The Principle of Self-surrender and Self-sacrifice
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on August 7, 1983.)

It is said that the mind is the cause of bondage, and it is also the cause of freedom. Mana eva manuṣyāṇāṃ kāraṇaṃ bandha-mokṣayoḥ, bandhāya viṣayāsaktaṃ muktaṃ nirviṣayaṃ smṛtam (Amrita Bindu Up. 2) is an oft-quoted, reputed verse which makes out that the mind has a dual capacity to bind as well as to free the spirit with which it is associated. There is bondage and freedom at the same time, at one at the same spot. This is explained philosophically in the second half of the verse when it states that the mind which is sunk in the objects of sense causes bondage, and the mind which has no objects outside it leads to freedom.

An individual, a person, a citizen of a country is bound and free at the same time. Every human being is essentially capable of demanding freedom because there is self-existence and a sense of self-completeness, self-sufficiency, and a self-motivated aspiration in every person, and the systems of governmental administration are based on the sanction of freedom to the citizens of the country. Thus, in even the choice of the systems of management and administration, people exercise their freedom, and the insistent asking for the expression of freedom of an individual in speech, in thought and in action is something well known to the modern world.

It is true that every person is free, and no one can be compelled or made subservient to any other. To deny freedom to any person in any manner whatsoever would be to deny even human qualities and the very validity of independent existence to that person. But no one can have ultimate and final freedom inasmuch as there is a need on the part of everyone to obey law. There is a mandate of instruction, a discipline which society requires and a legal system which the governmental operation expects every citizen to obey. Law and order, discipline and system, the existence of which is obvious, seem to deny complete freedom to the individual; else, there would be no need for law, no need for discipline and no necessity for regulations of any kind. There is no need for any kind of management in the sense of a body politic or an organisation.

But a human being has felt the need for such an organisational setup, without which the freedom so-called and expected may be just a vainglorious cry in the wilderness. No one can be really free unless one is also obedient in respect of the law that operates uniformly, unmistakably and impartially in respect of everyone.

We are in a very interesting position indeed. We know very well that we are not entirely free in any way. There are compulsive laws – natural, social, political – operating upon every individual. Thus, no one can walk on water, touch fire or deny the law of gravitation. These are well-known principles which deny total freedom to human nature. Social and political laws are also well known but, nevertheless, man is free. Who can say you are not free? Your soul, your sense of self-respect and regard, and your inward longing, seeking and searching in every way tells you that you are a free bird, and no one can bind you to anything. At the same time, you know very well that you are entirely bound.

So this dual feature in a single context of existence looking like a coming together of two contraries and irreconcilable positions is really not an irreconcilable position, but a beautiful blend of the greatness and glory of human nature. It is a glory that we are bound to law and must obey it. It is also a glory that we are totally free. How can this peculiar self-negating dual feature in a single person be explained? How can obedience to another authority be consistent with freedom that one seeks for oneself?

This is not merely a sociological or political issue; it is a spiritual, religious, philosophical and meditational synthesis. We are free, yes, but the freedom of God is to be consistent with the freedom of man. The freedom of the citizen is to be consistent with the freedom that the government is to exercise, for reasons which every individual is expected to know.

The bondage of the individual, therefore, is a wrong reading of the meaning behind any need for subservience under superior mandates, and the sense of freedom is again a thing not properly investigated into because we find ourselves in states of conflict many a time when we imagine under pressures of different types that some rule or law is harassing us from outside, while in our heart of hearts we are aware that if those harassing rules were not there, we would be like wild animals and beasts which would go their own way, the consequence of which is well known. So we have a knowledge in our own selves that while it is necessary to assert freedom and it is no use living like a slave, it is also known to everyone that unbridled freedom is itself a negation of freedom because it becomes a license which asserts a total independence of itself, and to the extent it asserts its total independence, it can be considered as entirely free.

But as far as its relationship with its social and natural environments is concerned, such an affirmation would be a total travesty because a total license given to a single individual is another way of completely refuting the existence of their being such a thing as relationship among people. Mutual relationship, whether it is among people or things, implies a limitation of individual freedom; otherwise, there is no such thing as mutual cooperation. A total affirmation of a single individual will deny every possibility of cooperation with another individual, and such a thing cannot exist even in thought. Cooperation is necessary, and the need for it is so much felt by each freedom-seeking individual that each one knows that the denial of that requisite sacrifice in the form of cooperation, though it may look like a limitation on freedom, is itself a sanction on freedom.

But there is something which is deeply hidden behind this little verse that I quoted: mana eva manuṣyāṇāṃ kāraṇaṃ bandha-mokṣayoḥ, bandhāya viṣayāsaktaṃ muktaṃ nirviṣayaṃ smṛtam. Objectless mind is the road to freedom – or rather, it is itself freedom. Object-bound mind is bondage. The attitude of the mind in respect of the world outside is the explanation behind the extent of bondage or freedom that it may pass through or experience in life. We create our own freedom and our own bondage in a very important sense because this seems to depend entirely upon our outlook of life and our understanding of our placement in this atmosphere of creation. Our station in life, our location in this world and our position in society is something that decides the extent of sacrifice that we are to make and the extent of freedom that we can expect, and these are to be taken in their real spirit because no one can deny realities.

Why should objects be regarded as bondages to the mind, and how does it follow that the mind which has no relationship with the objects is free? What is this logic? This secret in spiritual psychology is well known to all spiritual seekers, yogins, sadhakas: Attachment to objects is bondage, and detachment is freedom. But this goes like a slogan whose meaning never enters the brain. It is like political shouting for a particular party, and no one knows what all it means. There is no one who does not know that attachment to objects is very undesirable, that it causes sorrow, and that detachment is called for. But the opposite is done here, and the world of human involvement is nothing but just the opposite of this accepted truth. It is total involvement, and no freedom whatsoever from entanglement in objects.

There is a further instruction which is supposed to follow in the wake of this initial admonition that the mind is not to be bound by objects and that it should be free from attachment to things, namely, that the mind is to be finally surrendered to God. Atma samarpana is the final demand from God in respect of every created being. Atma samarpana, atma tyaga, or self-surrender, as it is called, is what religion would expect of us, and as religion is the way of a godly living, it is perhaps what is expected from us by God Himself. We are to be subservient to God. We have to obey the laws of God, and in this obedience to the laws of God we cease to exercise our effort towards affirmation of our isolation from God’s operative law because anyone who dissociates himself or herself from the operative jurisdiction of law is called a renegade, an outlaw. He will be thrown out by the legal force because he has denied the independence of the operation of that law by affirming his own or her own independence, and two independences are unknown. There is a single principle of independence which appears on one side as a freedom of choice granted to every individual, and on the other side as a need on the part of this so-called free soul to be also conscious of a power to which it is to be obedient.

The mind of the human being is not a total reality. It has elements of reality in it, and therefore, it plays a dual role. It is a part of a larger constitution of creative process in the world, and that intelligent, purposive process operating in the larger realm of creation as a whole may be considered as what is known as cosmic mind, an intelligence which is at the top. We may, in our own humble empirical way, say there is a cosmic political mind behind the existence of a single national spirit, to which little minds of the citizens have to be subservient as being obedient. As a citizen is part of the nation and yet cannot deny the need to cooperate with the principles of that national spirit, the individual mind, notwithstanding the fact that it is a part of the cosmic operation, has also the requisition on its part to obey the principle of its relationship with that larger whole to which it belongs.

The whole question boils down to the relation between the part and the whole. This is very important. In what sense is the part related to the whole? Can the part assert an independence? Is it really independent? In a way, it is really independent. We can see the part. It is visible to the eyes. It can be defined logically, precisely, mathematically in a particular manner. Therefore, it has a characteristic of separatist existence, yet it belongs to a larger mechanism of operation, and in that sense it is not totally independent.

The difficulty felt in spiritual practice in the leading of a truly religious life is a conflict, a conflict which actually should not be there but somehow is there, a conflict between a subtle pressure from within the individual to live a scot-free life entirely, and at the same time a fear that such a step would perhaps lead to great difficulties. That sort of attitude would be a life of anxiety similar to a dacoit, a burglar who feels he can do anything he likes and exercises his freedom a hundred percent, but knows at the same time that he is not free from a fear that may descend upon him from somewhere at any time, unknown to himself. Therefore, his freedom goes with fear, and such a freedom is no freedom at all. How can a free person be fearful, frightened by something else? Don’t you believe that fear and freedom are opposites? A free being is really free, and has no fear of anyone.

But the so-called free person who exercises utter freedom to its logical breaking point is also conscious of a fear of a sword of Damocles, as it were, hanging on his head. The fear of God is the greatest fear of man because He may do anything. But why should He do anything? Has God created the world so that He may punish his creation, so He may throw it to hell? Is that the intention of that Almighty Who is always associated with such dignified characteristics as mercy, compassion, and motherly and fatherly love? Is such an Almighty expected to create a sinful world and a hell for beings whom He has manufactured out of His own sankalpa or will? This is an uncharitable gesture that man can make in respect of the Supreme Being.

It is doubtful that this is true because omnipresence is also omnipotence and omniscience. All go together at one stroke in this concept of the Almighty. Hence, there is no likelihood of any flaw being there in the concept of creation by that Almighty will. It is an omniscient will, and therefore, it cannot forget some aspect of the mechanism of creation. It cannot say, “Oh, I am sorry, I have forgotten something.” It will not do that because it is omniscient; it knows every little bit of detail of the past, present and future. That is the very meaning of omniscience.

Hence, there is no point for any human being to imagine that God is a frightening judiciary who can even call the hangman if the time for it be. Such a position cannot be and should not be attributed to God the Almighty. The hangman is within our own selves. Nobody else hangs us; therefore, it is futile to objectively attribute a quality that is within us to that which is universally operating. It is like condemning law, condemning discipline, and condemning the existence of the very operation of justice when justice causes pain to somebody; therefore, the pained individual curses the very system of justice. It is not obedience to law or justice that man really is fond of. He is fond of happiness, and anything that defies immediate coming of joy or satisfaction evokes resentment. All law and discipline and the question of justice goes to the dogs if it appears that the coming in of this principle of justice, law, operation, etc., is going to frustrate the attempts at gaining joy, satisfaction, and pleasure from some direction. Man’s sentiments rule over his reason, and the little mind which is not really separate from the cosmically operative mind has this difficulty in getting involved in a nightmare created by wrong perception. The instruction that the mind should not be attached to objects and that it has to be detached implies that it has to free itself from wrong notions about things.

The involvement in a particular object, which is so much condemned in all religious circles, is actually not a condemnation of things or objects in the world. It is a criticism of the way in which the mind interprets its relationship with these objects, and involvement is the bondage. We may rarefy and sift this statement a little more into its purer form by understanding the real meaning behind this injunction that the bondage is not in the objects because, at least according to one school of teaching, the creation of God cannot be regarded as a source of bondage. Otherwise, it would imply that bondage is created by God. That is not permissible; it is not a justifiable position. God does not create bondage. An utterly free omniscience which is the cause of all things cannot be the effect of that which is contrary to its essential nature. So objects as they are in themselves, known sometimes as Ishvara-shristi, are not the causes of bondage; the mind itself is the cause of its own bondage. It is like a silkworm whose cocoon is tied around it. It spins a kind of bondage around itself and then is thrown into a prison, as it were, a prison that its own mind has built, and a thought which the mind generates in respect of what it cognises outside determines whether it is bound or free.

What do you think about that which you see with your eyes? That will tell whether you are a free person or a bound person. We think something; we have an opinion about something, and there is a thought about something – an opinion, a thought, a feeling and a determination of the will in regard to the very same thing all coming together as an action of the psyche from inside in respect of what is cognised. The psychic action in respect of the cognised something is the determining factor of the bondage or the liberation of one’s own self. Our mind is free or it is not free in accordance with the manner in which it understands the nature of that which it cognises by its operations.

What do you think when you look at an object? Here is the very root of all studies in psychology. Our interpretations of things outside are called perceptions as far as the senses are concerned, and they are called cognitions when the mind operates. These activities from the internal organ operating through the senses are the arena of the terrible turmoil in which we are involved and through which we are passing – samsara as it is called, bondage of the soul. If we like, we may call it hell.

But what is this peculiar attitude of the mind that causes bondage? What is the attitude that is expected of it when the verse quoted now tells that the mind is not to be sunk in the objects, that it has to be freed from objects? Does it mean that we should not be aware of any object because an awareness of the existence of any particular thing implies an opinion about that thing? There is no harm in the knowledge of an object. There is also no harm in holding an opinion about that object, but that opinion should be justified. It should be justifiable in the light of the law which brings together everything into a fraternity in the whole of creation. Only then this attitude, this perception or this opinion can be regarded as permissible. It is legally permissible according to the ordinance of God, and that which is legally permitted by the law of God, the ordinance or the mandate of God, is that attitude which would not conflict with the attitude which perhaps God Himself has in regard to all things.

You may be wondering what sort of attitude God has in regard to fields and trees, orchards, rivers, mountains and the things of the world. The all-pervading immanence of God is the answer to this question. Nobody can verbally answer in language what sort of attitude God may be having in regard to anything in His creation. Nobody has seen God, and nobody can place oneself in the position of God. But there is a logical apparatus in the reason of man which acts as a reflection of God’s speciality implanted in the human individual, due to which we sometimes say that man is made in the image of God. This superior reason will give us a hint as to the way in which we may be expected to evaluate things if it is not to conflict with that attitude of omniscience in respect of whatever is included within the area of that omniscience.

As I mentioned already, omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence mean one and the same thing. They are the ways of describing one and the same status of the Ultimate Reality, and that which is everywhere cannot have any attitude to anything. It cannot have an opinion in the sense of a psychological reaction to objects. Though it is not unaware of anything, it is not non-cognisant of the existence of anything in the world. It is cognisant of every little thing because it is omniscient, but it cannot have a reaction of the psyche in the sense of pleasure and pain, possession and non-possession, like and dislike, wanting and not wanting, etc., inasmuch as this omniscience goes together with omnipresence also.

The omniscience of God suggests that mere knowledge of an object need not be a bondage; otherwise, God, Who knows all things, would be bound by His very knowledge. We can know everything, but knowledge need not be bondage, and we may have an understanding of everything – we may call it an opinion if we like – and that also need not cause a bondage. But it is a bondage if it contradicts that requirement which is to be in consonance with the omnipresence of the very same thing which is also omniscient.

We should place ourselves in the position of something which is everywhere, and then see how we would react to things. This attitude of the mind is what is expected by this instruction in this half verse when it says that mind is free when it is free from involvement in objects. That which is omnipresent is not involved in objects, though it is in the objects also. That which is everywhere is so much involved in the objects that it can be said to be even more involved than any person in the world who is absorbed in any kind of utter affection. The involvement of God in things is deeper and more incomprehensible than the involvement of any person in any object of love or affection, yet that involvement is not a bondage because it is associated with omnipresence, in which case the object in which this omniscience is involved is no more an object, but the very self of that omniscience. Thus, attachments are ruled out merely by the very fact of the selfhood of that omniscience in the so-called object in the case of others who cannot be so conscious.

So the mind is not to be involved in the objects, not to hold opinions in the sense of clinging by way of possession or rejection, which attitude is not justifiable and will not be permitted by God because He will say, “I do not think in this way, and therefore, I will not permit that way of thinking which is not in consonance with My way of thinking.” Violation of God’s laws is called sin, as violation of human law is called crime. What else can be a violation of God’s law except the clinging of the mind to objects as if they are out of the purview of the very mind of which this little mind also is a part?

The involvement of the mind in objects of sense, which is called bondage, is the source of pain and sorrow and suffering because it denies the omnipresence of God, and at that time it may deny every other characteristic of God also. The affirmation of an object of sense by the mind as a totally independent external something is the denial of the omnipresent immanence, which God would not tolerate, and therefore, He would not like us to cling to any object because clinging to an object is a misrepresentation, and a misinterpretation of the thing which neither belongs to us nor belongs to anybody inasmuch as everything is organically a belonging of that Almighty completeness.

This also brings out the need for self-surrender, to which I made a reference a little before. Why should there be self-surrender? Why should we offer ourselves to God? Everything in the universe is an offering to God. It is a sacrifice that the universe is performing in the very process of evolution. Evolution, right from the lower pedestals of creation to the highest, is a yajna, a havan, a great offering that the universe is making to that Almighty flame, the radiance which will burn up the entire objectivity in the cosmos in its universality.

Therefore, we people, who are also involved in this process of evolution, require to be told again and again that we are not exempt from this religious principle of self-surrender and self-sacrifice. The whole world is a sacrifice: yajño vai puruṣaḥ, yajño vai viṣṇuḥ. The universe is a burnt offering to the Almighty’s radiance, and we are in the universe. Thus, we also go with it. Every act of ours, every thought, every feeling is an offering, a worship, a waving of a sacred light before the glory of the Almighty.

Thus is perhaps the deeper connotation of the well-known Upanishadic verse mana eva manuṣyāṇāṃ kāraṇaṃ bandha-mokṣayoḥ, bandhāya viṣayāsaktaṃ muktaṃ nirviṣayaṃ smṛtam.