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Surrender and Service

Excerpt from Halfway up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment (pgs. 510-514) by Mariana Caplan

Spiritual development occurs as Kundalini relinquishes her hold on the limited self and, turning her face toward her Lord, begins to act not from desire for personal gain but for the greater glory of That Which is Real. This creates true happiness. So long as I continue to realign my own Kundalini toward that soul I know that someone will correct every mistake I make and, dragging me out of whatever ditch in which I may have dropped, will return me to the path. This was the parting blessing of my friend-philosopher-guide, the token of his Aghori's love, the benediction he could bestow because he had so utterly devoted himself to offering himself to his Self.
Aghora III by Robert Svoboda, 316

Most of our ideas about surrender are just ideas, not lived sacrifice. Those who do not know surrender can only talk about surrender, intuit surrender, and pray for surrender. They certainly should not assume that they are surrendered simply because they can speak about it elegantly, or because they once had an insight about it.

One is more likely to awaken through surrender than through seeking to awaken. The effort to awaken is the effort of ego, whereas to surrender is to give up all efforts and to place oneself in the hands of a vast force that is more powerful than any realization of nonduality. Lee Lozowick asserts: "You can come up with a very clear and concise articulation of nonduality, and you can speak of it over and over again, and you can attempt to align your activity to that articulation. But in fact, organically, unless you've surrendered to the Will of God, which is movement but in the domain of nonduality, any state of nonduality is not mature."

While contemporary notions of enlightenment consider it to be a state of oneness, Reggie Ray says that from the Tantric perspective the basic teaching of non-ego is surrender.

It is simply that we can surrender, we can give in, we can relinquish all of our hold on reality. We don't have to hang onto things, we don't have to maintain ourselves, even spiritually. The teachings are that reality is so good and that there is so much blessing in the universe that we can actually surrender to what life is and we don't have to have all of these techniques and tricks to try to keep ourselves afloat.

Enlightenment is commonly believed to be a state of "all-knowing," whereas surrender is relinquishing oneself into the unknown. One senior student describes surrender as "devastation, annihilation, utterly and totally disappearing." Once cannot surrender oneself, but can only be surrendered by a greater force.

Llewellyn Vaugh-Lee shares a moving account of his own relationship with God, hinting at the possibility of surrender and "not being."

To me, this is what mysticism is about. You have a relationship with God that is more and more part of your life until there comes a time when you can't imagine what it's like not to have a relationship with God. How do people live? On what basis do they make decisions when all that matters is to be of service to your Beloved? To be available to your Beloved? Sometimes He graces you with what the Sufis call states of nearness, when you are near to him, and your heart is soft, and there is tremendous love and tremendous intimacy, and moments of oneness, and moments of bliss, and moments of not being.

In the end, you know, it is such a relief not to be. You can finally relax when you go into that space when you are not, when you take off the clothes of this world that are so burdensome - the burden of your own identity and of what people project onto you and all of that. You can step outside of that and just dissolve, not be. It is such a relief. It is such a burden to have to carry this identity around with you all the time, to prove yourself, and all of the games that people play. It is such a relief just to be empty, to be nothing, to be lost in God.

When one finally gives up one's futile attempts to make reality conform to one's own wishes, and allows it to unfold on its own terms, all the energy that was tied up in foolish attempts to manipulate the universe is freed up. If the giving up is partial or shallow, one may end up simply content or smug, but if the surrender is deep, there is nothing left to do but to serve others from the fullness of oneself. Mahatma Gandhi said that when people die to themselves, they immediately find themselves at the service of all living things. Quote by Mahatma Gandhi in Spiritual Emergency, 185

A beautiful example of this principle is seen in the life of Zen master John Daido Loori, recounted by Danan Henry.

At one point, the son of Daido Loori, a great Zen teacher, was diagnosed as having severe brain damage. Daido Loori was devastated. When he walked into dokusan with his teacher, he was in a lot of turmoil and self-pity. But that quickly changed. He told me: "I don't even remember what Maezumi Roshi said. He just started screaming and yelling at me and putting me down. All I know is that when I walked out of there, I was ready. I was aroused like a lion and was ready to do whatever I had to in order to help my son, to accept it if he died, and to accept and provide for him for the rest of his life if he were a vegetable. That was his gift to me."

Surrender and service are closely linked. Those who are surrendered serve. The Reality they are surrendered to, either directly or through the lineage of masters before them, cannot do anything but serve, and thus they too must serve. A life of service to others is one evidence of abiding enlightenment, but may take many forms, including serving one's family and children, and should not be judged superficially. When the renowned Zen teacher Iassan Dorsey said that being a true Bodhisattva is nothing more than being an impeccable housewife, he was intentionally broadening his student's scope of the possibility of service. Service is much broader than counseling, teaching, or feeding the poor. It is all the actions that are the natural outcome of enlightenment, of surrender.

Charles Tart shares a story that was told to him by the Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, who was once the translator for the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama said that he would really like to have time off to go on lots of meditation retreats and to practice and to become an enlightened person, but that obviously he didn't have time to, as he all the work of being the Dalai Lama. But then he thought, "If I did get enlightened, I'd spend all my time working to help other sentient beings be happier. And what am I doing Now? I am spending all my time working to help other sentient beings be happier. So I guess it's not important to get enlightened.

"I don't give a flip about enlightenment," shares a longtime devotee. "That's not what I really want. I want to serve - that's who I want to be." The Bodhisattva vow is traditionally the vow to forego one's own enlightenment until all sentient beings have been saved, but Judith Leif says that a radical interpretation of the vow is "renouncing the whole notion of enlightenment as any kind of clinging to individual salvation as separate from the interdependent web of the whole enchilada." In other words, if one is not ultimately separate from anyone else, then there can be no personal salvation until all sentient beings have been saved. It is all or none.

Joan Halifax sees her own path as the path of service: I go to the Zendo several times a day, and I sit sesshin and all that, but really where I learn most truly is by going to where suffering is deep and not experiencing myself as separate from those who are suffering. And if I do see myself as separate, which of course I do frequently, my practice is being aware of that and seeing why my fear is present in the situation.

Service is the direct outpouring of surrender, or "the unitive condition" in Bernadette Robert's terms. She says that the unitive condition engenders such immense love and generosity that "this love is too great to be kept within or solely for oneself" and that it naturally moves out to embrace all of existence.

This love finds no outlet for its energies in the mere enjoyment of transient beatific experiences. In fact, so great is this love, it would sacrifice heaven in order to prove and test its love for the divine in the world. What is Self? by Bernadette Roberts, 35

Bodhisattvas, the true servants of God, are born from their surrender. They have dared to not stop even at enlightenment in their movement toward the fulfillment of the highest possibility for their existence.

Our problem is that we don't want to surrender what we can surrender, and we do want to surrender what we can't surrender.
Daniel Moran

At first, you are not worthy of the robes and implements of the Sufi. Later you don't need them. finally, you may need them for the sake of others.
Idries Shah


Cit-Sakti Inner and World Peace A Kundalini Awakening Kundalini Resource Guide Kundalini Glossary
   Cathy Woods Vancouver BC Canada