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 20.1 SARVA-DHARMAN PARITYAJYA  - 1: 

SHARANAGATI-SHASTRA

 

The word sharaNaagati  stands for  the act of seeking refuge. Krishna after expounding the entire Gita which needs a lot of intellectual understanding, finally winds up with an emotional power-boost, starting with XVIII-61 and 62:

 

Ishvaras-sarva-bhUtAnAm hRd-deshe’rjuna tishhTati /

bhrAmayan sarva-bhUtAni yantrA-rUDhAni mAyayA //

tameva  sharaNam gaccha sarva-bhAvena bhArata /

tat-prasAdAt parAM shAntiM sthAnaM prApsyasi shAshvataM //

 

The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, causing all beings, by His mAyic power, to revolve, as if mounted on a machine. Go unto Him, with all your being, as your refuge; by His Grace you will obtain supreme peace and the eternal abode.

 

This surrender idea, though not in the same words, was already told to Arjuna in the 11th chapter itself when the Lord was showing His cosmic form.

 

nimittamAtram bhava savya-sAcin

 

says He.  ‘Be only my instrument of action and experience, Arjuna’, thereby implying ‘Don’t think you are the actor or the experiencer’. It is a question of whether it is God’s Will or our will.

 

But when the Lord said this, Arjuna was in such a dazed condition because he was in the presence of the cosmic form, with His one thousand hands and such other paraphernalia. The matter rests there and does not come up again until the stage of winding up of the entire Gitopadesha. All the academic matters pertaining to the spiritual ascent have been spoken but it is the superlative secret that comes at the end of the discussion that tells the aspirant how one applies all the theory into practice. It is the final secret of secrets that gives us an action plan.  That  plan is: “Surrender to the Lord”. So  when He  finally winds up his Gita, Krishna comes back to the topic of the helplessness of the will of Man.

 

And particularly, addressing Arjuna, He says (XVIII–59, onwards): “If resorting to your ego, you decide not to fight, it will only be a wasteful decision, because your own prakRti will take you along (its way).  You are bound by your karma born of your own nature; and so what you are not willing to do will be done by you; you are not in control. The Lord Almighty is there in the hearts of all beings and He is it that motivates the whole world into action. Go and surrender to Him”.  These are almost His final words.

 

In saying this in the 61st and 62nd shlokas, Krishna uses a pregnant word sarva-bhAvenatameva sharaNaM gacchha sarva-bhAvena says He. sarva-bhAvena means ‘in every way of your being’, ‘with your heart and soul’, ‘through every aspect of life’.  These aspects could be the shAnta (peaceful, serene) bhakti of Bhishma, the vAtsalya (filial affectionate) bhakti of Yashoda, , the sakhya (friendly) bhakti of Sugriva or Arjuna, or the dAsya (being of service) bhakti of Hanuman and several other devotees, or the mAdhura (loving) bhakti of Gouranga and of the Gopis.  sarva-bhavena also could mean that in the life of the bhakta there should be no compartments.  This meaning is expressly indicated in Narada’s bhakti Sutra #79, where he says

 

sarvadA sarvabhAvena nishcintaiH bhagavAneva bhajanIyaH.

 

Meaning, It is the Lord alone who is to be worshipped by the devotee free from all cares and worries, in every aspect of his life.

 

Now He announces that He is  going to tell him the most superlative secret (sarva –guhyatamaM – XVIII -64) and He gives out what constitutes the most sacred  (and secret) mantra of the Gita, ‘sarva dharmAn parityajya ..’. Abandon all dharmas and surrender to Me alone. I shall deliver you from all sin and evil. Do not grieve.

 

Before we get into the analysis of the shloka #66, we shall note how imperceptibly a great Vedantic truth comes out in the context of the two uses of sharaNam in shlokas 62 and 66. In 62 He says: tameva sharaNaM gacchha –Surrender to Him. Who is this ‘Him’ (taM) to whom we have to surrender? It is the Ishvara (of the previous shloka) who is the indweller in every one.  So it is the Immanent Absolute that is our core.  And in shloka 66, He says mAmekaM sharaNaM vraja, meaning Surrender to Me alone’.  And who is this Me (mAM)? It is Krishna Himself, namely the Transcendent Absolute. Recall his announcement in the tenth chapter  ahaM sarvasya prabhavo mattaH sarvaM pravartate (I am the source of everything, From Me all this emanates). Thus it turns out we have a divine declaration of the truth of the mahAvAkya ‘tat tvam asi’ (You are That) testifying to the fact of the identity between the Transcendent and the Immanent.

 

As we have noted earlier, the crucial statements that are puzzling in #66 are “Abandon all dharmas”, and “Surrender to Me alone”.  We shall take this latter one first. The vishishhTAdvaita tradition is famous for its incisive anatomy of the theory of SharaNAgati. The act of surrender is not just to fall at the feet of the deity or the Guru or a great Person, prostrate before Him and pray to be saved.  It is far more than that; far, far deeper. The tradition  mentions six maxims which perfectly define what a complete surrender is. Of these six, the most important is “rakshhishhyati iti vishvAsaH” – ‘ Conviction that He will protect me under all circumstances’. The eminent Ramabhakta Saint Tyagaraja in his Ravichandrika composition ‘mA kela rA’, rings an echo of shloka No.62  and says: Why should I feel any concern when you hold in your hands the leading strings of all the dolls in the drama (‘nATaka sUtramunu’) which you conduct so unerringly (‘gati tappaka’) and to the delight of the whole universe (‘jagamella meccaga’).

 

This conviction has to be hundred percent; nothing less. In the Ramayana as told by the original narrator Valmiki, when Vibhishana abandoned his brother Ravana to go and seek refuge in Lord Rama, he had no prior agreement with or assurance from Rama that the latter will accept him and protect him. Even then he had perfect trust in the goodness of the Lord and was confident that he will be taken in. Rama did not belie the expectations of Vibhishana, in spite of the fact that all of Rama’s troupe – except of course the wise Hanuman – preached extreme caution and even predicted a positive danger in accepting Vibhishana. This trust and confidence in the Lord is the one sure foundation on which the principle of surrender works. Even if you are a non-believer or a sinner, if you take total refuge in the Lord, He will not forsake you. He says so in so many words ( api cet sudurAcAro ….IX – 30).

 

There is a classical statement of the Lord in the Ramayana which justifies why we should have the faith that He will protect us. “Even if for once the devotee says: I am totally yours,” says the Lord “whatever living being it be, I have to grant my Grace of Fearlessness; this is my vow (‘vrata’)”. (Valmiki Ramayana:VI-8-33):

 

sakRd-eva-prapannAya tavAsmi-iti ca yAcate /

abhayaM sarva-b hUtebhyo dadAmy-etad-vrataM mama //

 

This is the greatest norm or vrata that He adhered to steadfastly all His life in the Rama-avatara. Indeed that is why He is called ‘suvrataH’ (One who observes the greatest vrata)  in the VishhNu-sahasranama.

 

This trust therefore is a trust with total abandon. It is this spirit of abandon which is recommended by the SharaNAgati verse (XVIII-66). It is the abandonment of all dependence on anything other than the Lord. We certainly do it sometimes when we are in distress and when we have no hope of any earthly help. When we have tried every other means, when we are totally helpless, certainly we take refuge in the Lord, at least orally, though it is a moot question whether it comes from the heart.  When the doctor finally says: I have done my best, the patient now is in God’s hands, -- at that time we no doubt pray to God and say to Him ‘O God, you are my only refuge’.  Actually we should have more truly said to Him: ‘Now you are my only refuge’! Can we have that attitude of total trust even when there is a so-called worldly help or alternative available? That would be the true practice of ‘rakshhishhyati-iti vishvAsaH’ and ‘nimittamAtram bhava’ – the true implementation of the theory of SharaNAgati.

 

The Vaishnava tradition talks of actually six components of the process of Surrender to the Lord.  The conviction that ‘He will protect me under all circumstances’ is only one of them, though the most important. The  following are the other five.

 

AnukUlyasya sankalpaH”: The determination to do only that which is favourable and pleasing to the Lord. It was here that the famous surrender of Bharata to Rama in the Ramayana failed in its norms. Bharata wanted to bring back Rama to the capitol and not allow Him to continue in the forest.  This the Lord not only did not like but it went against His more fundamental requirement of upholding the promise to which the father Dasaratha was committed. Bharata’s SharaNAgati misses the willingness to be in tune with the Will of the Lord. It is the willingness to follow, to obey, that is more important than following or obeying.  The first great saying of the ancient grand old lady  (Auvaiyar) of Tamil literature and culture is  “aRam ceya virumbu” – meaning, Have the will   to do good.  Here the words “have the will” (virumbu, in Tamil) is significant. One might have noted that on the airplanes the first announcement that you hear from the crew is “We like to welcome you on this flight”. This is more pleasant to hear than a formal statement “We welcome you on this flight”. The ‘liking’ makes it more hospitable!

 

pratikUlasya varjanaM”: The avoidance of everything that is unfavourable or displeasing to the Lord.

 

Vibhishana excelled in both these criteria. He was prepared to forego his kith and kin in order to get away from the evil-doing Ravana. As soon as it was clear that Ravana was incorrigible, he rose up (in the skies) to leave him. His “AnukUlyasya sankalpa” was certified by Rama himself. “He has come with friendly intentions” (‘mitra-bhAvena samprAptaH’) says Rama in the discussions that took place with his troupe and therefore Rama says he deserves acceptance.

 

There are two more criteria which are insisted by the Vaishnavite schools with a particular emphasis unique to them. These are “goptRtva-varaNaM” (the adoption of the Lord as the only Protector) and “Atma-nikshhepaH” (Laying of one’s entire self at the disposal of the Lord). The devotee realises in due time that whatever he may do, his past karma and present obstacles to a spiritual pursuit do not give him the spiritual advance he yearns for in spite of the regularity of his life and purity of conduct and attempt to control his senses. He feels that something else other than his conduct, knowledge and faith is necessary. He realises that even if he surrenders to God he is not able to ingratiate himself into the Lord’s favour. He needs somebody to intercede on his behalf with the Lord. It is generally believed that it is the Mother Goddess Lakshmi who intercedes on behalf of the devotee. But more specifically this interceding usually takes place through the Guru whose natural role is to intercede on behalf of the devotee. The Guru enables the devotee to rid himself of the burden which he is unable to bear any more. This is technically called ‘laying off the burden’ or ‘returning the burden to its rightful owner’ and known as ‘bhAra-nyAsa’ in technical jargon.

 

The last one in the list of six fundamental components of an ideal surrender is “kArpaNyaM” -- the feeling of total triviality and nothingness vis-a-vis the Lord. This is the norm by which two famous episodes of surrender in the Ramayana fail to reach up to the ideal.

 

One was Sita’s. While she was a captive in Lanka she repeatedly surrendered mentally to Rama. But hers did not satisfy this norm of incapability on the part of one who surrenders. For, if she had chosen to, she could have consumed Ravana himself in the flames of Her Absolute chastity, though she did not choose to do it for other reasons.

 

In the same way, there is another episode of surrender in the Ramayana, namely, that of Rama Himself to the God of the Seas. Again Rama’s surrender did not meet the sixth norm above. For, his surrender was not because of inability to achieve what he wanted to achieve. If He had chosen to, He could have dried up the ocean and have his armies cross it.

 

The only SharaNAgati in the Ramayana that satisfies all the six norms for surrender is that of Vibhishana. He is therefore taken, in the Vaishnava tradition as well as in other traditions, as the role model for SharaNAgati.

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© 2017 by V. Krishnamurthy

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