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What is Surrender? Beautiful answer and analogy by Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Updated on June 2, 2017
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Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than two decades with Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been his personal photographer.

Sharanagathi vs Surrender - a world of difference

The dictionary defines surrender as ‘give up, hand over or submit to authority’. Therefore, surrender is oft understood to mean capitulation or backing down. It connotes weakness and an inability to resist. It is considered as the last resort of those who are not brave enough because the brave would rather lose everything than surrender! However, Sharanagathi (which is translated into English as ‘surrender’) is very different. It is also a sort of ‘giving up’ but it is not capitulation. Instead of weakness, it connotes strength, humility and wisdom. It is the first resort of the brave because those that aren’t brave do not deserve the peace and joy that it brings.

So, what is this Sharangathi (surrender) which is completely opposite in it’s meaning compared to the surrender that is defined in English dictionaries? Here is a lovely episode in which Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba explained to a college student the spiritual meaning of surrender and it’s beautiful benefits.

After the successful conduct of the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam at Prasanthi Nilayam in August 2006, Swami (as Baba is lovingly called) decided to conduct the same in the city of Chennai in January 2007. It has been my experience that Swami always ‘blesses’ more than 2 birds with the same stone! The visit to Chennai was no exception with multiple things being achieved by it. The Chennai Citizen’s Conclave held on the 21st of January was one such ‘bird’ which was blessed but that is a separate story by itself.

Quick glimpses of the Chennai visit

Swami performs the Prana Pratishta (life-instilling ceremony) for the Sai Sundareshwara Lingam at Chennai at the start of the Athi Rudra Mana Yagna,
Swami performs the Prana Pratishta (life-instilling ceremony) for the Sai Sundareshwara Lingam at Chennai at the start of the Athi Rudra Mana Yagna,
The 11-day Yagna came to a close with the Poornahuthi.
The 11-day Yagna came to a close with the Poornahuthi.
The sweeping view of the dais during the Chennai Citizens' Conclave where everyone expressed gratitude to Swami for providing water to Chennai.
The sweeping view of the dais during the Chennai Citizens' Conclave where everyone expressed gratitude to Swami for providing water to Chennai.
Even the Chief Minister, Karunanidhi, a sworn atheist, seemed to be forced to believe in God because of Swami!
Even the Chief Minister, Karunanidhi, a sworn atheist, seemed to be forced to believe in God because of Swami!

For the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam, Swami had picked several students to accompany Him. The ‘duties’ of these students involved delivering a speech each during each day of the Yagnam. My classmate, Jagdish Chandra, was one among the several students who were part of Bhagawan’s entourage. This beautiful dialogue on the true meaning of surrender happened between Jagdish and Swami. Just as I am grateful to Arjuna for asking his doubts of Lord Krishna, am grateful to Jagdish for this dialogue with Swami because the message is as poignant as the Bhagawad Gita. In fact, I feel it is a concise summary of the Gita.

This narration is in Jagdish's own words now.

Clarification by Guru on Guru?

“I was to give a talk the next afternoon at Thiruvanmiyur. The previous evening, as we were having dinner with Bhagwan, Swami enquired as to who would be speaking. Swami had decided the order of the speakers beforehand, and so, I knew it was my turn. I presented myself accordingly.
Yemi maatladutavu (What will you speak)?”
“Swami I would speak on Swami as our Guru...''
“Aha! What is the meaning of Guru?”
“Swami, in the sacred texts it is stated that, in the word GURU, 'Gu' stands for Gunateeta (beyond attributes) and 'Ru' stands for Roopavarjita (beyond forms).”
“Alanti vallani yavarinena choosava (Did you ever come across someone, a Guru, like that)?”

I was awestruck for I was in the very presence of such a Being, my Guru. I pointed my folded hands towards Swami and said,
Swami meeru (You Swami)!”
Kani naaku roopam unde (But I have a form)!”
Swami was referring to the contradiction to the definition of Guru which I had chosen.
Swami roopam undina lekapoyina, meere na Guru (Swami, with or without form, I know only you to be my Guru)!”

Swami smiled. He then asked me the details of my talk which I told him. I was happy at the interest he was showing in my talk. However, at the end of our conversation, surprisingly Swami said to everyone around,
Naaku telusu, me andara manusulo chaala doubts unnayee. Ee rozu annee clear chestanu. Adagandi. (I know, you all have a lot of doubts in your mind. I will clear those doubts today. Ask!)”

The Guru with a most beautiful and bewitching form....
The Guru with a most beautiful and bewitching form....

A dialogue on surrender with God

It was not merely manna from the heaven but verily the heaven itself! Each one of us chose to ask what was innermost in our hearts. When my turn came, my question was,

Swami, Sharanagati ante yemi (Swami, what is the meaning of Surrender)?”
Sharanagati ante neeku yemi artham ayyinndo, mundu adi cheppu (First you tell me what you have understood of the word Sharanagathi).
“Swami, of what little I have read and heard from elders, offering my everything to God is Surrender...”
“GOD DOES NOT WANT ANYTHING FROM YOU SIR!” Swami said, “At every point in time if you remind yourself - ‘Whatever is happening is good for me’ - then you have surrendered to me.”

Swami continued to explain.
“Do you know how to drive a car?”
“Yes Swami...”
“How many gears are there in the car?”
“Swami 4...”
“Yes! First, second, third and fourth gear. There is also a reverse gear. Tell me, is there any problem when the car runs in the first gear?”
“No Swami...”
“What about the second or third or the fourth gears?”
“No problems Swami...”
“Then where is the problem?”

I just shrugged in ignorance. Swami answered His own question.
“The problem comes when there is a change of gears! So what do you do when you change gears in a car?”
“Swami, we use the clutch”
“Correct! When you use the clutch, the change of gears is smooth. Similarly in life, there are gears - front and back - HAPPINESS, SORROW, HAPPINESS, SORROW. Just as in car, our lives too continue whether we are in happiness or in sorrow but the problem arises only when there is change or transition from happiness to sorrow and vice versa. For life too there is a clutch. The clutch for life is the thought that,
Idi Naa Manchi Kosame (Whatever happens is good for me)'."

Life constantly shifts between the gears of sorrow and happiness.
Life constantly shifts between the gears of sorrow and happiness.

The problems while changing gears

Come to think of it, all problems come only when we transition from joy to sorrow or vice versa. When we fall into sorrow from joy, there is frustration, irritation, anger and depression. When we are exalted to happiness from a sorrowful situation, there is pride, ego and attachment. All of them are harmful. Instead, when dropping into sorrow from joy or vice versa, if we say,

“This is good for me. That is why Swami is gifting it to me”, then none of those negativities will arise.This technique will ensure that we don’t float in the skies nor bury ourselves underground. It makes sure that our feet are firmly on the ground. It will lead us to be equanimous and thus, permanently peaceful.

This is what Krishna told Arjuna in the Kurukshetra battlefield.
sukha-duhkhe same krtva, labhalabhau jayajayau
(The one who is equanimous in happiness-sorrow, profit-loss, victory-defeat, is the one who has truly surrendered !! )

Lord Krishna instructs the great warrior and devotee- Arjuna
Lord Krishna instructs the great warrior and devotee- Arjuna

"Whosoever, follows this, I assure him complete feeling of surrender towards me!" Swami declared to Jagdish that day. But, it did not end there. A very interesting climax ensued.

A lesson to be imprinted for life

The next day's proceedings of the Yagnam turned out to be catastrophic as there was a problem with the PA system at Thiruvammiyur. Swami was apparently upset as things could not be heard properly. Though Jagdish delivered his speech flawlessly, it seemed flawed thanks to the PA system. Swami seemed to look at Jagdish as if to say that He wasn’t happy with his talk. The confirmation came when they returned to Sundaram, Swami’s abode in Chennai.
Swami looked at Jagdish angrily and said,
"Yemi baaga maatalad ledu (You didn't speak well at all).”

Jagdish Chandra speaking in the Divine Presence at the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam.
Jagdish Chandra speaking in the Divine Presence at the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam.

Jagdish’s heart sank! The sole purpose of doing anything - including speaking in the Divine presence - is to make Swami happy. Even though the whole hall had applauded, it meant nothing to Jagdish because Swami was upset. He did not have the strength to face Swami even during the dinner session. Ironically, that very day, he was seated closest to Swami for dinner! Swami frowned upon him and asked one of the senior devotees,
"E abbayi yela matladedu (How did this boy speak)?”

Oblivious of what had happened until then, the devotee started heaping praises on Jagdish! Every word was like a scratch on Jagdish’s bleeding heart and he continued to sit with his head down. He was very sad.
Swami simply ignored Jagdish and the words of the devotee and said aloud,
Yemi baaga maataladledu (Didn't speak well at all)!”

Then came the biggest jolt for Jagdish. Swami looked at him and said,
"Sharanagati gurinchi okka mukka kuda mataladaledu (You didn't even speak a word about Surrender)!”

He was referring to the conversation that took place the previous day.
In spite of all his dejection, Jagdish’s mind revolted. He was screaming inwardly,
"Swami this is unfair! I was not supposed to speak on that topic. My topic was GURU! Why are you doing this to me?"

SUNDARAM - Bhagawan's mandir at Chennai. The name means 'Beauty'. It was the venue of the beautiful dialogue on surrender.
SUNDARAM - Bhagawan's mandir at Chennai. The name means 'Beauty'. It was the venue of the beautiful dialogue on surrender.

Immediately Swami asked,
"Yemi Raa Nee Sharanagathi (What is your Surrender)?”

Jagdish was hit by a thunderbolt. The noise in his head was instantly silenced. He realized that he had grasped the theory the previous day but had failed in the practical exam on this day! He had been shifted from joy to sorrow and he hadn’t applied the clutch of surrender by saying,
“This is all good for me.”

And even as he understood, a smile seemed to blossom on Swami’s face. There was so much love. Jagdish was now in tears. He went to Swami and said,
"Tappu ayyipoyindi Swami, kshaminchandi (I made a mistake. Please forgive me Swami)!”

Swami smiled at him and said,
“Your speech was good.”

This time, Jagdish did not float. He remained grounded. He knew that Swami’s praise for him was not because of his glory. It was because it was good for him.

The Prayer of Surrender as written by Swami to a devotee...

For long, the source of this prayer was unknown. It was attributed to the 'wall at the entrace of the Western Canteen in Prasanthi Nilayam'. Imagine my joy when a dear devotee sent me a copy of the letter that Swami wrote to their family long ago and the words exactly match this! Here goes the English translation(the letter image follows)

"Why get agitated? Let Me take care of all your business. I shall be the one who will think about them. I am waiting for nothing else than your surrender to Me, and then you do not have to worry any more about anything. Say farewell to all fears and discouragement.

You demonstrate that you do not trust Me. On the contrary, you must rely blindly on Me.

To surrender means: To turn your thoughts away from troubles, to turn them away from difficulties that you encounter and from all your problems. Leave everything in My hands saying, "Lord, Thy will be done. Thou think of it." That is to say, "Lord, I thank you, for you have taken everything into your hands, and you will resolve this for my highest good."

Remember that thinking of the consequences of a thing is contrary to surrender. That is to say, when you worry that a situation has not had the desired outcome, you demonstrate that you do not believe in My love for you —you prove that you do not consider your life to be under My control and that nothing escapes Me.

Never think: How is this to end?... What is going to happen? If you give into this temptation, you demonstrate that you do not trust Me. Do you want Me to deal with it — yes or no? Then you must stop being anxious about it! I shall guide you only if you completely surrender to Me. And when I must lead you on a different path than the one that you expect, I carry you in My arms.

What seriously upsets you is your reasoning, your worrying, your obsession, and your will to provide for yourself at any price. I can do so many things when the being, in his material necessities as in his spiritual ones, turns to Me saying, "You think of it," and then closes his eyes and rests quietly.

You will receive a lot, but only when your prayer relies fully upon Me. You pray to Me when in pain so that I intervene, but in the way you desire it. You do not rely on Me, but you want Me to adjust to your requests.

Don't behave like sick ones who ask for a treatment from the doctor, all the time suggesting it to him. Do not do that, but rather, even in sad circumstances, say, "Lord I praise and thank You for this problem, for this necessity. I pray You to arrange things as You please for this terrestrial, temporal life. You know very well what is best for me."

Sometimes, you feel that disasters increase instead of diminish. Do not get agitated. Close your eyes and tell me with faith, "Thy will be done. You think of it." And when you speak thus, I accomplish a miracle when necessary. I think of it only when you trust me totally. I always think of you, but I can help you completely only when you rely fully on Me."

The Letter in Telugu

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© 2011 Aravind Balasubramanya

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      Madhusudanvithal 2 months ago

      Yes Aravind we were taught as school going children a story "Antha mana manchi korake", we remember & ponder on that story many times in life to perfectly understand the theory of Sharanagati. But I fail to show that understanding in practice in real life situations, one can say in Telugu - malli pappulo kalu vesanu -lot of sadhana is needed to bring to practice what is thought to be understood. Thanks a lot for a wake up call through this posting.

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      Mark 2 months ago

      What a scintillating story.

      An enlightening message, so powerfully drummed in by Swami.

      I pray Swami gives us the Grace to practise and succeed in this sadhana of surrender.

      'This is all for my own good' is the clutch to change gears in life.

      Sai Ram

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      aarthilsbala 2 years ago

      Every article you write always is 'a home coming' to my heart. This book am sure will anchor the readers in their true home.

      Need to mention your article on 'surrender' brother jagadish's experience, is a true life changer to me.

      I had a health issue ( a persistent but non fatal) moment I said with all my heart, swami thanks for this sickness, its good for me, the sickness vanished without a trace trace almost miraculously.

      Can't thank you enough for the seva you are doing. Sairam

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      Sunil B 3 years ago

      Sairam, superb article.

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      ashok mehta 3 years ago

      Articles appearing here have proved to be Life-changing , as happened in my case. I thank dear Arvind for bringing Bhagawan's messages offering succour and solace to millions like me. May Bhagawan bless you! Ashok Mehta

    • aravindb1982 profile image
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      Aravind Balasubramanya 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @Sudha Narayan - Beautiful share enriched with personal experience... Thank you. :)

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      sudha narayanan 4 years ago

      Sairam, I have read so many articles on "Surrender" by now from your side. I think I must share something. I was transferred (at work) to Chennai from Baroda, after many years in Delhi & short stint in Baroda,(on Swami's 80th b'day) in 2005 though my family is still in Baroda. My life in Delhi & baroda were so hectic, only partially I could think of Swami. Though all the while, whenever or what ever problem, at work I used to speak to Swami. I really had a very tough boss (She!). So when I got transferred to Chennai, I used to ask Swami why this has happened. I was not given a transfer back to baroda, inspite of reapeated requests. Gradually, in a year's time I became a Balvikas Guru and could see Swami's hand in everything. Now, I am sure, had I not taken this offer of transfer, I would have missed many of the b'ful darshans & sweet memories of Swami (really brings tears ). Now I have decided not to ask for transfer, till my Lord decides it. This meaning of "clutch" is very clear to me now. I have decided now, no matter what happens, to Serve my Sweet Lord till my last breath - that prayer also He only has to answer! Grateful to you for these postings & very happy to be in this Satsangh!

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      Aravind Balasubramanya 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      Thank you SSG! :) Appreciate that input

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      SSG 4 years ago

      Dear Aravind

      Just to give a sense of completeness to the story as a direct witness to the event... Swami had replied in Tamil to LK's question: "Sharanagathi la kudukarthuku onnumillai" - "There nothing that is to be/can be given in Sharanagathi"... " Naladu nadandalum ketadu nadandalum ellam AVARthan kudukurarne drida nambikai vechchiko... Athan sharanagathi" - "Good happens to you or Bad happens to you, have firm conviction that HE is giving it to you... that is true Surrender"

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      Jai Sai Baba 4 years ago

      Today, i was pondering over the topic Surrender !.

      I was thinking whether have i totally surrendered to God and i was curious what Baba has said about Surrender. When i was randomly browsing articles about Baba, to my delight i read this article about surrender.

      Baba again and again reminds me if the search is true and persistent anything could be obtained.

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      Jai Sai Ram 4 years ago

      I was in fact searching to understand this very thing and hit upon this timely info. God bless!

      Thanks for posting this brother. Swami is so wonderful in explaining such intricate topics so easily with analogy only a Supreme master can do that. I bow to Swami!

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      om sai ram 4 years ago

      Love this article!! Brought a big smile to my face :)

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      Chandra Banu 4 years ago

      Superrrrrr. A great lesson taught by dear Swami in his own beautiful style for all of us to remember forever. Each incident s sooooooo moving , inspiring and it brings tears. thank u so much Aravind bro. for posting such elevating and inspiring articles. Do continue to post more and more. jai Sai Ram

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      Parmila Singh 5 years ago

      Wow cant describe in words such an uplifting piece. Yes is direct from swami at gurupurnima time.Beautifully explains complete surrender and helps fill closeness of swami with so much love.

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      RAVI KUMAR 5 years ago

      Sairam Aravind. Thank u for the reminder about true surrender. Can there be a more positive approach than having the feeling ' all that is happening is good for me?'

      No wonder it is said that to surrender is to connect ourselves to that reservoir of positivity... that ' bridge' is the faith that He is in charge and all shall be well. Thanks once again.

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      akshay 5 years ago

      AWESOME as it can be!!!!

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      poornimasrinath 5 years ago from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA

      How many articles can I appreciate?..Each one is a pearl..I have always felt the small informal talks to students by swami gives more understanding than a long discourse. He has directed me to the articles I enjoy reading by taking my attention to your hub! ...You never know how many lives you are changing by posting such invaluable interesting articles!..good going Aravind :)

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      Arpita Mallajosyula 5 years ago

      Lovely experience anna....!! such a great reading experience this was....

      i heard dis incident wen it was narrated as a part of radiosai study circle-2 which was abt positive attitude faith and surrender....then itself i was spellbound the way Swami gave the most difficult concepts of life in the easiest manner ever...

      and 2day i enjoyed even more knwing the actual incident and the context of the discussion....it just so lvely...

      thnx a ton...!! :) May Swami bless you abundantly anna...!! :)

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      vaishnavi nagaraja rao 5 years ago

      anna on the day of athi rudra maha yagyam i was there at thiruvanmiyur as a seva dhal.

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      V L Subramanian 5 years ago

      Sairam Bro., It is very moving and inspiring. Request you to continue to share more of these spiritual experiences. Jai Sairam

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      S V Swamy 5 years ago

      Sai Ram. Very interesting, educative and inspiring. Humbling too since most of us have surrendered with our lips and not truly in mind...

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      shobha 5 years ago

      We have all heard so much being said and discussed on Surrender, but Swami has said it all in such simple words in His inimitable style that never fails to go directly to heart. Sanjay Sahani once while speaking in the Divine Presence had mentioned about a conversation that once Swami had with the teachers in the mandir , before the start of the academic session , where Swami told the teachers, " Whether you have learned anything else from me or not, but learn this one thing, that whatever happens to you, is for your good, for your good , for your good" Here the Universal Teacher gave the essence of spirituality in a single capsule, without even using the word surrender.

      The analogy of the gears and the clutch is so unique, and so effective and one that only Swami can give. And in the end the experience of the person , reminds us so importantly, that even if a concept has been understood by the head and accepted by the heart , it gains value only when it is put into practise.

      Wonderful indeed, thank you , for sharing this wonderful anecdote.

      Sairam

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      Ameya S. Kagalkar 5 years ago

      Sairam Bro,

      Sometimes in life one comes at such a juncture where one looks for a DIVINE INTERVENTION!!! Well today that one was me and the intervention was this dialogue!!! As i read through the whole dialogue here, I literally felt like that our Mother is answering me today!!! Blessed indeed was the feel and I am grateful to you brother for sharing this .... SAIRAM

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      Rajesh 5 years ago

      Surrender is very essential. Once while speaking privately he explained beautifully in Hindi --- " SAR ANDAR KA MATLAB SURRENDER" ie.literally peeping within our heart is surrendering.

      Swami says, stop internet serfing, rather go for Inner Net Surfing ie. going within oneself to know the truth.Outside world will mostly end up giving pains and inner world will give lasting joy and peace.Now when bhagwan is no more physically with us, we must all try to connect to Swami internally by becoming CIA agents... COnstant Integrated Awareness of Bhagwan At every place and every time.

      It is a great lesson worth treasuring and sharing with others and contemplating constantly to know the truth.

      Sairam!

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      Hema B 5 years ago

      Pray that all of us remember this every time......

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      aparna burra 5 years ago

      When I went through the verse told by Swamy from Gita as a reference to explain what surrender is, It suddenly dawned to me that total and undoubted faith in the Lord and His protection is the foundation for that kind of complete surrender as only that deep faith can bring about the kind of equanimity He was speaking about. Only when we know that "He is doing everything and with a purpose and He will protect us from the effects of what all is happenning with us" can we show such an equanimity and surrender.

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      Balasubramanya Subbarao 5 years ago

      THY WILL BE DONE

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      Kamesh 5 years ago

      Dear Aravind, Many thanks for making us feel that we are in Swami's Divine presence.

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      Siva 5 years ago

      Delightful and Insightful read.

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      Shruti 5 years ago

      Your blog is like an encyclopedia... Anytime i need to read His words..... I log on to your blog... Thanks a lot!!!....

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      Perry Naik 5 years ago

      Wow.. so precious, a lifetime's worth of lessons in this one incident and teaching! Thanks Aravind.

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      aparna burra 5 years ago

      saranagati is a very sophisticated word for us to use but saranagati is the toughest thing in the world! but even that can be had completely only by His 'will'! thanks for sharing! sairam!

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      Xavier Nathan 5 years ago from Isle of Man

      What a beautiful story and once again the relationship between Guru and student is explained so clearly. So many people especially in the West misunderstand the idea of surrender. They imagine that to surrender is a sign of weakness and they fear what might happen once they give up their devotion to the ego. They don't seem to realise that to give up the ego is to gain everything. The Guru is the intermediary or bridge to God and unless the devotee has complete faith in the bridge then how can he make the crossing? Thank you.

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      renuka menon 5 years ago

      om srisairam very inspiring!

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      Hemanth 5 years ago

      Spell binding. I have never heard it in more precise terms. I am confident this experience will stay with me and keep my heart smiling by grounding my feet when my head balloons with praise and keeping my hands grasping Swami's feet when gloomy nights blight my days.

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      jai sai ram 5 years ago

      bahat achha laga

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