Apr 20 2018

Janabai – You must accept those who surrender to you

Published by at 9:02 am under Poetry

You must accept those who surrender to you
by Janabai

English version by Sarah Sellergren

If the Ganga flows to the ocean
and the ocean turns her away,
tell me, O Vitthal,
who would hear her complaint?

Can the river reject its fish?
Can the mother spurn her child?

Jan says,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.

— from Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion, Edited by Anne Feldhaus

/ Image by TheFoxAndTheRaven /

I wanted to highlight this poem today because of its emphasis on surrender.

The question of surrender is central to the spiritual journey, which is often a difficult idea for us to accept. The word “surrender” itself can seem terrifying or even hateful. Why surrender at all? Don’t we want victory and not surrender?

We need to surrender. Surrender is essential to the eventual victory of spiritual opening. Yet surrender can also be dangerous.

Different religious traditions frame the idea of surrender differently, but it is always present. There is the notion of submission to a guru or spiritual guide, which might make some of us wince. Or monastic vows of obedience, which probably makes even more of us cringe. Every tradition has some expression of surrender encoded within its practices. When both the seeker and the spiritual authority come to that relationship with pure intention, the dynamic of surrender becomes a very effective technique for swift unfolding.

The obvious problem is that surrender, particularly the profound forms of self-surrender that occur as part of the spiritual journey, make one deeply vulnerable to everything from mental manipulation to sexual abuse. Sadly, we can all cite several public examples of this very result.

So, we should never surrender, right? It’s not that simple. As I said, surrender is essential.

But to whom do we surrender? Why do we need to surrender? Leaving aside the religious trappings, let us first ask, what is the energetic purpose of surrender?

The surrender we need for success along our spiritual journey is the surrender of self — the little or false self, the ego. Not just the ego as an idea, but we must drop the limited reality the ego-self enforces upon our consciousness. We also need to surrender the ego-bolstering actions, or self-will, which continuously reaffirm the ego and its psychic hindrances.

Profound spiritual opening requires that we come to a place in which we deeply, utterly… let go. This does not even require effort. We merely have to cease all our efforts at maintaining the pretense of the little self. We have to give up what has, for most of us, become a lifelong endeavor. This may be disorienting or even frightening, so it should not be sought casually. But, done with determination and patience and balance, such surrender unlocks the doorway.

I have used rather solitary language so far. To whom do we surrender? A master or spiritual authority? Some would say yes. My personal perspective is that, such a figure can be helpful when, as I said earlier, everyone’s intentions are clear. But I still have trouble with that. Contrarian that I am, I tend to oppose most forms of authority, spiritual and secular.

What I have observed is that what we are surrendering to is not that teacher or guru or guide or institution. We are really surrendering to the universal divine spark that we have glimpsed in that person or ideal. That glowing essence is the real authority that we must surrender to. That is the real teacher. We may sense it in a guru or a saint or a teacher. We may recognize it in a spiritual organization or a holy book or a beloved icon. Or we may find it in a grove of trees, in the face of a homeless person on the street. When we are honest with ourselves, it is not the person or the institution or the teaching; they are its representatives or embodiments, but it is the shining spark itself that calls to us. It is to that do we bow. That is what we truly surrender to.

In this way, surrender need not be submission or the giving up of our critical faculties or appropriate forms of self-respect and self-protection. Perhaps it is appropriate to have an antiauthoritarian form of spiritual surrender.

Ultimately, that spirit-filled spark we see in some inspiration focus outside ourselves is what is trying to awaken within ourselves. This is really why surrender is required. We are dropping our resistance and allowing that ineffable presence to be born within. We surrender the small self as a sacred offering. Accepting this sacrifice, the divine Self, that sense of our being most deeply connected with God, steps forth. This is how surrender becomes victory.

Jan says,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.

Recommended Books: Janabai

Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion Women Saints in World Religions


India (1298 – 1350?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

Janabai was born in the Maharashtra region of India to a low-caste family. It was not uncommon for poor families to hire their children out as domestic servants, and this is what happened to Janabai at age 7. But the household she was sent to was unusual, for it belonged to the much-revered poet Namdev. It was in this household that Janabai spent the rest of her life.

Janabai’s poetry suggests a life of difficult labor in the household, but one that was constantly revived and supported by her intimacy with the Divine.

More poetry by Janabai

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Janabai – You must accept those who surrender to you”

  1. Olga T.on 20 Apr 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Janabai’s concern seems to be whether her surrender to the Lord will be acceptable or not. It reminds me of the parable in the Gospel of St. Matthew where many accept the invitation to the king’s feast but only few get to stay (“few are chosen”)…In both cases, surrender as well as submission to a higher divine self seem to be only the beginning of the process. We can wish for acceptance but it is not up to us; that too is part of the surrender, I think.
    This was a tough one for a Friday evening Ivan, but thanks a lot for it.

  2. Annaon 21 Apr 2018 at 12:58 am

    Surrender to the Journey
    It will not be long until
    You come back…again.

    Resistance still
    Lingering, so is
    The pain.


    Like The Little Stream

    ~ Ryokan

    Like the little stream
    Making its way
    Through the mossy crevices
    I, too, quietly
    Turn clear and transparent.


    Have a quietly,
    silent surrendering
    weekend, Ivan!

    Thank you for the


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