DAAJI continues his series on refining habits, this month sharing his insights on the final Niyama known as Ishwar Pranidhan, which is often translated as “surrender to God.” What does it mean? How can we understand both God and surrender? And why is surrender to God the ultimate habit?
The Art of Removing and Creating Habits – Part 11
Yoga in action
Let’s start by reminding ourselves of the three Niyamas that make up Kriya Yoga, the Yoga of action – tapas, swadhyaya and the third and final one, Ishwar pranidhan, the most mysterious and puzzling of all. Ishwar pranidhan is generally translated into English as “surrender to God,” or sometimes “God-awareness.” It is puzzling, not the least because God is such an elusive principle to most of us, and also because the idea of surrender often suggests the removal of personal freedom.
Only in this last of the ten Yamas and Niyamas does Patanjali speaks of God – Ishwar. Up till now, the focus has been on self-awareness, self-improvement, behavior, and purifying consciousness. That has all been a preparation. Throughout this preparation, we have moved from self-centeredness and selfishness to selflessness, from “me to we.” Now we take the next step, from “we to Thou.” This is a significant shift in consciousness, a quantum leap into the realm of God where even “we” no longer exists.
God is the great unknown
You may be wondering what God we are talking about here, because God has as many meanings as there are people. In Yoga, God is the great unknown, beyond qualities, beyond comprehension. Everything that is describable or definable has qualities, and while God is also present within the world of qualities, the quality-less state that is beyond definition is really the realm of God. There are other words that are also used for the same divine principle – the Source, the Ultimate, the Absolute.
Remember the state of nirodha or complete stillness we spoke about earlier in this series? That cessation of mental activity in the mind, the ultimate state of Yoga, is also the key to God-awareness. Nirodha and Ishwar pranidhan are intertwined. The next question is: How to get there? The approach needed is the “surrender” part.
The purpose of surrender
When we look at the idea of surrender from a worldly perspective, it can be quite distasteful, because it means to “submit to an authority,” or “to give in,” often with a sense of being forced to do so. The ego generally doesn’t respond well to that. We see this even in the best of relationships when we are asked to give in to the wishes of the other person. Who does this easily, willingly, and cheerfully? People who have fallen madly in love. They are very capable of surrender – they will do anything for the happiness of the other person. Generally it doesn’t last, however, as the ego eventually starts to make itself heard and the lover becomes aware of their own wishes. Most of us have to learn how to let go and give in, which is why family life is such a wonderful training ground for spirituality! It is through our relationships that we learn to accept and submit to the other.
Most of us have to learn how to let go and give
in, which is why family life is such a wonderful
training ground for spirituality! It is through
our relationships that we learn to accept and
submit to the other.
From the spiritual viewpoint, surrender has a very positive significance, just as it does when we are madly in love. Love is a powerful flame. When love is there, surrender does not require any force or coercion. It is something that happens to us; it is not a thought or an action in itself. “Surrender” in this context is not a verb, as it is in the English language. “I” cannot surrender. It happens to us without our active participation and knowledge. In fact, if a person thinks they have surrendered, it is a sure sign they haven’t!
This beautiful state of acceptance, of being held, protected, and supported, is known as saranagati in Yoga. With it comes a carefree willingness to hand over the reins to that infinite “something” that is bigger than all of us. We belong to the whole, and we acknowledge that we are a small part of it. We choose to cooperate and go with the flow rather than seeing ourselves as separate, or needing to control and dictate terms.
Saranagati is positive. It means to willingly search out those things that are favorable for our evolution, and to feel God in our hearts. Utmost faith is the foundation, and all our actions are done in the spirit of service to the greater good. We naturally feel insignificant (there is no need for false humility), we approach life with an attitude of continuous improvement, and we experience the sacred in all existence. It is liberating!
When we offer all the fruits of our work to God, we are at peace. We take neither credit nor blame unto ourselves, because both credit and blame are surrendered to God.
Ishwar pranidhan is the ultimate habit.
It requires us to rest in God-awareness in everything we feel, think,
and do, in constant osmosis with God.
The easiest way is through acceptance and surrender.
Whether we are awake or asleep, aware or unaware,
active or passive, we try to remain in this state,
and this practice is known as constant remembrance in Heartfulness.
This state can only be experienced when the ego is refined to such an extent that all that is left of it is a sense of identity without coloring, energy, or charge. How do we reach this stage? On our spiritual journey, when we journey through the Heart Region, we learn to master our emotions and desires. After this, we journey through the Mind Region, and it is here that the process of ego refinement really accelerates. As we move from one chakra to the next with the help of our Guide, gradually there is less and less of “me,” then less and less of “we,” until eventually only God is left. God’s presence is felt only in our absence. This is what the word pranidhan is all about. Nidhan means “an empty space,” or “annihilation,” and pra means “with intensity.” Pranidhan signifies “the void filled with intensity.” This is the realm of God.
Ishwar pranidhan is the ultimate habit. It requires us to rest in God-awarenessin everything we feel, think, and do, in constant osmosis with God. The easiest way is through acceptance and surrender. Whether we are awake or asleep, aware or unaware, active or passive, we try to remain in this state, and this practice is known as constant remembrance in Heartfulness.
We meditate so that we learn to experience this state – meditation is the mother of constant remembrance. Once we learn to hold it, we are then free of the entanglements caused by all the mental and emotional complexities and impurities that otherwise distort our existence. We are free.
How to engage with the great unknown?
As P.Y. Deshpande points out in his book, The Authentic Yoga, there are two fundamental psychological urges in human beings. The first is a sense of wonder, which gives rise to the spirit of inquiry underpinning the sciences and philosophy. The second is a sense of worship or awe for that which lies beyond knowledge and comprehension, which is denoted by the word “God.” This sense leads to mystical experiences that are similar across all cultures and eras.
The sense of wonder is more mental while the sense of worship is more feeling-based. They are not completely distinct, but they are certainly distinguishable. Together they make up our human psychology – mind and heart – and when they become polarized it results in a split. You could say that our modern societies, having separated science and religion, have developed split personalities, and this is known as polarization. The two are meant to be complementary and integrated.
Both wonder and worship are involved in Ishwar pranidhan.
How is it possible to combine them?
By meditating on the heart,
so that we experience God directly within us.
Both wonder and worship are involved in Ishwar pranidhan. How is it possible to combine them? By meditating on the heart, so that we experience God directly within us. God remains the great unknown, undefinable, quality-less, yet at the same time God is within our experience. Both inquiry and worship are unified in this act of meditation on the Divinity in the heart, where we experience the state of nirodha, the void of Samadhi, with the support of Transmission. We are in osmosis with God, and the result is perfect Samadhi.
Surrender to God is the habit to eclipse all other habits
When we have studied ourselves, purified ourselves, and refined ourselves, surrender is very simple. In fact, true surrender is possible only when we have done all these things. It is the ultimate habit, the culmination of the other habits. At the same time, when we make an effort to cultivate this habit, all the others naturally start to fall into place. This is where Transmission has such an impact – it is the essence of pure love. It takes us directly to a state of surrendered awareness of God, even when we have not yet mastered all the other habits. The catch? It is then up to us to mold our behavior so that we are capable of holding that experience for longer and longer periods until eventually it becomes constant.
Like Jedi knights, we need to become worthy of surrendering to God.
We cannot surrender by the will and effort of the ego.
Instead, when we immerse ourselves in God through
meditation with Transmission, and study ourselves
so that we let go of unwanted habits and cultivate noble habits,
eventually the ego dissolves into purity, its essence.
We become that vast emptiness of the Ultimate.
God-Realization and Self-Realization are one and the same thing.
Like Jedi knights, we need to become worthy of surrendering to God. We cannot surrender by the will and effort of the ego. Instead, when we immerse ourselves in God through meditation with Transmission, and study ourselves so that we let go of unwanted habits and cultivate noble habits, eventually the ego dissolves into purity, its essence. We become that vast emptiness of the Ultimate. God-Realization and Self-Realization are one and the same thing.
The great saint Kabir wrote beautiful poetry about this. In one poem he says,
Narrow is the lane of love.
Two will never fit.
When I was, the Beloved was not.
Now He is; I am not.
Rumi also wrote about it, for example,
If in thirst you drink water from a cup,
you see God in it.
Those who are not in love with God
will see only their own faces in it.
Both poets are describing the state of surrender where the “I” has disappeared. It seems so far away from our world that is in crisis because human beings are still so I-focused, where many have not even reached the state of we-consciousness of human brotherhood. Yet beyond the “we” is “Thou,” the beginning of the realm of God. This is where we embark upon the journey into the great unknown – before that, everything is preparation.
There is a story about the Buddha that illustrates this very well. For many years he struggled to attain enlightenment through self-effort. He tried everything. He once said, “Who knows what sorts of austerity and penance were undergone by me in expectation of even a trace of the fragrance of the state of Nirvana. At long last, the state I had long cherished was achieved. How much time it took, and after how many days the desired goal was acquired! I practiced a lot, underwent so many troubles, fought against the rush of irrelevant thoughts, and cleaned off shrubs and bushes.”
Ultimately, it was when he relaxed his efforts, when he surrendered, that he experienced enlightenment. His efforts were the preparation; he became the Buddha when he let go and surrendered: “It was then that the light of Realization came to my fortune. On arriving at it, all obstructions dropped off. Calmness then prevailed in the mind, and there was immense peace all over. To tell the truth, that is the fragrance of pure Nirvana.”
If you explore the inner world of enlightened beings like the Buddha, you will find the void – infinite space and stillness. Babuji describes it as “more and more of less and less.” The roots of enlightenment arise from absolute surrender. Through letting go, through surrender, comes the realization of God. But that is not the end. Ultimately, when there is oneness, unity, and mergence, all the above simply dissolves.
Kamlesh Patel is known to many as Daaji. He is the Heartfulness Guide in a tradition of Yoga meditation that is over 100 years old, overseeing 14,000 certified Heartfulness trainers and many volunteers in over 130 countries. He is an innovator and researcher, equally at home in the fields of spirituality and science, blending the... Read more