Question: I don’t understand what it means when Patanjali talks about “Isvara pranidhana” or self-surrender and why that is necessary. Can you shed some light on this concept?

Swami Satchidananda: The attitude of humility and surrendering comes only when you realize how small you are, and how big God or the Higher Power is that you want to surrender to. The main purpose behind surrendering, is not to lose yourself completely, but to gain everything that God has. That is the only way to receive. You can always see the difference between the giving hand and the receiving hand. The receiving hand goes under, and the giving hand gives from above.

Scientifically, we see that knowledge flows like any other energy in nature. An example is a current of liquid. The liquid flows from the higher level, to the lower level. If you pour liquid into an empty pot from a full pot, using a siphon connection, the empty pot is below the siphon. When the empty pot fills up, the siphon stops. It might even reverse. So, you remain “below,” until you come to the same level. Then you become equal, and there is no need for any flow, this way or that way because you’ve gotten everything that the other had. In the same way, when you bow down, when you surrender, you are really receiving all that the God could give you.

In the spiritual sense, the biggest block that is in your way of receiving anything from God is your ego. “I” know it. That “Ifeeling is the ego. That is the biggest and basic veil between the higher and lower self. The entire process of spiritual sadhana is to eliminate that ego. Once that ego becomes clean, then it no longer stops the flow of the consciousness from the higher Self to the lower self. And the best way to clean the ego is to surrender yourself to the divine. You cannot surrender unless you have cleaned your ego.

So the question probably is, “How can I do it? I have ego, so if I bow down and say I surrender, but I still have ego, does it make any sense?” In a way, yes. Because the very act of bowing down itself will help in cleaning the ego. You may be acting mechanically, but you are doing something beautiful; something to clean your ego. And if you keep on doing it, you get the benefit. One day it becomes spontaneous and it becomes real.

I don’t say that you should destroy your ego—clean the ego. Ego is not to be destroyed and you cannot destroy it. Even the effort you put forth to destroy your ego is itself, a part of ego. I am going to destroy my ego. If you don’t have that incentive, that ego, you can’t even work on your ego. The ego is not all bad, maybe 90 percent, and 10 percent is the good part. The 10 percent ego works on the 90 percent ego. It’s something like when the mother is busy, she asks the older child to change the diapers of the very young child. The same way, the 10 percent ego changes the diapers of the 90 percent ego. That 10 percent is the good in you, the divine in you. The ego that is very close to the true Self is always clean. You allow the clean ego to work on the unclean ego.

I like to give the example of cleaning some dirty cloth. You buy some nice smelling good dirt like Ivory soap and apply it to the cloth. The good dirt knows how to play with the old dirt. When they chum up, the undesirable dirt forgets to cling to the material. At the right time, the cloth is taken out of the water, and it comes out clean, leaving both the good and bad dirt in the water.

The good part of your mind should act on the unclean part. All the spiritual practices and advice is given to the good part. And the good part accepts it and works on the other part. Then ultimately, the entire ego becomes clean and completely pure. We call that saucha. When you are that pure, you are not different from the higher Self. It is in that sense that Jesus said, I and my Father are one. This understanding is possible, only by surrendering, only by putting yourself in a humble state. Not that you treat yourself as inferior. If you know the purpose behind the surrender, you will feel, I’m doing something right, something superior. It’s the other, unclean part of the ego that tells you, Hey, why should you go down to that level? Aren’t you very great? It’s the unclean part of the ego that makes you feel you are inferior by surrendering. But if you ask the good part of your mind, it will tell you that unless you do this you won’t get clean. Surrender is mainly in the thinking, in the understanding, of how much you will be helped. You can’t simply force it. Convince your mind that there is no other way. Then you will love to be humble and surrender yourself.

Another point is this: in surrendering, you are immediately freed from all your botherations. Often we say, “Oh, I can do this, the entire responsibility is on my shoulders. And then, “Oh, what am I going to do now, and how?” All kinds of anxieties, worries and torments come. But if you say, “Oh, I don’t know, I’ll just place everything on God’s shoulder. God will take care of it. Thy will be done. Let me do what God says.” Then, how light you feel.

Saint Ramakrishna, once gave a small analogy. Once a father took his son to a big carnival with lots of people everywhere. And the father said, “Come on. Just get on my shoulder and I’ll carry you so you can see everything. You won’t get lost.” “No daddy, I’m big, I want to walk around, I’ll do it.” “No child, you might get lost.” “Okay dad, I’ll just hold your hand.” “Well, why not let me hold your hand?” “No, no, dad, I can hold your hand.” So the child was walking, holding the father’s hand, but within a few minutes, the crowd somehow became overwhelming. He was holding the hand of the dad, but trusting his own strength. Somehow they became separated, and that’s the end. After a half hour, the loud speakers were calling, “Mr. John wanted. Your child is crying. He’s in the police custody.” So Mr. John went there to the lost and found section and he found the lost child. He didn’t even need to tell the child, “Come on, hop up on my shoulders.” The child started crying, “Please papa, don’t leave me anymore. You just hold me and put me wherever you want. I’ve had enough!”

What a great truth is in that! If the child still wants, he can sit on the shoulder and hold on to the dad’s head. The dad is holding the child’s feet, but the child can still think, I’m also holding on, so I’m taking care of myself well.

God is ready to carry all our burdens. We don’t need to be worrying about this and that. Leave it. Thy will be done. Just be an instrument in the hands of the divine. That’s what surrender truly means.