Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On Surrender

The idea of surrender usually means to give in, to passively submit to the control of someone or something stronger. To surrender to the Dharma, however, requires the active and continuously renewed commitment of our energy. Surrendering to the teaching is the giving up of our self-images, fears, thoughts, and desires into the hands of deeper self-knowledge. It is submitting to the control of our true nature, which is healthier and stronger than our surface experience can ever be.
Tarthang Tulku: Hidden Mind of Freedom

In the West we have a very skewed sense of what it means to surrender. Most people think of surrender as a bad thing, a sign of weakness, a flaw in our character. We are raised to believe that surrender is what happens when we are defeated.

Perhaps that is true, even for Buddhists. If we see that life is suffering; if we see that our ego stands in the way of our happiness; if we see that self is an illusion; then maybe we will feel defeated enough to seek out the Dharma.

But seeking out the Dharma requires our surrender--it is an active choice.

I am reminded of the Hanged Man in the Tarot deck. He has put himself into a position of surrender, hanging with his foot tied to the branch of a tree. No one put him there. He chose it. He chose to hang upside down in a position of complete surrender.

When we surrender to the Dharma, we also must give up all sense that we control anything in our lives. Obviously, our ego still must function in the world, but at the deeper levels of meaning, we give up the hope that we can make sense of the world. We give up the desire to control outcomes. We acknowledge that our thoughts are leading us astray and causing us suffering.

There is nothing about this process that is passive. Surrendering to our higher self, to the nondual nature of the Kosmos, takes courage. Giving up our finite ego is the hardest thing we will ever do, and it does not happen by chasing the non-egoic. It happens as a result of surrendering to the teachings of emptiness.

Surrender takes strength. It takes trust that our choice will lead to something better than Dukkha. Having made this choice, having been willing to face the unsatisfactoriness of our life, which takes enormous courage and strength, we then begin on the path to enlightenment.

We must learn to work with our emotions. We must learn to become vulnerable. We must develop the tender heart of the warrior. All of these things require us to surrender to our true nature. And they require us to be soft of heart, receptive, open. These are generally not seen as active qualities, as forms of strength. Yet nothing requires more strength than keeping an open, tender heart.

So we practice loving-kindness, or mindfulness, or any number of other practices that help us move through our emotions and into our true nature. However we choose to move beyond ego, the process is difficult. Only through surrender will we ever find the emptiness that is the essence of all things.

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