Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #40 – That Dirty Word Again

October 4th, 2021

My friend Satyahari dasa, one of the first disciples of Yogi Bhajan and later initiated into Gaudiya Vaisnavism, shared with me a statement from one of his teachers that I think is relevant to what I want to write about today: “When you translate words from Sanskrit to another language, they become impregnated with the history of their usage in that language.” At the time, he was referring to the translation of the Sanskirt word śaraṇāgati into “surrender”, which in English carries a meaning of force and oppression that is foreign to the usage of the word in Sanskrit, which means to take shelter (śaraṇa + āgati — “going (lit. coming) for shelter”). In other words, surrender in this sense is the loving submission to or the taking of shelter of one who provides refuge, and not a forced capitulation to an authority that has either no concern for you or intends to exploit you. I wanted to clarify this point before sharing a personal realization I had about surrender so that there would be no ambiguity in what I am trying to express. My personal experience:


Due to the COVID restrictions, I have been unable to return to Vrindavana for almost two years. This morning especially, I began to deeply hanker to return. What I realized, however, was that what is separating me from the holy dhāma more than anything else is not the COVID restrictions of the Indian government, but my consciousness and level of surrender. Being locked down during the pandemic, I had felt the necessity and had the time to study the pandemic more deeply. At the same time, I wanted to understand more clearly the political forces that were degrading society, especially in the USA. To cut to the chase, I realized that although such knowledge may be required to help one negotiate the world, at my age, in my ashram, and with my present spiritual aspirations, it was best to just shut off that internet spigot to the world. In other words, I felt to do this was God’s will, and thus I needed to surrender in this way to deepen my consciousness and qualify for Vrindavana.


This exercise furthered my realization of how surrender (śaraṇāgati) is always the door to bhakti and how we must seriously contemplate this in taking our next step forward on the path of devotion. The challenge is that although we are often called to take shelter of God’s will, and although His direction, whether from guru, śāstra, or the Lord in the heart, is always His blessing, we may mistakenly conflate such surrender with the impregnated negative conception of its English usage because taking shelter of God sometimes requires sacrifice. This attitude may be even further exacerbated because of the increasingly bad experiences people have with authority growing up in a postmodern world.


So, what does this type of surrender look like? On the most basic level, it is manifest in a person of character, who lives his life according to principles, rather than impulse. It is seen in loving relationships where the parent or friend sees the needs and desires of a child or friend before themselves. Ultimately, it is the pure devotee of Krishna intoxicated with Love of God, whose single desire is to surrender to and serve the desires of the divine couple.


In his book The Art of Loving, Eric Fromm defines narcissism as seeing the world according to one’s desires and defines love as the opposite. Surrender (śaraṇāgati) is thus the foundation of the art of loving, for, in essence, it is complete sacrifice for the pleasure of God, which opens one’s heart to serve and wish the best for all. Thinking about my own challenges to move forward on the path of devotion, it couldn’t be clearer that we all need to walk through that door, but first we must get it out of our mind that surrender is a dirty word.



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