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Atmasamarpana In Hinduism

Atmasamarpana is the complete surrendering of the self to the deity one worships. Atmasamarpana can be said to be common to all traditions in Hinduism. Yet this is considered to be a special aspect of the Vaishnava tradition.

Every system of Hindu philosophy advocates certain upayas (means) for the attainment of moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death), the highest goal of human endeavor. The Vedanta systems uphold either jnana (knowledge) or bhakti (devotion), as the sole means of attaining that supreme goal.

The Srivaishnava tradition, propagated by Ramanuja, in addition to bhakti, admits atmasamarpana as an alternative means of achieving the desired end. This atmasamarpana is also denoted by the popular terms saranagati, prapatti and bharanyasa. The practice of bhakti yoga requires certain rigorous disciplines like viveka (discrimination), vimoksha (freedom from desire and anger) and the practice of yama (moral discipline and non-violence), niyama (self-purification, austerities, study) and asana (posture which must be firm and pleasant for meditation on God).

A rigorous practice of karma yoga must precede the practice of bhakti yoga. Since bhakti yoga demands certain rigorous disciplines according to the state and stage of life, not all become uniformly eligible to practice it. In contrast, the other means, atmasamarpana, is easier to practice and more importantly, all are eligible to practice this means.

Though atmasamarpana is not mentioned explicitly in Vedas, yet a scattered reference to this could be noticed in them. Rig Veda passages I.189.1 and VI.29.3 can be cited in this connection. These Upanishads make a clear statement about surrender by using the expression sharana. Notable among them are Chandogya Upanishad (II. 22.3-4), Svetasvatara Upanishad (VI.17), Mundaka Upanishad (II.ii.4) and Mahanarayana Upanishad (24).  The epics or itihasas, namely, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Puranas specifically mention this concept.

But long before the time of epics and Purana literature, the doctrine of self surrender could be found in the Pancaratra Agama tradition. In fact, the Srivaishnava tradition owes much to this agama literature for this doctrine. Of these, Ahirbudhnya Samhita and Lakshmitantra are seen to be advocating this doctrine.

Atmasamarpana has five accessories or limbs these are

  1. Anukulyasya sankalpah – a resolve to perform activities that are agreeable to Bhagavan
  2. Pratikulyasya varjanam – a resolve not to perform activities that displeases Bhagavan
  3. Mahavishwasa – intense faith in Bhagavan as the savior
  4. Karpanyam – a feeling of utter helplessness to practice any other protection
  5. Goptritva Varanam – seeking the protection of Bhagavan.

When one is possessed of these entirely, he can then surrender himself to Bhagavan (atmanikshepa or atmasamarpana). Of the five accessories, the third one, that is mahavishwasa is pivotal to this doctrine.

The word samarpana literally means ‘to offer’, that is, offering an object to a person. Since atman or self cannot be taken out and offered like an object, the expression atmasamarpana should mean that the self or atman should imagine itself as offering to God, that is, he should have such a mental attitude towards God.

The Srivaishnava preceptors of southern India propagated this concept of saranagati throughout India. Stotraratna, a poem par excellence of Yamunacharya, was the first independent work to explain this concept. Next in order, Ramanujacharya elaborated this idea in his Saranagati-gadya. Following him, Vedanta Desika, who wrote many independent works on this doctrine, elaborated the concept in his magnum opus Rahasyatrayasara. These preceptors cite many mythological stories on the concept of surrender, such as, the surrender of Vibhishana to Bhagavan Sri Rama, and the surrender of Draupadi to Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Another important source to the concept of atmasamarpana is the Bhagavad Gita passage (XVIII.66) – in this verse, the expression saranam vraja (surrender unto me) clearly expresses this concept of surrender. Thus from the 11th century onwards this doctrine has struck deep roots in the Sri Vaishnava tradition.