A question that vexes yogis – when is surrender true abandonment of the ego, and when is it only an ego-hijacking of spiritual aspiration? Let’s think about some examples of both…
Academics can’t have both faith and intellect – true or false?
My first philosophy lecturer at Melbourne University was a Catholic priest. I was soooo impressed with his grasp of moral philosophy that it led me to consider life in a new way. His comprehension went far beyond the constraints of Catholic doctrine.
I met him again some years later. By this time he was a bishop, obviously well endorsed by a conservative hierarchy. Imagine my surprise to find that, when talking from “faith”, his mind was puerile and his commentary wouldn’t have excited a flea. Evidently, for him, faith and insight were two different things, and to keep his faith, he denied the obvious truths gained from the blessing he truly had – the gift of a spiritually oriented and profound intellect.
I think this was an example of false surrender. And perhaps his faith was an ego position. But he went on to be an archbishop!
Buddhists shouldn’t teach languages – true or false?
My Gaelic tutor was Buddhist. By the time I met him I was quite complacent in my self, and quite on top of most conversations. I was shocked, believe me, that this person’s intellectual skills made me feel vulnerable. His classes were so stimulating. I wanted to be in control, but his skills demolished that. All I could do was allow….. and hope for the best. His teaching was fantastic.
Some years earlier, he had been doing a PhD in Gaelic studies, when he “got Buddhism”, and, because of his spiritual enthusiasm, he saw the principle that surrender was the only way out of the miseries of ego. So he dropped his studies and went down to London, and worked for a charity – packing peas or some such – and was miserable.
Finally he saw that surrender has something to do with self-acceptance as well. I don’t think he ever finished his PhD. But something did dawn on him: that what he was doing was not surrender but rather a way of self-denigration in favour of a sort of spiritual ego. When the ego takes charge of your spirituality, you’ll go to any lengths to prove how surrendered and peaceful you are.
He abandoned his ideational surrender and came back to the discipline where his gifts flourished. He also had a spiritually oriented and profound intellect – but in his case, he now felt unsure of his spirituality. His false surrender had weakened his delight in his real self.
A yogi should not make decisions, true or false?
This example is my own. Perhaps in a similar way to my tutor – as a young housewife, I “got Yoga”. I had begun daily meditation, I had met my guru, and I had plunged myself into the perspectives of non-dualism, not only of Yoga but also of Zen, Taoism, and Sufiism. Then came the time in my family’s life when we were going to shift from an urban to a rural location,.
In a family situation, there are some responsibilities normally taken by the woman. Think about Christmas, birthdays, and other cultural aspects of family life. Making the final decision on a house was one of them. If that is not so in your family, that’s fine, but for us, in any of the many shifts that we had made before, certainly we conferred, yet mine was the deciding influence. But this time, I took the position that I was above all petty concerns about location, structure, convenience etc, etc, and could live anywhere under any conditions. So I abrogated my role in the decision, and soon found myself living for the next 20 years in a house that I hated. And it was a decision that could not be overturned.
I thought I had surrendered, made the choiceless choice, but in fact it was a false surrender. What I had really done was abandon my responsibilities. It was an a-dharmic choice, improper.
Common experience – ego-managed spirituality
False surrender is a phase many go through. When you begin to see the pattern, you see that it is a holding onto a form of ego-control – a subtle delusion where the ego likes to manage its surrender!!! It takes a position and then builds a new-self construct of itself as the Great Yogi. Such comedy. And in that absurd position, we relinquish all sorts of things that are gifts for the experience of life, and often, the first casualty is a good intellect. While the opinionated ego-mind is just a bore, a gifted capacity for discernment often starts with a well-functioning intellect. Shankaracharya, in the Viveka Chudamani (The Crest Jewel of Discrimination), says the intellect is the “sheath” closest to the divine.
True surrender – a different experience
In true surrender, there is no quarrel with the dharma of your life, with responsility, with action, choice, with the gladness and sadness of life. Instead there is a quiet abandonment of the sense of oneself as special. There is a peacefulness with self and the divinity of life. And that does not preclude the diversity that life brings to individual experience – the choices one must make, the stand one takes in the face of injustice; it does not exclude the experience of sadness and joy. If anything, the surrendered one is even more aware of the blood pulsing through the veins, is even more aware of thoughts, feelings and responses than at any time earlier.
True surrender allows such paradoxes as joy in sadness and the impersonal experiencing itself as the personal.