Sunday, August 05, 2018

The Spiritual Surrender

Many devotional spiritual texts and traditions emphasize the need for Surrender.  Surrender is supposed to lead to a state of "egolessness" and the famed Nirvana.

Especially in Sikhism, Sufism and Bhakti strains of Hinduism, surrender to the Guru or the deity is touted as the only way to "salvation".

Impressionable seekers read such exhortations and try to follow them.  But these are vague concepts, and if you really ask a teacher what surrender means, you will not get a clear answer.

Fear not, yours truly is here to clarify.

In continuation with my previous writings on what exactly is egolessness and Nirvana, let me repeat my understanding that the closest experience we have to that state is our experiences as an infant.  During those years, our needs and expectations were taken care of by our parents.  Our selves were still in an undeveloped form.  We had singular feeling-states, as contrasted with conflicted states as an adult.  As an infant, we were either happy or miserable.  An adult can be both at the same time.  The feeling states during infancy are what I call monochromatic.

During that time, since the "me" is still just a seed, there is little division between "me" and "not me".  Life is full of wonder and miracles.  There are only "energies" and "vibes".  The feeling-state is all powerful and the intellect is unformed, and therefore inactive.

So the first insight is that spirituality is a seeking to return to a state of infancy.  In that state, one has obviously surrendered (by dint of inability) most important decisions to others.  Is that possible as an adult?

If we understand that as an adult, the burden of making choices is inevitable, then what does surrender mean for an adult?  What are the Gurus really asking for?

A soldier is in the battlefield.  Should he choose to fight, or run away?
You are having trouble with your spouse.  Should you work it out, or go your own way?
You are poor.  Should you start a business, or seek a salaried job, or beg/borrow/steal?

The Sikh belief of regarding the book as the Guru is especially unhelpful.  Many Sikhs, believe it or not, seek guidance from the holy book by opening a random page, reading the first sentence, and trying to guess what the Guru wants them to do.

If you are familiar with Bhagwad Gita, you might be wondering whether the soldier's dilemma is not well-addressed there.  I think Krishna's advice to Arjun in the battlefield is massively flawed due to at least three big reasons:

1.  Not everybody has a Krishna by their side all their life.
2.  Krishna bamboozles Arjun not to be worried about killing as, according to Krishna, it is not really "killing" someone but only their bodies (eh?).
3.  Krishna tells Arjun to accept his "dharma".  The question is who decides what is my "dharma".  For most people, it will be the force of tradition and social power structures.  Are we really to believe that the best choice for an adult is to accept his given role and not question it?

Even for fairly elementary decision-making, the notion of "surrender" is useless.  If you are feeling cold, you will not, and should not, surrender to it but find a way to get warmer.  If you are in pain, you will not, and should not, surrender to it but find a way to ease that pain.  If you are in danger of drowning, you will not, and should not, surrender to water but try to swim to the surface.  If you decide to surrender to whatever physical state you find yourself in, and not do anything about it, pretty soon you will be dead.

You are constantly making choices to navigate life to get to a "better" place.  Whatever that "better" place might mean for you, you are trying to move in that direction. 

Even for longer-term life decisions, to surrender is to admit defeat.  Why will one want to advance in one's career, why will one want to get married to have a child, why will one want to equip the child for a better life?  If to surrender means letting life happen without you trying to change your circumstances, then that will quickly lead you to the bottom rung of the ladder in society.

Even for spiritualists, the quest is to reach a certain state.  We all know of the oft-repeated spiritual nonsense: "only when you stop seeking shall you find."  So the effort of the seeker then shifts from "trying" to "not trying", which is just trying in another form.  He is now trying to be not spiritually ambitious, thinking that this path of "not seeking" will get him there.  All the while, the underlying focus is still to get there.  It is like loving someone unconditionally so that she will love me back.  Unconditional in one way, but not expectation-less.

So, surrender is impossible in day-to-day life.  And surrender is counterproductive in life decisions.  And surrender is contradictory for your spiritual quest.

An astute individual has to therefore discard the notion, the path, and the entire hagiography of surrender.  "Surrender" is for lifeless forms.  You are alive, and by God, you shall not surrender.  On the contrary, you should fight to the best of your ability to better your life and circumstances, to become more prosperous and happy, and to help others become happier too.

Instead of surrender, a better notion is forbearance.  If despite your best efforts, you still fail, then don't mope about it and withdraw from life.  Accept the failure with fortitude and dignity.  That does not mean resigning to failure, but only that there are myriad other forces at work, and while you gave it your best, it was not to be.  The difference between a defeated but brave soldier and a deserter is not in the outcome of the battle, but between their states of minds and the possibilities thereof.  The defeated soldier might have won, but the deserter will always lose.

One might be tempted to argue that that's what Gita really means.  To make efforts, without attachment, and then to accept the results.  The question then is, why make those efforts, if there is no attachment to the result?  The real knowledge of Gita's paradigm on detached work is contained here-under:
नैव तस्य कृतेनार्थो नाकृतेनेह कश्चन ।
न चास्य सर्वभूतेषु कश्चिदर्थव्यपाश्रय: ।।  (Chapter 3, Verse 18)
A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.
Maybe, a "self-realized man" can lead a purposeless life.  And since it is not clear why he does anything (no reason to do, but no reason not do), it would be perhaps not very wise for you to emulate him.

During the battle, the soldier cannot but be attached to victory.  Why would he otherwise fight?

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