Q: [Given to Sri Ramana Maharshi in the form of a written note.] They say that one can obtain everything if one takes refuge in God wholly and solely, and without thought of anything else. Does it mean sitting still in one place and contemplating God entirely at all times, discarding all thoughts, including even thoughts about food, which is essential for the sustenance of the body? Does it mean that when one gets ill, one should not think of medicine and treatment, but entrust one’s health or sickness exclusively to providence?
In the Bhagavad Gita it says: ‘The man who sheds all longing and moves without concern, free from the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, he attains peace’ (2:71). It means the discarding of all desires. Therefore 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 does it mean that we should make a little effort? Bhagavan, please explain the secret of this saranagati [surrender].
Ramana Maharshi: [After reading the note Sri Ramana addressed everyone in the room.] Ananya saranagati [complete surrender] means to be without any attachment to thoughts, no doubt, but does it mean to discard even thoughts of food and water which are essential for the sustenance of the physical body? He asks, ‘Should I eat only if I get anything by God’s direction, and without my asking for it? Or should I make a little effort?’ All right. Let us take it that what we have to eat comes of its own accord. But even then, who is to eat? Suppose somebody puts it in our mouth, should we not swallow it at least? Is that not an effort? He asks, ‘If I become sick, should I take medicine or should I keep quiet leaving my health and sickness in the hands of God?’ In the book Sadhana Panchakam 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 Iswara [God] or call it karma [destiny]; some karta [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.
(Source: David Godman, Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Chapter 7: Surrender)