Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #16 – Commitment Changes Consciousness

April 20th, 2020

After offering the traditional oblations for His recently deceased father in Gayā, Śrī Caitanya returned home to Nadiya as a changed man. A seemingly proud young scholar of Nyaya (logic) was now the emblem of humility. What happened? In Gayā He met his guru, Īśvara Purī, took initiation, and surrendered fully. As I was reading this pastime, an original phrase to represent the basis of spiritual transformation immediately came to mind: “commitment changes consciousness”. I loved how it sounded, but more importantly I was intrigued to investigate in a little more depth how this transformation works.


Commitment means surrender. Many times I have talked about this subject, how the word “surrender”, although the best English word available, does not accurately translate the word “śaraṇāgati”, which is used in a very specific spiritual context. “Śaraṇāgati” literally means approaching (agati) for shelter (śaraṇa), which is a voluntary submission to that which is worthy of refuge because of its embodiment of knowledge and affection, while the word “surrender” mostly means commitment by force, such as being conquered in war or battle, or blind or begrudging adherence to rank. In other words, when using the word “surrender” as a translation of śaraṇāgati, it is often naturally misunderstood in ways not intended. Now back to our original question of why Śrī Caitanya changed so radically by His firm surrender or commitment.


At every moment we have a myriad of choices. The correct choice that elevates and transforms the consciousness closer to the true self, which is consciousness meant for service and devotion, is deemed dharma. Without commitment to dharma we will be dictated mostly by the impulses of the mind, which simply fortify the bodily or egoistic conception of life. Commitment to dharma therefore changes one’s consciousness by helping one gradually transcend selfish or material consciousness.


The highest dharma, and the fullest sense of surrender, is unconditional surrender to the will of the Divine. It doesn’t mean to renounce one’s dharma or duties prescribed according to one’s material situation, for that is God’s will to purify us. However, it does mean that at heart the priority in all one’s activities is exclusively for the pleasure of God, even in the rare case it calls for the sacrifice of one’s prescribed duties. That internal sense of complete surrender, called śaraṇāgati, was the commitment that Śrī Caitanya made at Gayā when He took shelter of His spiritual master. That full commitment to live one’s life exclusively by the shelter of the highest truth is the doorway to bhakti. It naturally attracts God’s mercy, who reciprocates His unalloyed devotee’s surrender by bestowing upon them the highest form of love, prema-bhakti. Fully committed to the Divine, Śrī Caitanya thus returned to Nadiya a changed man, fully intoxicated by love of God.


Who is a person of character and how do we become one? It is one who is committed to live his or her life by principles rather than whims. Who is a person of devotion and how do we become one? It is a person who is committed in heart to fully serve guru and Krishna and, feeling the Lord’s presence in return, is overwhelmed with gratitude and devotion. Commitment changes consciousness!


Śrīmān Paṇḍita and the other devotees cried out of intense love for Krishna. Tears of love flowed from the Lord’s eyes in all directions as if the Ganges had appeared there. Everyone was struck with wonder and thought, ‘We have never before seen Him like this’.” (Caitanya-bhāgavata Madhya-khaṇḍa 1.33-35)



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