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The sweetness of surrender

Basab Dasgupta |

I do not remember when I first heard the phrase “sweet surrender”, but my first reaction was that it was an oxymoron. How can surrender be sweet? Surrender implies defeat and hence a feeling of disappointment and bitterness has to be associated with it. Later I realized that my belief was true only if surrender followed a defeat but it did not have to be that way. One could surrender before getting into a ‘fight’ or argument or even without any antagonistic feeling about the other person.

When I was a child I surrendered to my parents, especially my mother, even without realising it. She dictated every aspect of my life: what I ate, how I dressed, how long I played, who I played with, what time I went to bed, which school I attended and so on. I never felt any bitterness about it. I never questioned her authority or complained about her decisions. To the contrary I was comfortable and peaceful. I knew that she was always looking out for me and making all the decisions about my life with the best intentions about my future. I did not have any worry. It was a sweet surrender!

When people get married there is always a battle for control: who will decide what kind of house or car to buy? How much money to spend on various items? Where to go on vacation? Who to socialize with? And so on. It seems that if one of the spouses completely surrenders to the other and lets him/her make all the key decisions then the marriage flourishes in a happy and peaceful way. It becomes a sweet surrender. If neither partner wants to give in, it is inevitable that the couple would face some marital problems.

At old age people surrender to their adult children. If the children are responsible and resourceful enough they can decide what is best for their parents and take good care of them. For parents it is a very satisfying sweet feeling to experience this attention from their children.

There are other occasions for surrender. If you are learning a special skill from a master or a “guru”, it is definitely advisable to surrender to him/her. The reason is understandable: you do not know how to use this skill in navigating through your life and you put your complete faith in the guru who knows better and he would show you the way. This is a sweet process because the outcome is your development of a new skill set. Similarly, one can surrender to a team captain or a political leader.

Even in the military arena there is an art of a tactical “surrender” to a rival without going into a conflict that is highly desirable. The strategy is to make opponents think that they are getting the upper hand without sacrificing too much of your own interest and targeting a “win-win” outcome.

Finally, there is surrender to God. It is the sweetest surrender because one can relish the fruits of surrender in a tangible way. I say a daily prayer to God which reads in part “…I have surrendered to you completely and unconditionally. Just show me the way and I will follow…”. I believe that this should be the gist of any prayer. People pray to God for all kinds of things: wealth, health, peace of mind, well-being of children or relatives, success in academic or professional activities and so on. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it does not work that way. The only thing we can pray for is His guidance because He knows how we should navigate our lives.

This does not mean that we should all become passive and fatalistic and simply wait for God to make events in our life happen. To the contrary we must proceed along the path that we believe to be best suited in order to achieve the goals we seek. If it turns out that the path is not the right one, then God will intervene to put some barrier on that path and redirect us to our destined path. Our behavior might be like children who only want to eat sweets or play all day; but our mother would stop us from doing that and guide us to an optimum mix of activities.

Surrender to God has to be complete and unconditional. One cannot say, “well I will pray for a while and see what happens. Maybe I will start believing in Him if something good happens to me”. Also, one cannot surrender to Him only when times are tough or only for a certain set of situations. One cannot question His authority, power or intention. If one can surrender unconditionally one will start seeing the results in one’s life. Even events that seem like adversity at first would turn out to be blessings. One has to believe that behind all apparent tragedies there are good reasons.

Why doesn’t God lead everyone to the right path whether or not they surrender to Him? I do not know the answer to that. In any case God will still love you. Perhaps it is similar to how a mother deals with a rebellious child. If the child defies the mother’s control, she simply gives up and says to herself “this is just a phase my child is going through. He or she will come to senses and see that everything I was saying and doing was for his/her own good”. That is why even murderers find God in prison and even physicists end up looking for unified field theory in the Vedanta.

In my life, the blessing of God has manifested in two major ways. One is the peace in my life. I never lived a life of extravagant luxury; but I have always been “comfortable” and “calm”. I had a whole series of mini miracles, starting from my childhood which only reinforced my belief in God. Second is my creative output mainly through painting and writing.

There have been sad events in my life; untimely death of my mother and my divorce are two examples. However, I accept these developments as God’s way of redirecting me onto my destined path. Being free from the daily grind of a conventional domestic life, these events gave me ample time to search and find out who I really am and the purpose of my life.

Many people do not believe in God or do not believe that God micromanages everyone’s individual life to its ultimate destiny. It is perfectly alright if someone believes that his/her life is simply the result of their own efforts and decisions coupled with some serendipity and has nothing to do with God. However, I do believe that anyone can completely and unconditionally surrender to God and enrich their lives further even if their lives are fully satisfactory to them.

My favorite story about surrendering to God is of Paramhansa Yogananda. Yogananda decided one day that he would go to the USA to attend a religious conference in Boston and promote kriya yoga and declared his intentions to his parents. His father had one immediate question “who will pay for your voyage?” “Oh, God will find me a way”; Yogananda did not seem to have any worry about it.

Several weeks later, his father asked again “have you made any arrangements for your travel expenses?” “No, but don’t worry father, God will take care of me”. The same scenario repeated a couple of more times. Then one morning, just days before his scheduled departure for USA, Yogananda woke up and found a ticket for his journey under his pillow with a note from his father “I just could not stand the uncertainty in your plans. I do not want you to get into any difficult situation. Accept this ticket as my gift”. Yogananda took it to his father and said “See father. I told you that God would take care of me!”

The writer, a physicist who worked in academia and industry, is a Bengali settled in America.