At the heart of all authentic and orthodox spiritual traditions lies the concept of surrender, total surrender to God or the higher power. Self-surrender is not only indispensable to the spiritual path as a means of attaining to the highest goal of life, i.e. Self-realization, it is also one of the spiritual virtues that must be practiced, and so more strongly, even after attaining to the summit of spiritual ascent. However, perhaps no spiritual concept is more misunderstood and misused than the concept of self-surrender. These misconceptions are all rooted in our confusion of total surrender with passivity. As it will be shown the state of a man in self-surrender is not only far from passivity but constitutes the highest activity, not to be confused with external activity which is only one mode of action while the highest mode of action, or the highest activity, is contemplation or intellection which is the only action intrinsic to the Spirit, for the Spirit as the essence of all reality creates and projects by Intellection which is identical with Self-Contemplation. To become clear on this point it is necessary we understand what spiritual surrender means and what it implies in regard to human conduct.
From the traditional point of view, which we take to be the only true point of view, this phenomenon we call Man is a coming together of Spirit and matter, Purusha and Prakriti. However, matter in this sense is more general and not limited to the physical plane. From a metaphysical point of view, mind too is matter but in subtle form. In other words, everything that is other than the Spirit, i.e. pure consciousness, is designated by the name matter. Mind, psyche, and sentiment are matter in its subtle form while body is matter in its gross form.
Matter, subtle or gross, is inert; it has no consciousness or intelligence by itself; it has no will. Will emanates from the Pure Intellect, the Atman or the Spirit, or Purusha which is the active principle of all manifestation. It is the spirit that wills and acts; the mind and body are merely instruments by which the spirit acts, or projects, in the plane of manifestation. Thus, body and mind which are incapable of willing and acting can only be the locus of reactions: They constitute the reaction of Prakriti, the passive principle, to the action of Purusha, the active principle. Thus, as the mind and body are purely passive, the Spirit is said to be pure act. Reaction and passivity always belong together.
In self-surrender, as it is understood in the spiritual context, that which is surrendered is the mind-body complex of the person, and that to whom they are surrendered is the Active Principle of the being, i.e. the Spirit or God. Spirit, being the unmoved mover, acts but doesn’t react; matter reacts but doesn’t act. In self-surrender, by surrendering the mind-body complex to the Spirit we have not become passive at all; this is so because this material compound was no source of will or action to begin with; being purely passive the mind-body complex appears to act only as a result of the action of the Spirit. The mind-body complex without its active principle, i.e. Spirit, has the state of a corpse.
By surrendering the mind-body complex to the spirit, that is, by surrendering the passive element of the being to its active principle, we in fact face away from all passivity and turn toward pure activity. In a man who has totally surrendered himself to the Spirit, the active principle, the Spirit acts through him and he becomes transparent, non-reactive and non-resistant, to the action of the spirit; he becomes devoid of all passivity.
The self-surrendered man has become pure act: He acts but does not react. His conduct is not motivated, like most of us, by the reactions of his mind-body complex to external circumstances but is motivated by the objective demands of the situation at hand. He is surrendered insofar as he is not attached to his actions and acts only according to the need of the moment. Attachment to action is the anticipation of its fruits, a fall into reaction and passivity.
Therefore, to surrender oneself totally is to become totally free of all passivity and perform one’s duties in a detached spirit. It is only when we are detached from our actions and their consequences that we can avoid being reactive and hence passive. When we act without reacting our action becomes pure and objective because it is devoid of all self-interest.
To surrender is to be and to act objectively, and as we have seen self-surrender is by its very nature against all passivity, for it is the full cooperation and harmony of the being with its purely active principle, the Spirit.