The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda
PART I: THE SAMADHI PADA
Chapter 34: Surrender to God
The worship of God has been regarded as a potent method of mind control, and the methods of devotion are the different ways by which a positive approach is made to the restraint of the modifications of the mind. It is also very beautifully pointed out in another aphorism in the Yoga Sutras, that God is the Guru of all Gurus – sa eṣaḥ pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenā anavacchedāt (I.26). This is a very important aspect of spiritual approach which Sage Patanjali makes mention of in his sutra. Ultimately, everything is done by God. This is not merely an ultimate realisation, or a statement of ultimate fact, but it is every kind of fact, and perhaps there cannot be any other truth than this great miracle – that there is only one Power working everywhere, at all times, and in every possible manner.
The workings of God are from outside as well as from inside. As the wondrous function of creation, God acts from outside, and as the principle of inner illumination, He works from inside. Every assistance that we receive in our life comes from God; it does not come from man. It does not come from anybody other than the Creator of the cosmos. There is no atom in this universe in which the divine power is not working. Also, we cannot say that any power other than the power of God is at work. He is the Guru of all Gurus on account of the fact that He is unlimited by the time factor, says Patanjali. Sa eṣaḥ pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenā anavacchedāt: He is the Guru of even the ancient Gurus because of the fact that He is there even prior to the birth of these Gurus – kālenā anavacchedāt. A Guru is a directing principle, and inasmuch as there cannot be a directing principle other than God, we have to accept that the act of self-surrender to God becomes a necessity even in the most empirical of our actions and modes of living.
It is commonly believed, of course wrongly, that the connection of God with human life is remote, and the immediate connections are personal and social. It is not so. God's connection with us is not remote. As a matter of fact, there cannot be anything nearer than God. Even the nearest conceivable relation in this world is further away than the presence of God in respect of us. Every event that takes place, inwardly or outwardly, and every experience that we are passing through, is motivated by an urge which is a tendency towards God-realisation. There are progressive and retrogressive movements, and there are even apparent erroneous movements from the point of view of personal observation, but all of these winding courses of individual life are ultimately a movement of the river of existence to the ocean of God. Therefore, the surrender of self to God is inclusive of all the duties of life. This is perhaps the message of the verse in the Bhagavadgita, where the Lord concludes by saying, sarvadharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja (B.G. XVIII.66): Renounce all other duties and come to Me alone for refuge. This means to say that the duty of surrender of oneself to God is comprehensive enough to include every other duty within itself.
We have to remind ourself, once again, that our duty towards God is not exclusive, but inclusive. It is not a function that we perform in respect of some individual, excluding certain other individuals. It is this inability on the part of the human mind to think of God correctly that has become responsible, unfortunately, for a subtle doubt in the minds of seekers that social duty is different from spiritual duty. And so, often there is even a complaint on the part of the seeking soul that, "We can take care of God a little afterwards; let us take care of the world just now," so that God may come afterwards – He should not come immediately. This is a peculiar twist in the way of thinking of the human mind which has given a place of lesser importance to the presence of God in life, and a greater importance to the empirical needs of social existence. We may regard this as one of the principal obstacles in spiritual practice. It is a defect in the way of thinking itself, and this defect is so deep-rooted and inherent that it can cut at the root of all aspiration, just as cancer can eat the flesh of the body, and all other efforts at maintaining health may fail if cancer enters into our vitals. Likewise, this cancer of doubt is the destructive principle that is working in life, which can set at naught every other effort, though it may apparently be a religious or a spiritual one.
The principle of God is supreme and incomparable. It is not possible for an ordinary mind to understand this truth, because the mind has never been trained in such a way so as to look at life in relation to the presence of God – it has always been looked at as isolated from God. This is a consequence of the natural structure of our perceptual process itself. Our senses and the mind are made in such a way that it is not possible for us to include the presence of God in the pattern of life. The senses will not allow it, and the mind will not agree to it, because the mind is the servant of the senses and it simply accepts whatever the senses say. Inasmuch as, according to the report of the senses, the world is outside us, and inasmuch as the mind confirms this fact on the basis of the report of the senses, we have perforce to accede that God is outside the world.
This peculiar habit of the mind to regard God as an extra-cosmic principle, in spite of academic confirmation to the contrary, becomes the cause of our subtle problems felt inwardly, notwithstanding the fact that our intellectual analysis tells us a fact which is more revealing. The point made out in the following sutra of Patanjali – sa eṣaḥ pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenā anavacchedāt (I.26) – is that once we place ourself at the disposal of God, we do not require assistance from anybody. Not all the armies of the world put together can shake a hair of our body if God is our protector, because the power of God excels any other power anywhere in the universe. While people may take time to act, God does not take time to act. I may take a few minutes to fulfil a request of yours, but God does not take even a few seconds, because He is timeless – kālenā anavacchedāt.
There is a very informative and illustrative anecdote which is significant of the way in which God works. It is said that there was a sage who, due to some karma, was born as a deer, but because of the intense tapas or austerity that he performed, he had the memory of his past life. "I was a seeker in the previous birth, and due to some error in my life I have become a deer, an animal." So it very miserably passed its life in the body of a deer, and it was biding its time in the forest. One day it so happened that a hunter attacked it. As a deer is able to run with great speed, the hunter was determined to ensure that the deer would not escape. On one side he set his hounds out, on another side he tied a net, on the third side he raised a huge fire, and on the fourth side he himself stood poised with a bow and poisoned arrow. The deer, having memory of the past, mentally surrendered itself to God. It is an extraordinary event that even an animal could maintain the memory that it had no other support than God. The deer was about to be killed, and an utter feeling of desperate and abject surrender to God was the only alternative. A miracle took place, and the miracle took place within a minute. A mighty, swirling wind blew, and the raging inferno set the net on fire. Dark clouds filled the sky and rains poured and poured, extinguishing the fire. The hunter, standing with his bow and poisoned arrow aimed at the deer, felt something crawling at his feet. It was a snake. While kicking his feet in panic he let fly the arrow, which killed his dog, and then he fled in fear of the snake that was underfoot. The deer escaped and was free. This is not a mere story; it is a highly instructive episode, taken from the events of spiritual life. If only we could be careful enough to observe the events in our life; but we are never careful enough to observe them – we are very foolish. But if we are cautious enough to go deep into the structure of every little event we pass through in life, we will realise that every event is a miracle by itself.
Every event in life is a miracle, and it cannot be caused by any human factor or individual. The very fact that we exist today, that we are living and breathing, should be regarded as a miracle. This world is made up of such peculiar, uncontrollable factors and forces that it is really the height of unwisdom to imagine that we can control them and live in this world. How are we responsible for the continuance of our peaceful life in this world of terrific forces, over which we have no control at all? How is it possible that we are alive here, even for a few days, amid such vehement energies that are working around us, and which can simply floor us in a second if they make up their minds to do so? What prevents the earth from cracking, splitting into two parts, and an earthquake suddenly swallowing up our every effort? All the centuries of civilisation can turn to dust in a second if there is an earthquake and the earth breaks, and can we do anything to prevent it? Can we say that we are working hard to prevent an earthquake? What can we do to prevent an earthquake.
An earthquake can happen anywhere. At any time there can be a tempest or a tornado. At any time there can be drought or a flood. At any time there can be heart failure. At any time a grain of rice can enter the wrong passage in our gullet. Anything can happen at any time. Such uncertainty is the ruling principle of life, and we say that we are masters of life, that we rule the destiny of mankind. Is it true? Not so. There are more subtle things than the human mind can comprehend. "There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." However much we may assert our ego in respect of our importance and achievements in life, remember that there is a divinity that rules our ends. This is a surprising truth which should make us completely part and parcel of this ruling principle, this sovereign principle. This consciousness of our being an inseparable part of this ruling, sovereign principle is also the principle of self-surrender.
Every help comes from God. It is not merely subtle, invisible help, but even visible help. If I can get a cup of water when I am thirsty, it has come from God – it has not come from man. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as man. This is a misconception in our mind, and all these events, persons and forces which we regard as empirical are also the manifestations of the Eternal. Finally, we will find that there is no such thing as the empirical, and no such thing as the temporal. They are only some philosophical distinctions that we make for the purpose of logical conviction and explanation. Ultimately, there is no world, no empirical life, no temporality, no individuality, no human being – it is a flood of Universal Truth. This was what was revealed to Arjuna by Bhagavan Sri Krishna, ultimately. We behave as if we are responsible for the fate of life and the future of the world, though everything is done by God, as it has been done up to this time and shall be done in the future.
All of the values that we regard as worthwhile in life, and all of our rules and regulations, are all stomached by this terrifying universal law, which simply sets at naught everything that we regard as meaningful. Even our efforts are His efforts – this will be realised a little later. Even what we call 'self-effort' and 'free will' is entirely the work of God, and this will be realised as we advance further in spiritual life. Our every action is God's action. Everything that happens is caused by Him, every event is motivated by Him, and every tendency in life is a tendency towards His realisation. He is the Master of all Masters.Sa eṣaḥ pūrveṣām api guruḥ- He is the Guru of all Gurus. Even the human Guru – the individual Guru, the visible Guru – is a manifestation of His Universal Presenc.
It is His Universal Presence that projects itself in an individualised manner, sometimes for the purpose of working the aims of evolution. This is a truth which shall open up the heart of every soul and then make it completely surrender itself to God. Once this surrender is effected, the mind withdraws itself automatically from all its attachments. The supremacy and the almighty existence of God is enough to cut at the root of all desire. This is a final stroke that we deal at all individual attractions and repulsions, and all the problems and difficulties of life. They are merely winds that blow without any substance to them, and they shall be taken care of by this one ruling principle that we are stating and proclaiming here through this sutra – that God is All. Tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajñabījam(I.25): God is omniscient, and He knows everything.
So we need not pray to God that something may be done. Why are we reminding Him, as if He has forgotten something? Sarvajnabijam – He is the root and seed of omniscience itself. He knows what is going to take place, and how it is to take place. Niratisayam – incomparable, unsurpassed seed of omniscience is God. Because He is omniscient, He is also omnipotent. The three great attributes of God are generally spoken of – namely, omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence – are inseparable attributes. Where one is, the others also are. The very fact of omnipresence implies omniscience, which again implies omnipotence. Because something is everywhere, it knows everything. Because it knows everything, in an identity of being, it is also all-powerful. This 'identity of being' is a very important qualifying clause. Power is absent where knowledge is cut off from its object, and power automatically manifests itself where the object is identical with this knowledge of the object.
The object of knowledge is always outside knowledge in ordinary life and, therefore, everybody is impotent – no power is present in any person. We always cringe before things, but it is not the case with God because the object of His knowledge is the same as His knowledge. His Being is His knowledge, His Being is His action, His Being is His power, His Being is His experience of bliss and freedom, and this omnipresence, which is at once omniscience and omnipotence, is naturally all-inclusive, because omnipresence is exclusive of nothing. This Truth, when it is revealed before the seeking mind, will draw its soul towards God, and there need not be much effort on the part of the seeker to control the mind once this Truth is revealed before it.
Perhaps there is a great point in the promulgators of devotion and bhakti, telling us that devotion to God is the easiest way to the achievement of the goal of life. I cannot say that it is the easiest, but it is the final step that one can take if it could be achieved. It is not as easy as it appears, as ordinarily it is not given to the human mind to accept the omnipresence of God in such an intense manner as to rule out the very possibility of individual existence. Because even when we tentatively, religiously, accept the all-inclusive existence of God, we subtly maintain our individuality as an isolated principle. Whatever be the extent of our surrender of self to God, the self subtly tries to maintain itself, and it says, "God, you are everything. I am a fool." Some people pray to God in arati: Main murakha khala kami – I am stupid, wicked and lustful. They do not really believe what they are saying. It is a hypocritical prayer, because nobody believes that he is a fool. Before God he utters the prayer, but before the world he says, "I am not like that." The subtle reserve of individuality maintained creates a peculiar artificiality in our attitude towards God, and no one can know this better than God Himself. He knows that we have an artificial devotion towards Him, and so whatever be the tapas that we do and the number of years that we spend on the bank of the Ganges, we cannot achieve the expected result, because of the subtle reserve of individuality that we have.
Here is another humorous story. There were two villagers who fought with each other to have water flow through their fields. There was a common channel of water, and each farmer wanted the water to flow only through his field. There was a quarrel, and they went to the magistrate to fight the case. They were villagers – untutored, boorish types - and the magistrate knew very well their level of understanding. So very humorously, and in a parental manner, he said to them, "My dear friends, you have filed a case before me for judgement as to how the water should flow through the field – whether it should flow through this man's field or that man's field. Now you have come to me for a decision, and I am the magistrate. So you must abide by whatever I say. Do you agree?" One of the farmers stood up and answered, "Lord, whatever you say is acceptable to me, but water should flow only through my field. Please pass judgement in my favour." The magistrate said, "Then what is the use of your coming to me? You have already passed judgement in your case." Likewise, this is our attitude towards God. "God, Thou art everything, but I am also something. Don't forget that. I am also something. I am not nothing.
We may feel that this is a great humour and joke. But is it true? Are we always playing tricks with God? Are we hypocritical with God, and are we maintaining a subtle egoism even in the presence of God? This is a great doubt that may arise in our minds, but it is true. We maintain egoism even in the presence of God, and nobody can deny this. Even the best devotee cannot be free from egoism. It is this egoism that spoils all the efforts of life, because no obstacle can be equal to egoism. All others are minor obstacles compared to egoism. It is the king of all demons. It is the Sumbha that we speak of in the Devi Mahatmaya, the final devilish force that had to be encountered by the Divine Power, Mahashakti.
So this principle of self-affirmation or individuality – the 'I-ness' and 'my-ness' – is the barrier between us and God. There is no barrier between us and God except ego – that is the only barrier. That is the thick wall, the dark screen, the iron curtain between us and God. We cannot remove it by any amount of ordinary effort, because we ourselves are the ego, and we are not going to meddle with some other instrument which is called the ego outside us. Therefore, a perpetual effort at affirmation of God's universality is necessary, by way of a deep feeling for the liberation of the soul, the ultimate supremacy of God, and a hammering into the mind of the Truth, again and again, that in the light of the almighty omnipresence of God, the presence of the individual is a misnomer. Though this is known to us, we cannot feel it because we are not driving this into our feelings by deep meditation every day.
It is a simple logical deduction, that in the light of the omnipresence of something, something else cannot be present. Everyone can know and understand this simple truth that if God is, we cannot be, because if we are there as well, God cannot be omnipresent. The soul must rush towards God in an act of utter self-surrender, merely on the acceptance of this simple, intelligible truth. But with all this understanding, the ego keeps a knife tucked under its arm and will not let it out easily because of a peculiar trait which is most inscrutable, and this trait is called maya.
Sage Patanjali tells us that it is up to the sincere seeking soul, whose aspiration should be tivra samveganam, as he has mentioned in sutra I.21 – the soul whose aspiration, whose search for God, should be intense like a flaming fire. By a repeated affirmation of this ultimate fact of life, which is called abhyasa, it shall become practicable for us to gradually gain experience of this truth, day by day. As we say, practice makes perfect.
Even impossible things may become possible by repeated practice. A day shall come when this hard ego, which obstructs our real surrender of self to God, gets thinned out so that it becomes a transparent medium to reflect the glory of God in our personal life, and we live a life of divinity, even in this world.