The Tree of Knowledge
— Sri Ramana Maharishi
Questioner: What is unconditional surrender?
Sri Ramana Maharishi: If one surrenders oneself there will be no one to ask questions or to be thought of. Either the thoughts are eliminated by holding to the root-thought “I”, or one surrenders oneself unconditionally to the highest power. These are the only two ways for realization.
Q: Does not total or complete surrender require that one should not have even left the desire for liberation or God?
M: 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 your own.
Q: Now that I am satisfied on that point, I want to know what the steps are by which I could achieve surrender…
M: There are two ways. One is looking into the source of “I” and merging into that source. The other is 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 ego does not count. Both methods lead to the same goal. Complete surrender is another name for jnana or liberation.
Q: I find surrender is easier. I want to adopt that path.
M: By whatever path you go, you will have to lose yourself in the One. Surrender is complete only when you reach the stage “Thou art all” and “Thy will be done.” The state is not different from jnana. In so’ ham (the affirmation of “I am He”) there is dualism (dvaita). In surrender there is non-dualism (advaita). In the reality there is neither dualism nor non-dualism, but That which is.
Surrender appears easy because people imagine that once they say with their lips “I surrender” and put their burdens on their Lord, they can be free to do what they like. But the fact is that you can have no likes or dislikes after your surrender; your will should become completely nonexistent, the Lord’s will be taking its place. The death of the ego in this way brings about a state which is not different from jnana. So by whatever path you may go, you must come to jnana or oneness.
Q: What is the best way of killing the ego?
M: To each person that way is the best which appears easiest or appeals most. All the ways are equally good, as they lead to the same goal, which is the merging of the ego in the Self. What the devotee calls surrender, the man who does Self-inquiry (vicara) calls jnana. Both are trying only to take the ego back to the source from which it sprang and make it merge there.
Q: Cannot grace hasten such competence in a seeker?
M: Leave it to God. Surrender unreservedly. One of two things must be done. Either surrender because you admit your inability and require a higher power to help you, or investigate the cause of misery by going to the source and merging into the Self. Either way you will be free from misery. God never forsakes one who has surrendered.
Q: What is the drift of the mind after surrender?
M: Is the surrendered mind raising the question?
Q: By constantly desiring to surrender I hope that increasing grace is experienced…
M: Surrender once and for all and be done with the desire. So long as the sense of doership is retained there is the desire. That is also personality. If this goes, the pure self is found to shine forth. The sense of dorseship is the bondage and not the actions themselves. “Be still and know that I am God.” Here stillness is total surrender without a vestige of individuality. Stillness will prevail and there will be no agitation of mind. Agitation of mind is the cause of desire, the sense of doership and personality. If that is stopped there is quiet. There “knowing” means “being.” It is not the relative knowledge involving the triad of knowledge, knowing, and known.
Q: Is the thought “I am God” or “I am the supreme being” helpful?
M: I Am that I Am. “I Am” is God, not thinking “I am God.” Realize “I Am” and do not think “I am.” “Know that I am God,” it is said, and not “think I am God.” All talk of surrender is like pinching brown sugar from a brown sugar image of Lord Ganesa and offering it as a food offering to the same Lord. You say you offer your body, soul, and all possessions to God. Were they yours that you could offer them? At best, you can only say: “I falsely imagined till now that all these which are yours were mine. Now I realize they are yours. I shall no more act as if they are mine.”
This knowledge that there is nothing but God or Self, that “I” and “mine” don’t exist and that only the Self exists, is jnana. There is no difference between bhakti and jnana. Bhakti is jnana mata or the mother of jnana.
Q: Surrender is impossible.
M: Yes. Complete surrender is impossible in the beginning. Partial surrender is certainly possible for all. In the course of time that will lead to complete surrender. Well, if surrender is impossible, what can be done? There is no peace of mind. You are helpless to bring it about. It can be done only by surrender.
Q: Is surrender, by itself, sufficient to reach the Self?
M: It is enough that one surrenders oneself. Surrender is to give oneself up to the original cause of one’s being. Do not delude yourself by imagining such a source to be some God outside you. Your source is within yourself. Give yourself up to it. That means that you should seek the source and merge in it.
Q: Should we devote ourselves exclusively to the contemplation of God, and accept food and water only if they are available by God’s grace, without asking for them? Or should we make a little effort? Please explain the secret of this surrender.
M: In the book Sadhana Pancakam written by Sankara, it is stated that for treatment of the disease called hunger one should eat food received as alms. But then one must at least go out and beg for it. If all people close their eyes and sit still, saying if the food comes we eat, how is the world to get on? Hence one must take things as they come in accordance with one’s traditions, but one must be free from the feeling that one is doing them oneself. The feeling that I am doing it is the bondage.
It is therefore necessary to consider and find out the method whereby such a feeling can be overcome, instead of doubting as to whether medicine should be administered if one is sick or whether food should be taken if one is hungry. Such doubts will continue to come up and will never end. Even such doubts as “May I groan if there is pain? May I inhale air after exhaling?” also occur. Call it God or call it destiny (karma); some higher power will carry on everything in this world according to the development of the mind of each individual. If the responsibility is thrown on the higher Power, things will go on of their own accord.
We walk on this ground. While doing so, do we consider at every step whether we should raise one leg after the other, or stop at some stage? Isn’t the walking done automatically? The same is the case with inhaling and exhaling. No special effort is made to inhale or exhale. The same is the case with this life also. Can we give up anything if we want to, or do anything as we please? Quite a number of things are done automatically without our being conscious of it. Complete surrender to God means giving up all thoughts and concentrating the mind on Him. If we can concentrate on Him, other thoughts disappear. If the actions of the mind, speech, and body are merged with God, all the burdens of our life will be on Him.
Q: But is God really the doer of all the actions I perform?
M: The present difficulty is that man think that he is the doer. But it is a mistake. It is the high Power which does everything and man is only a tool. If he accepts that position, he is free from troubles, otherwise he courts them. Take, for instance, the sculptured figure at the base of a temple tower, which is made to appear as if It is bearing burden of the tower on its shoulder. Its posture and look are a picture of great strain, which gives the Impression that it is bearing the weight of the tower. But think. The tower is built on earth and it rests on its foundations. The figure is a part of the tower, but it is made to look as if it is bearing the weight of the tower. Is it not funny? So is also man who takes on himself the sense of doing.
Love of Self
Q: Swami, it is good to love God, is it not? Then why not follow the path of love?
M: Who said you couldn’t follow it? You can do so. But when you talk of love, there is duality, is there not-the person who loves, and the entity called God who is loved? The individual who is not separate from God. Hence love means one who has love toward one’s own Self.
Q. This is why I am asking you whether God could be worshiped through the path of love…
M: That is exactly what I have been saying. Love Itself is the actual form of God. If by saying, “I do love this, I do not love that,” you reject all things, that which remains is the real form of the Self. That is pure bliss. Call it pure bliss, God, Atman or what you wish. That is devotion, that is realization and that is everything. If you thus reject everything, what remains is the Self alone. That is real love. One who knows the secret of that love finds the world itself full of universal love. The experience of not forgetting that consciousness alone is the state of devotion (bhakti), which is the relationship of unfading, real love, because the real knowledge of Self, which shines as the undivided supreme bliss itself, surges up as the nature of love.
Only if one knows the truth of love, which is the real nature of the Self, will the strong entangled knot of life be untied. Only if one attains the height of love will liberation be attained. Such is the heart of all religions. The experience of Self is only love, which is seeing only love, hearing only love, tasting only love, and smelling only love, which is bliss.
Q: I long for bhakti. I want more of this longing. Even realization does not matter for me. Let me be strong in my longing.
M: If the longing is there, realization will be forced on you even if you do not want it. Long for it intensely so that the mind melts in devotion. After camphor burns away no residue is left. The mind is the camphor. When it has resolved itself into the Self without leaving even the slightest trace behind, it is realization of the Self.
Q: I have faith in the worship of form. Will it not help me to gain jnana?
M: Surely it will. Upasana (meditation) helps concentration of mind. Then the mind is free from other thoughts and is full of the meditated form. The mind then becomes one with the object of meditation, and this makes it quite pure. Then think who is the worshiper. The answer is “I,” that is, the Self. In this way the Self is ultimately gained.
Worshiping the formless reality by unthought thought is the best kind of worship. But when one is not fit for such formless worship of God, worship of form alone is suitable. Formless worship is possible only for people who are devoid of the ego-form. Know that all the worship done by people who possess the ego-form is only worship of form. The pure state of being attached to grace (Self) alone, which is devoid of any attachment, is one’s own state of silence, which is devoid of any other thing. Having experienced that silence is true mental worship, know that the performance of the unceasing, true, and natural worship in which the mind is submissively established as the one Self having installed the Lord on the Heart throne, is silence, the best of all forms of worship. Silence, which is devoid of the assertive ego, alone is liberation. The evil forgetfulness of Self which causes one to slip down from that silence, alone is non-devotion. Know that abiding to that silence with the mind subdued as non-different from the self, is the truth of devotion to God.
When one has completely surrendered oneself at the feet of the Lord, thereby becoming of the nature of the Self, the resulting abundant peace, in which there is no room to complain about one’s defects and deficiencies, is the nature of supreme devotion. Thus becoming a slave to the Lord and remaining quiet and silent, devoid even of the egotistical thought “I am his slave,” is Self-abidance, and this is the supreme Knowledge.
Q: Can spiritual seekers attain this goal in life if they go about the world absorbed in singing songs in praise of God? Or should they stay at one place only?
M: It is good to keep the mind concentrated on one thing only whenever the person wanders. What is the use of keeping the body at one place if the mind is allowed to wander?
Q: Is devotion without a motive possible?
M: Yes it is possible. Worshiping God for the sake of a desired object is worshiping that desired object alone. The complete cessation of any thought of a desired object is the first prerequisite in a mind that wishes to attain the state of the Lord.
Q: The Srimad Bhagavatam outlines a way to find Krishna in the heart by prostrating to all and looking on all as the Lord Himself. Is this the right path leading to Self-realization? Is it not easier to adore the Lord in whatever meets the mind, than to seek the supramental through the mental inquiry “Who am I?”
M: Yes, when you see God in all, do you think of God or do you not? You must certainly think of God if you want to see God all around you. Keeping God in your mind in this way becomes meditation, and this is the stage before realization. Realization can only be in and of the Self. It can never be apart from the Self. Meditation must precede realization, but whether you meditate on God or on the Self is immaterial, for the goal is the same. You cannot, by any means, escape the Self. You want to see God in all, but not in yourself? If everything is God, are you not included in that everything? Being God yourself, is it a wonder that all is God? This is the method advised in Srimad Bhagavatam, and elsewhere by others. But even for this practice there must be the seer or thinker. Who is he?
Q: How to see God, who is all-pervasive?
M: To see God is to be God. There is no all apart from God for Him to pervade. He alone is.
Q: The devotee requires a God whom he can worship. Is he to be taught that there is only the Self, not a worshiper and the worshiped?
M: Of course, God is required for spiritual practices. But the end of the practices, even in the path of devotion, is attained only after complete surrender. What does it mean, except that effacement of the ego results in the Self remaining as it always has been? Whatever path one may choose, the “I” is inescapable, the “I” that does the motiveless acts, the “I” that pines for joining the Lord from whom it feels it has been separated, the “I” that feels it has slipped from its real nature, and so on. The source of this “I” must be found out. Then all questions will be solved.
Q: If “I” is also an illusion, who then casts off the illusion?
M: The “I” casts off the illusion of “I” and yet remains as “1.”
Such is the paradox of Self-realization. The realized do not see any contradiction in it. Take the case of devotion. I approach the Lord and pray to be absorbed in Him. 1 then surrender myself with faith and concentrate on Him. What remains afterwards? In place of the original “I,” perfect self-surrender leaves a residuum of God in which the “I” is lost. This is the highest form of devotion and surrender, and the height of vairagya (nonattachment).
You give up this and that of my possessions. If you give up “I” and “mine” instead, all are given up at a stroke. The very seed of possession is lost. Thus the evil is nipped in the bud or crushed in the germ itself. Dispassion must be very strong to do this. Eagerness to do it must be equal to that of a man kept under water, trying to rise up to the surface for his life.
You are welcome to contribute. Write to: