The Other Side of Surrender
In today’s world, when we think about surrendering, we automatically assume the worst – that someone may be giving up or capitulating, as may be the case with countries at war or a patient fighting a deadly cancer. The underlying assumption about surrendering in a worldly sense is that one may be falling prey to another’s power, influence, or authority. For us, as seekers or disciples of this path, it is important to consider the other side of surrender – the spiritual side. This side of surrender brings forward the concept that surrendering fosters spiritual growth, transformation and, ultimately, salvation from the cycle of birth and death.
In The Path of the Masters, Dr. Julian Johnson discusses the concept of surrender in a worldly light when he says:
I am sure many of our critics will say: Why surrender your individual will or personality to a Master? Isn’t that going back into voluntary slavery? Isn’t that another way of crushing individual initiative and strength of character?
While an outsider may feel this way, once a seeker or a disciple comes to the path, they begin to understand what submitting to the Lord’s will actually means. We can choose to view the act of surrendering as weakness, or we can look at it as a source of spiritual strength, a way to live in the Lord’s will by accepting whatever comes our way.
When we view surrender as a source of strength, we place our faith in the path and the Master. Dr. Johnson explains that the reason we surrender to the Master’s will is that “complete surrender to the Master is the only avenue or path to complete liberation.” But then the question arises: how is a soul freed if, by submitting, we are placed at the mercy of the Lord’s will? Dr. Johnson’s statement might sound paradoxical to the layman, but to a disciple, it makes sense – if we understand what complete surrender to the Master entails. Dr. Johnson explains:
First, let us say that the word surrender is not a suitable term for what is meant in this connection, but it is about the best term we have. It would be better to say that one fully trusts the Master.
Surrender for us is having the true faith that anchors us to the Master and this path. It is equivalent to saying that we trust that our best interests are in the hands of an expert, our Guru.
As an example, let’s say a sick man visits a skilled surgeon for a consult on an operation he’s advised to have. He’s thought over the matter, talked it out with his family, and scoured the Internet for reviews on this surgeon’s competency. Surrender, in this case, means the man is placing his trust in the surgeon to do the surgery to the best of his ability, and expecting to recover to as normal a life as possible. However, if the sick man refuses the surgeon’s expertise, stating that he will be his own doctor or surgeon, he is exerting his ego and not surrendering. He is not trusting or having faith in the doctor’s abilities and training, and thus will lose any benefit from the surgeon’s healing skills.
Similarly, Master is our expert spiritual doctor; if we don’t have full faith in him and give him our time and effort in meditation, how can he possibly extricate us from this world and take us home?
Complete surrender means that out of love and faith we, as disciples, gladly follow the Master’s instructions, humbly trusting that he will lead us to the Lord’s abode. Love drives us to sit, concentrate, and practise our meditation as our karmas play out in our lives. As Dr. Johnson explains:
By perfect surrender to a Master… 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, we gain everything.
If we give our Master our time and effort in simran and bhajan, he will carry us upwards to union with the Lord. In this way, the worldly connotations of the word “surrender” do not apply to us; we are free to focus on the other side of surrender, the spiritual side. The spiritual side of surrender shows us that no matter how caught up in the world we are, there is always a power greater than us pulling the strings. If we can follow our vows and sit in meditation, we can easily surrender to the Lord’s will, knowing full well that he is our expert guide watching over us on our journey home.