Sunday, September 30, 2012

What does "Surrender to God's Will" Mean?

Dear Friends,

I have taken a long break from blogging with no greater excuse than I've not had the inspiration to write. This  isn't the result of anything "bad" or "wrong," but seems to have been that perhaps I needed a break..

But today, Sunday, September 30, Padma and I give the Sunday Service talk at Ananda Meditation Temple and our topic is, essentially, what does it mean to surrender to God's will? This is very ironic because last evening we had an inspirational fund-raising program on the subject of Ananda's twelve year legal battle for retaining the right to represent Yogananda's teachings. During the twelve years between 1990 and 2002, we came very near to being destroyed as a spiritual work and a community (in California). We were attacked, sadly enough, by other disciples (believe it nor!) of Paramhansa Yogananda. That battle, which we won, ended nearly ten years ago. But a remnant of debt remains and the Ananda centers and members in America are in a campaign to pay that debt off and be done with that era of Ananda's history. For more, go to

So, what's the irony? The irony is that the concept of surrender might suggest to some minds that we should have decided NOT to defend ourselves! It is that irony whose unraveling seems worthy to share that inspires me to write today.

The image of surrender comes to us from a prior age of spirituality: an age which, in the Hindu calendar of reckoning changes (up and down) in the level of human consciousness, would have been akin to our concept of the "Dark Ages" or at least medieval times. Surrender fits the image of kings and lords, of vassals and serfs, of submission and oaths of fealty. These are not concepts that resonate or inspire in our new age of democracy and individual liberty.

Surrender is what armies do, most commonly in in defeat, if not also disgrace. The word "acceptance" might do a bit better, but it, too, smacks of giving up, of passivity. One imagines a person shrugging his shoulders with a deep sigh and a long drawn out, "All right, you win!"

However, this does not invalid the truth behind "surrender to God's will." It simply needs clarification. For starters who is that surrenders at all? The anwer: ego and self will, in league with ego-motivated desires.

If the ego surrenders to God, does God take over, like a bus driver takes over driving the bus? Well, try it and see! Swami Kriyananda, as a young monk and beginning lecturer, once stood silent before an audience for upwards two minutes to experiment and see if God would take over the lecture. Well, God didn't! Too the audience's great relief, Swami realized he had to take the first steps and speak. Then, while speaking, if his consciousness and intention were open to divine grace, he found that, over time and with practice, inspiration would flow with ever greater power and consistency. He began to receive increasing confirmation of this from the inspired responses of his listeners.

So, surrender is not passive: not at all! Surrender to God's will means to embrace what is right and true with all your heart, mind and strength. Indeed, going back to medieval imagery, it is more akin to charging into battle fearlessly and joyfully. But here the image fails us, for, unlike most warriors charging into battle hell bent on death and destruction, embracing God's will draws to us clear mindedness, creativity, initiative, and common sense. Why is that so? Because that which is true and good (and that which is of God, or higher consciousness) partakes, by definition, in such qualities. Such "acceptance" always manifests at least some aspects of intelligence, creativity , courage and so on.

Surrender to God's will is perhaps more meaningfully restated in terms of the importance of doing what is right: right by our conscience, doing the right thing by the measure of the greatest good for the greatest number, and, yes, for those who either see it as such or in reality experience it in themselves: doing the will of God. Surrender to God's will includes acting in accordance with high ideals, accepted (or intuited) ethics and morals, and, in all events, doing so in a spirit of courage, cooperation, common sense, intelligence, even-mindedness, and sincerity.

I know that many justify their actions by claiming to know God's will, or claiming the moral force of their scripture, theology, or national (or other similar) interests. After all, unless God appears in the heavens for all to see and announces his will for all to hear, it is so easy to make the claim to know God's will. Just so will two sides of a court case claim that their view has its roots in the Constitution of their country. That you cannot prove to others what is God's will doesn't mean we shouldn't try or that we shouldn't act in accordance with it to the best of our ability.

When the ego surrenders to the promptings of the soul, whether with finality or through temporary insight, it accepts the inevitability of karmic law and perceives the folly (and eventual suffering ) of ego-motivated action. This acceptance is deep and dynamic and transformative. It lifts us to a higher level of consciousness.

I have heard it said that we successfully and truly end a bad habit and substitute a new and better one only when the transformation comes from the level of intuitive knowing (that the change is permanent). Real and permanent change requires a shift to higher level of consciousness and realization. It comes with the deep sense of knowing that you have arrived, or are victorious, or are free (from a negative trait).

Swami Kriyananda tells the story of kicking the smoking habit when he was a young adult. True, he quit smoking many times (like Mark Twain: quitting is easy; I've done it many times!). But each time he viewed his "failure" in the light of simply not have yet succeeded. One day it became a reality and despite many past failures he knew deep down it was true. He even carried a pack of cigarettes around for a few weeks and gave smokes to friends but the desire to smoke had vanished from him.

When I first visited Ananda Village in 1977 I knew it was my home. It was a calm, inner knowing that required no debate, no doubts, no anguishing decision making. When I read Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi," I knew this was it for me. Again, no quibbling. The time was right and the time was now. I simply walked into it and never looked back. In these examples, no courage, no strong affirmation of acceptance was required. There was no sense of surrendering my desires or will to God's will. The sense of rightness was a great and divine gift.

Naturally our willingness to do God's will (to do the right thing), is a day to day battle. I don't mean to imply that it happens only once. It, like right diet, exercise, or meditation, has to be affirmed daily until such time as its cumulative effects become permanent as the flow of intuition and grace grows ever stronger. It's as if we give up junk food and begin drawing sustenance from this higher, intuitive level. Thus surrender, rightly understood, suggests a flow of energy, like walking or diving into a swift river and once out into the current flowing with it downstream towards the sea. We can't just lie there, however, we too have to use strokes to stay in the current at the center of the river, and to make more rapid progress towards our goal.

When in 1975 I quit my career, sold my possessions, and embarked on a spiritual journey of Self-awakening, I went first to Europe and then overland to India (I was gone over a year). It wasn't a "surrender" but it was an affirmation of the importance of putting spirituality first in my life. It was a change of life direction and the beginning of a life long quest to live for God and higher ideals over personal comfort or convenience. Each step made the journey just a little easier helped create new opportunities and progressively greater realization.

Spirituality is no mere habit. Put another way, if your "spirituality" becomes a habit than you are on the way to losing it. Good habits are not enough. Divine grace is needed to uplift you above the foundation of self-effort that good habits provide. Nor is spirituality a mere matter of helping old ladies across the street, attending church, making donations, saying mantras or conducting sacred rituals. "You have to personally make love to God," Paramhansa Yogananda once said. We must seek grace, which is God's presence and love, and not seek God for his gifts, like the simple and natural love of a child for his mother.

Thus our twelve year lawsuit to defend our rights to be disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda may be validly viewed as surrendering to God's will, though it started out first with accepting that we should affirm our rights, then we had to defend those rights, and then we had to be willing to lose everything (our community, Ananda Village, CA, our reputation and public goodwill). Divine Mother pulled us from the brink of certain defeat more than once and though battered and bruised we emerged in the end, victorious. We defended ourselves honorably and on universal principles. "Where there is right action, there lies victory."

In surrender, then, to the soul's invitation to live by high ideals and to seek the Divine Presence as our very Self, lies the permanent victory of Spirit over ego.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman