About twenty years ago I read a Christian book entitled Thank You God. Its basic thesis was that one should continuously thank God for the way things are right now, not petition Him for things to be different. That means thanking Him for all the terrible things that are going on in your life, not just thanking Him for the good stuff that is coming your way. And this should not just be at the verbal level. One needs to keep saying ‘Thank you, God,’ to oneself until one actually feels a glow of gratitude. When this happens, there are remarkable and unexpected consequences. Let me give you an example
There was a woman featured in this book whose husband was an alcoholic. She had organised prayer meetings at her local church in which everyone had prayed to God, asking Him to stop this man from drinking. Nothing happened. Then this woman heard about ‘Thank you, God’. She thought, ‘Well, nothing else has worked. Let me try this.’ She started saying, ‘Thank you God for making my husband an alcoholic,’ and she kept on saying it until she actually began to feel gratitude inside. Shortly afterwards, her husband stopped drinking of his own accord and never touched alcohol again.
This is surrender. It’s not saying, ‘Excuse me God, but I know better than You, so would You please make this happen,’ it’s acknowledging, ‘The world is the way You want it to be, and I thank You for it’.
When this happens in your life, seemingly miraculous things start happening around you. The power of your own surrender, your own gratitude, actually changes the things around you.
When I first read about this, I thought, ‘This is weird, but it just might work. Let me try it.’ At that point in my life, I had been having problems with four or five people whom I was trying to do business with. Despite daily reminders, they were not doing things they had promised to do. I sat down and started saying ‘Thank you Mr X for not doing this job. Thank you Mr Y for trying to cheat me on that last deal we did,’ and so on. I did this for a couple of hours until I finally did feel a strong sense of gratitude towards these people. When their image came up in my mind, I didn’t remember all the frustrations I had experienced in dealing with them. I just had an image of them in my mind towards which I felt gratitude and acceptance.
The next morning, when I went to work, all of these people were waiting for me. Usually, I had to go hunting for them in order to listen to their latest excuse. All of them were smiling, and all of them had done the jobs I had been pestering them for days to do. It was an astonishing testimonial to the power of loving acceptance.
Like everyone else, I am still stuck in the world of doing-doing-doing, but when all my misguided doings have produced an intractable mess, I try to drop my belief that ‘I’ have to do something to solve this problem, and start thanking God for the mess I have made for myself. A few minutes of this is usually enough to resolve the thorniest of problems.
When I was sixteen, I took a gliding course. The first time I was given the controls, the glider was wobbling all over the place because I was reacting, or I should say over-reacting, to every minor fluctuation of the machine. Finally, the instructor took the controls away from me and said ‘Watch this’. He put the glider on a level flight, put the controls in the central position and then let go of them. The glider flew itself, with no wobbles at all, with no one’s hands on the controls. All my effects were just interfering with the glider’s natural ability to fly itself. That’s how life is for all of us. We persist in thinking that we have to ‘do’ things, but all our doings merely create problems.
I am not claiming that I have learned to take my hand off the controls of life and let God pilot my life for me, but I do remember all this, with wry amusement, when problems (all self-inflicted, of course) suddenly appear. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I found myself in the middle of a publishing drama that seemed to be utterly insoluble. It was such a mess, I didn’t even try to talk to all the people involved. I went instead to Sri Ramana’s samadhi, put the manuscript in front of it, and explained what had happened. I thanked him for the drama and added, ‘This is your responsibility, not mine’. I had my eyes closed when I said this. When I opened them, an old friend was there, offering me some chocolate-chip cookies, something that had never happened before. I took them as Ramana’s prasad. Later that day the problem was solved in five minutes. All the protagonists (who had been immovable antagonists the day before) came together and the work was completed amicably in record time.
Maalok: I think on hearing some of your above examples (all of which led to desirable final outcomes) we can perhaps wrongly deduce that if we want to get things done our way we should adopt this trick of leaving things up to God. I don’t think that’s what you meant. In the state you were describing, one truly doesn’t have a preference for things to work out one way or the other. Is that true?
David: Yes. The state of being grateful for the way things are is the goal. It’s not a trick to get what you want. If things turn out well, that’s just a side effect. It’s not the main purpose of surrender. Surrender is an aim and a goal in itself.
Let me read you a couple of answers that Sri Ramana gave to a devotee who was asking about surrender. They were recorded in the 1940s by Devaraja Mudaliar in Day by Day with Bhagavan:
Question: Does not total or complete surrender require that one should not have left even the desire for liberation or God?
Answer: Complete surrender does require that you have no desire of your own. You must be satisfied with whatever God gives you and that means having no desires of one’s own.
Question: Now that I am satisfied on that point, I want to know what the steps are by which I could achieve surrender.
Answer: There are two ways. One is looking into the source of ‘I’ and merging into that source. The other is the feeling ‘I am helpless by myself; God alone is all powerful and except by throwing myself completely on him, there is no other means of safety for me.’ By this method one gradually develops the conviction that God alone exists and that the ego does not count. Both methods lead to the same goal. Complete surrender is another name for jnana or liberation.
In the first reply Sri Ramana gives the answer that true surrender is being satisfied with whatever God gives you, without having any desire for your life to be any different. In the second answer he explains that one can approach this goal in a gradual way. I think that Sri Ramana knew that no one could immediately give up all thoughts, ideas, desires and responsibilities, so he encouraged devotees to do it in a gradual way. One can start on the path of surrender by handing over to God some of the petty responsibilities of life that we believe are ours to solve. When we feel that God has done a good job with managing them, we have more faith in Him and we are encouraged to hand over more and more of our life to Him. The stories that I narrated earlier belong to this phase of surrender.
Sri Ramana occasionally encouraged his devotees to give him all their problems. That is to say, to tell him about them, and then forget about them. One of his persistent images or metaphors was of a passenger on a train who insists on carrying his luggage on his own head instead of putting it on the floor and relaxing. The idea behind this is that God is running the world and looking after all its activities and problems. If we take some of these problems on our own heads, we just inflict unnecessary suffering on ourselves. Sri Ramana is telling us that God is driving the train that constitutes our life on this earth. We can sit down and relax with the knowledge that he is taking us to our destination, and not interfere, or we can imagine that we are responsible for it all. We can pace up and down the aisles of the train with 100lbs on our head if we want to. It’s our choice.
When devotees surrendered their problems to Sri Ramana, it was the same as surrendering them to God. They were submitting to the same divine authority, surrendering to a living manifestation of that same power. Here are some statements that Sri Ramana made on this subject. I have taken them from Padamalai, a book I am currently working on. Each sentence was originally recorded by Muruganar in Tamil verse:
My devotees have the qualifications to rejoice abundantly, like children of an emperor.
Abandon the drama [of the world] and seek the Self within. Remaining within, I will protect you, [ensuring] that no harm befalls you.
If you inquire and know me, the indweller, in that state there will be no reason for you to worry about the world.
For the cruel disease of burning samsara to end, the correct regimen is to entrust all your burdens on me.
In order that your needless anxieties cease, make sure that all your burdens are placed on me through the brave act of depending totally on grace.
If you completely surrender all your responsibilities to me, I will accept them as mine and manage them.
When bearing the entire burden remains my responsibility, why do you have any worries?
Long ago you offered your body, possessions and soul to me, making them mine, so why do you still regard these things as ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and associate yourself with them?
Seek my grace within the Heart. I will drive away your darkness and show you the light. This is my responsibility.
These verses come from a sub-section I have entitled ‘Bhagavan’s Promises’. When people surrendered completely to him, he was more than happy to manage their lives for them. Just about everyone discovered that when he or she surrendered the burden of responsibility for his or her life to Sri Ramana, problems diminished or went away completely.
The Guru is primarily there to teach the truth, to bestow grace on his disciples and to bring about the liberation of the mature souls who come to him. But he also has this very nice sideline of being able to manage the affairs of his devotees much better than they can themselves.
Maalok: Ramana Maharshi was a prime example of living detachment. However, it is said, if there was one thing that he had slight attachment to, it was Arunachala. Perhaps you could explain why the Maharshi never moved from Arunachala after reaching there as a teenager.
David: Arunachala has been a spiritual magnet for as long as records have been kept. Various saints, yogis and spiritual seekers have felt its call for at least 1,500 years, probably much longer. Some inexplicable power draws people to this place and keeps them here. Seen in this context, Ramana Maharshi is just the latest and most famous saint to feel the pull of this place. When he was very young, he had an intuitive knowledge that the word Arunachala denoted God or a heavenly realm, but at the time he didn’t realise it was a place he could actually visit. He didn’t find this out until he was in his early teens. A few weeks after he realised the Self at the age of sixteen, he left home, traveled to Arunachala and spent the rest of his life there.
Why this place? For him it was his father, his Guru and his God, Siva. It may sound strange to say that a mountain can be all these things, but Sri Ramana was not alone in seeing Arunachala in this light. This is what a famous local saint, Guru Namasivaya, wrote a few hundred years ago:
Mountain who drives out the night of spiritual ignorance.
Mountain who is the lamp of true knowledge to devotees.
Mountain in the form of abundant knowledge.
Mountain who came to me, a mere dog,
As father, mother and Sadguru:
Annamalai is the local Tamil name of the mountain. This is what the Tamil purana of Arunachala, also written centuries ago, has to say about the holiness of this place:
Beginning with these first ones and continuing up to the present day, many are those who have attained the deathless state of liberation through dwelling on Aruna[chala] in their thoughts, through lovingly speaking its praises, through hearing of it, and then coming to gaze upon it, through performing pradakshina of it on foot, through dwelling there in a state of righteousness, through walking in the path of truth there, through bathing in its broad tanks, and through carrying out good works, performing holy service in the temple and worshipping there at the feet of that Effulgent Light.
That is the tradition of this place. Throughout its history Arunachala has attracted ardent seekers and liberated them. Yet, surprisingly, it remains relatively unknown even within India.
Arunachala has always been regarded as a manifestation of Siva, not just a symbolic representation of Him, or a place where He lives. The mountain itself is a lingam that has the full power and authority of Siva Himself. This is what millions of South Indian believe, and their belief is backed up, authenticated by many great saints who have gone on record as saying that it was the power of this mountain that brought about their own spiritual liberation. Ramana Maharshi was one of them. He was quite categorical that Arunachala was his Guru, and that Arunachala had been the agent that brought about his own realisation. Seen in this context, why should he not spend the rest of his physical life in its vicinity?