“Undoubtedly there is oneness of the living entity with the Lord in many respects, but ultimately the living entity is subordinate to the Lord, and he is constitutionally meant for satisfying the senses of the Lord. The Lord therefore asks the conditioned souls to surrender unto Him. Had the living entities not been subordinate to the supreme will, why would the living entity be asked to surrender? Had the living being been equal in all respects, then why was he put under the influence of maya?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.3 Purport)
The oneness shared between the living entities and God is described in many sections of the Vedic literatures. The Vedas provide a truthful, scientific understanding, so the oneness aspect is not concealed. If we are the same as God in many respects, why would He or any of His followers deny the fact? No; the oneness is readily acknowledged. In fact, it is an axiomatic truth if the relationship between the two entities is to be considered valid. There is a constitutional position for the spirit soul, and that position is subordination in service. The service can’t take place unless there is some degree of similarity between the two entities. If the Supreme Lord were completely the same as us, however, why would He advise us to surrender unto Him?
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
In the Bhagavad-gita the final instruction given to Arjuna is that he should surrender unto Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and be delivered from all sinful reaction. The Bhagavad-gita presents a conversation that took place a long time ago, but its content is nevertheless eternally relevant. The truths contained within were originally spoken to the deity of the solar planet at the beginning of time, and since then they were passed on from generation to generation. That we even know of the Bhagavad-gita today means that its teachings apply to more than just that one situation on the battlefield where Arjuna was hesitant as to what course of action to take.
The “surrender to God” recommendation is not exclusive to the Vedas. It is found in more or less every religion, but only in the Vedas is a thorough understanding of both surrender and God presented. According to how the word is commonly used, surrender is to give up in a fight, and it is also to hand over control of your wellbeing to another party. God is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or Bhagavan. He possesses the opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree.
Apart from the translations of the Gita offered by devotees who follow in the line of Arjuna, practically all interpretations and commentaries on that sacred work gloss over the final instruction. Some use the Bhagavad-gita to derive pleasure from ordinary reading, some cherry-pick verses to suit their agenda, and some even go so far as to say that God is ultimately impersonal or formless. “We are all Brahman, or the complete spiritual energy. You follow the different paths of religious life in order to attain Brahman realization, which is oneness with God.”
Indeed, realization of Brahman is mentioned in many parts of the Vedas, including in the Bhagavad-gita. But the final instruction is what gives all the previous pieces of information meaning. All of the different paths of spiritual life, like karma, jnana and yoga, are meant to culminate in surrender to God, which is bhakti. Krishna does not advise Arjuna to continue in his occupational duties so that he can become God. Krishna does not tell Arjuna that he too will become God someday. Arjuna is not promised the ability to create and destroy universes, nor is he guaranteed a position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has a nature that is always changeless.
An argument can be made that those who follow the bhakti tradition do advise surrender to the spiritual master, or guru, who is admittedly not the same Krishna. In this case the guru does not explicitly promise the disciple that they will become God, but there is the call for surrender nonetheless. Therefore Krishna’s recommendation for surrender must be along the same lines as the guru’s, no? In other words, Krishna is just an elevated guru, a Brahman realized soul who wants His disciple to reach the same status, which comes through surrender and following instructions, right?
Actually, the call for surrender to the guru is different than the call to surrender to Krishna. The guru who follows bhakti never claims to be God, though he is treated as being equal to Krishna. The reason for the treatment is that the guru knows how to realize God and how to surrender properly. He teaches the sincere disciple the same surrendering process, which establishes the relationship to Krishna in subordination. There are different mellows in pure bhakti-yoga, and they can only be tasted if one knows that they are subordinate to Krishna.
If there isn’t submission to the guru, they won’t divulge the necessary information. Even if you access only the guru’s instructions, if you are not faithful in hearing, you won’t get the full benefit. Indeed, there is the chance that the unworthy listener might take the guru’s teachings and twist them for his own purpose. It is said in the Vedas that the root cause of birth in the material existence is the competitive attitude towards God. That attitude manifests in all areas of material life, and is especially seen in the general hostility held towards religion. If I tell someone that I’m going to play a sport, visit a tourist destination, or walk into a nightclub, they will likely listen with attention to what I say. If I tell them that I’m going to a holy place to worship Shri Krishna in His deity form, the reaction will not be so positive in most cases.
Our teachers in school instruct us so that we can excel in the specific field of study. They don’t make claims that they are completely infallible or the source of the creation itself. Krishna does mention these things, though, and so the instruction He provides does not have anything to do with attaining a status equal to His. Rather, in bhakti-yoga, the devotee, by the grace of the Lord, actually becomes greater than God in many respects. For evidence of this just see how much Shrimati Radharani and Shri Hanuman, servants of God, are worshiped. We are one with God in quality but different in quantity of potency. Despite our inferior status, we are all intimately related to Him in a loving bond, and one who is wise enough to surrender unto Krishna and the guru will be blessed with the rekindling of that eternal relationship.
If I am equal to Him in every single way,
Why to surrender to Him will Shri Krishna say?
To follow bhakti is surrender to guru’s aim.
For to the guru, the Supreme Lord is not the same.
Arjuna not promised as God to become,
Not told to serve with desire to be one.
No more competitive attitude to feel,
When surrender to Him is real.
The examples of Radharani and Hanuman take.
To see how greater than Himself Krishna will make.