“…the living entities, being superior energy to matter, have choice and discrimination either to surrender unto the Lord or to surrender unto material nature. By surrendering unto the Lord, one is happy and liberated, but by surrendering unto material nature the living entity suffers.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.6.36 Purport)
Comment: “I understand that the Vedas teach us to surrender unto God. This seems to be the teaching of all religions, so I don’t see what’s so unique about Krishna or the Vedas.”
Response: Most of the major religions of the world certainly do advise people to surrender to God in order to achieve salvation. The Vedas are no different in this regard, except that they give us more details as to what surrender actually means and who we are to surrender to. Using an analogy to a dictionary, the Vedas give us as complete and unabridged a dictionary about spirituality as we will find, whereas other religions essentially give us pocket-sized dictionary versions of the same teachings.
Vedic literature is quite comprehensive. The epic Mahabharata itself is one of the longest books that has ever been written. Originally it was passed down through oral tradition and then later put into written text by Vyasadeva, along with the help of Lord Ganesha. The Mahabharata is actually considered a minor work, meaning it is of secondary importance in the grand scheme of things. The real gem of the Mahabharata can be found in one of its chapters which details a short conversation that took place between Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His disciple and cousin Arjuna. This conversation became so famous that it turned into its own book known as the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita’s teachings are so profound and unique that great scholars, religionists, and intellectuals over the past five thousand years have studied and praised the book.
As mentioned before, the Mahabharata represents only a small portion of Vedic wisdom. The original Vedas, consisting of various hymns, along with the eighteen Puranas, Ramayana, and Vedanta-sutras, comprise the major texts of the Vedic tradition. Each Purana is quite lengthy, with the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, considered the most important. Purana means old or ancient and thus the Puranas try to describe the Supreme Absolute Truth through stories that describe historical events past, present, and future. Not only do these original books make up the core of Vedic literature, but actually any other book that follows the same teachings can also be considered part of the Vedas. When we add these books to the equation, the entire breadth of Vedic literature becomes enormous. In fact, Vedic teachings are so comprehensive that great acharyas usually focus their studies on just one or two books. Most of us probably couldn’t get through half of all the Vedic texts that are in existence during our lifetime.
Vedic literature is so vast because it aims to describe God. Being the Supreme Lord, God’s glories are limitless. Nevertheless, devotees try their best to put down their thoughts on paper. These devotees are realized souls, meaning they have a better understanding of who God is than most people. Due to the defects that we inherit at the time of birth, we are unable to ever truly understand God’s greatness. Most religions of the world tell us that God is great, but the Vedas go one step further by actually trying to quantify that greatness. One may ask the question, “If God’s glories are unlimited, what is the purpose in trying to describe them?” The answer is that we human beings understand things through analogy and comparative descriptions. Therefore to help the fallen souls have a better understanding of who God is, the great saints have tried their best to accurately describe some of the Lord’s features.
The most simple, concise, and complete definition for God is that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is supreme because there is no one above Him. He is a personality, meaning He is an individual just like us, except His powers are much greater. He is also the source of Godhead, meaning that God can take many forms. The Vedas tell us that the original form of God is that of Lord Krishna. Krishna then takes unlimited personal expansions, which are classified as vishnu-tattva. All the Vishnu forms, including the incarnations such as Rama, Varaha, and Narasimha, are vishnu-tattva, meaning they are as good as God. We living entities are also expansions of God, but we are jiva-tattva, meaning separated expansions. The difference between a separated expansion and a personal expansion is that separated expansions have less control. We living entities are capable of being controlled by God’s inferior energy, maya or material nature. Vishnu-tattva expansions are equal to God, meaning they are themselves the source of material nature.
Now that we have a better understanding of who God is, why should we surrender to Him? What happens if we don’t surrender? To understand this, we have to delve into what it actually means to surrender. The exact definition can vary, but there are generally two aspects of surrender, especially as it relates to God. One aspect is that of giving up. This type of surrender relates to conflict; wars, fights, arguments, etc. Since the beginning of time, certain classes of men have chosen to settle their differences through violence. Even many sports have a fighting component to them nowadays. Surrendering in a fight means waving the white flag, which signals to the other side to stop fighting. This surrender occurs when the defeated party loses its will to fight. Sun Tzu, author of the famous military treatise, The Art of War, said that the key to gaining victory was not simply to defeat an enemy in battle, but to actually break their will to fight.
Real surrender in a fight can only occur when one side gives up its hope of winning, and loses its will to continue with the struggle. So how does this relate to Krishna? Are we in a fight with God? The Vedas tell us that we most certainly are, even if we don’t realize it. The material world exists so that the spirit souls can act out their desires to imitate God. That is the essence of karmic activity, i.e. the development of our material bodies. We perform some work, try to attain various perfections, and then think ourselves to be the cause and result of everything. The problem with this type of thinking is that there can only be one God. No amount of meditation, mental speculation, or renunciation of activity can turn us into the supreme controller. God is the most powerful, and we are at His mercy. In regards to the material world, God doesn’t personally have a stake in our fortunes and misfortunes. All living entities, animals and plants included, are part and parcel of God, meaning they are spirit by nature. God doesn’t pick sides as to which living entity He wants to see succeed in karmic life. Since material life revolves around imitating God, it is destined to lead to failure and frustration. In this regard, God can never take anyone’s side since no one can actually win in this fight.
Surrendering to God means giving up our fight to be like Him. Giving up the fight to be God is one thing, but what do we do after that? This is where the second aspect of surrendering comes in, namely that of pure love for God. In the simplest definition, love means to want more for the object of your affection than you want for yourself. In this way, love is also a form of surrendering because it means making yourself completely vulnerable and putting another person in charge of your emotions; i.e. being at their mercy.
In love, there are different kinds of surrender. Good parents love their children so much that they surrender unto them. This may seem strange to us. “How can a parent surrender to a child, especially a baby? The baby is completely helpless, so isn’t it the other way around?” Babies are certain incapable of doing anything for themselves. If not for parents, siblings, and caretakers, babies would not be able to survive. Yet we see that young children often have no problems being taken care of. In many families, there is an army of family members waiting to take care of a newborn baby. Everyone wants to see the new member of the family and hold them in their arms. They smile at the baby and make funny faces all in the hope of receiving a smile back. In this way, we see that the elders are actually the ones who become dependent on the infant. The child holds all the power, for their actions can either bring pain or pleasure to the parents and elderly family members.
Conjugal or romantic loves also involves surrender. In fact, that is one of the reasons why loving relationships bring so much joy and happiness. Material life means always competing for rewards. This competition requires that we always be on guard and make sure that no one else sees us sweat. If others sense weakness, they are sure to pounce on us and take advantage. A pure loving romantic relationship fructifies when all the guards are finally let down. Pure love for a paramour means making yourself completely vulnerable and dependent on the other person for your happiness. There is certainly a risk in letting your guard down, but if you are with the right person, the reward is worth the risk. There is no person more worthy of our love than God. The Vedas tell us that our loving relationships in the material world are simply reflections of the purified relationships that exist between devotees and God in the spiritual world. The different types of love we see here are actually referred to as rasas in the spiritual world. Some people prefer to have Lord Krishna, or God, as a son, while others choose to enjoy conjugal love with Him. The Lord rewards His devotees in the manner most pleasing to them.
Knowing all this, what happens to us if we don’t surrender to God? Aside from all the threats we see from preachers relating to eternal damnation and being sent to hell, what really results from our failure to surrender is that our fight continues. Those who don’t surrender are those who continue their war with maya, or God’s illusory energy. This fight can actually go on forever. When we die, if this fight still exists inside us, God allows us to take birth again in a body commensurate with the deeds of our previous life. Even when the existing creation is destroyed, the same souls get placed on earth again when the new creation comes into being. So enduring repeated births and deaths is actually the worst kind of damnation.
The lesson is here that we should surrender to God not simply out of fear, but out of pure love. The Lord is extremely nice. He kindly asks us to surrender to Him in order to enjoy a blissful and peaceful life. The choice remains ours, for God will never force someone to love Him. To achieve perfection, we simply need to follow the example of the great devotees, the greatest of whom is Shrimati Radharani, Lord Krishna’s eternal consort. She is pure, kind, simple, grave, and above all, she is completely surrendered to Krishna. If we receive her blessings, we are sure to one day finally surrender unto the Supreme Lord.