin to see the Master as the helmsman of our life, we must perform every deed with a view to pleasing him, and minimize the chatter of our mind by repeating simran. Given the sheer scale of information, technologies, and activities vying for our attention, turning away from them to remember the Master demonstrates our sincerity.
A third aspect of surrender means learning to live in the will of the Lord – accepting everything unfolding before us with neither too much joy nor sadness. This idea is captured in the Punjabi word, bhana. In Spiritual Discourses, Vol. I, Maharaj Charan Singh gives the following explanation of why spiritual liberation is dependent on submission to the will of the Lord:
If we can learn to be indifferent to pleasure and pain, so that they do not take us away from our path, it would not only lessen the weight of our karmas, but they would also be paid off in much less time. If you can take what comes to you through him, then, whatever it is, it becomes divine in itself; shame becomes honour, bitterness becomes sweet, and gross darkness becomes clear light.
If we view all that is happening to us as a result of our Master’s wishes, our love for him transforms how we respond. Maybe we could view our life experience like a garden in which we can grow our love for the Lord. Since all plants need sunshine and rain to grow, we can use pleasure and pain as opportunities to deepen our love for him. When, for instance, pleasure is in our destiny, we could show our gratitude by extending our meditation by even fifteen to thirty minutes. And when pain is in our destiny, we could mould our mindset to be even more grateful. We could train our mind to be glad that our karma is being paid off and, like rocket fuel, is turbo-boosting our journey home.
To surrender, we must accept. Although living in Master’s will can be difficult, if we can train ourselves to live with fewer desires and to be content with whatever he provides, then we are getting closer to what it means to surrender unconditionally. This is aptly described in The Path of the Masters:
What is really meant by complete surrender to a Master is this: Out of perfect confidence and great love, the disciple gladly follows where the Master Leads. That is the sum of it all… By perfect surrender to a Master, in this sense, one gains everything, ending in the most perfect liberty. This is well expressed by one great Sufi, who said: “Give us all you have and we will give you all we possess!” By surrendering all to the Master, you gain everything.