Meaning of Atman Nivedana
Atma Nivedana is Self Surrender. In this form of bhakti, the devotee surrenders his body, mind and soul to the Lord. He keeps nothing for himself.
Characteristics of a devotee
Following are some of the characteristics of a bhakta practicing Atma Nivedana:
a) The devotee gives up his Self for God.
b) He does not have an independent identity different from god. He considers himself as a mere instrument in the hands of the Lord. He says to the Lord, I am thine. All is thine. Thy will be done”.
c) The devotee has complete faith in the Lord and believes that God will take care of him as Himself. He considers all the pain-pleasure, joy- sorrow as gifts from God and is least affected by it.
d) The ego of the bhakta is completely dissolved with the Self or the Absolute. To reach the stage of complete surrender, the devotee would have waged a long battle with his ego against its nature. Ego resists surrender. It tries to establish its identity every now and then. The ego raises its hood, (out of old habit) for sensual gratification.
e) The bhakta feels the presence of the God around. He sees all the creatures as manifestation of the Lord Himself.
f) The bhakta has no enemies or friends. He is fearless for he knows that God is helping him at all times.
g) The bhakta wants nothing other than God. He does not even want salvation. He wants to enjoy the eternal bliss of the Lord, the fruit of total surrender.
h) The bhakta cultivates the attitude of self offering. He offers his ideas, ideals, worldly duties and even his spiritual duties at the feet of the Supreme Lord. He experiences joy in sacrificing self to the Supreme.
Surrender and Divine Grace
Surrender and Divine Grace are both interrelated. With surrender, the devotee gets divine grace. With surrender, the heart gets purified and Divine Grace completes the surrender. It is through Divine Grace alone that the entire body is rejuvenated. Divine Grace will make a bhakta perform certain actions which were earlier considered impossible.
A devotee should constantly endeavour to think, speak and act in the name of God. Such a change in the attitude will make the devotee receive the infinite grace of the Divine.
Benefits of Self Surrender
Once a bhakta surrenders completely to the Lord, then he will feel the Divine Grace within. The bhakta enjoys infinite peace and joy. Divine Grace will create circumstances which will hasten the spiritual progress of the bhakta. The bhakta will enjoy a sense of fulfilment in his total and complete surrender to the Lord. The ego in the devotee will be completely effaced out and he will be in a state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi or Absolute Consciousness.
Swamy Chinmayananda says “The greater our surrender to Him, the more He shall come to express himself through us”.
In Vishnu Sahasranama “The heart of one who has taken refuge in Vasudeva, gets entirely purified and he attains the Brahman, the eternal”.
Inaction is not Surrender
Complete surrender does not mean that the bhakta should remain inactive. As mentioned in B.Gita, a man cannot be without performing action even for a moment. A bhakta should not remain inactive and take shelter under Self Surrender. It is only when a devotee puts sincere efforts towards Self Surrender, will God shower His Grace on him.
Swamy Chinmayananda likens the surrender of a bhakta to that of a bird which surrenders itself to the currents of the wind. The currents of the wind will enable a bird to fly high, but the bird must put in sincere efforts in flapping its wings to rise higher and higher and in controlling the direction it is taking, in the course of its journey. When the bird flaps its wings, the bird is only surrendering itself to the wind, which will make the wind lift the bird higher and higher. This is similar to a bhakta who is lifted higher and higher with the Divine’s Grace when he surrenders completely to the Lord.
A beautiful analogy explains the difference in being active and being inactive and waiting for things to happen.
An infant monkey wraps itself around its mother and clings to his mother while the mother moves across the ground or swings from one tree to another. The entire responsibility rests with the infant in clinging on his mother. If the infant monkey leaves its mother, then the chances of dying, while the mother is on the move is high.
On the other hand a mother cat will grab its kitten firmly behind its neck with its teeth. The little kitten just allows itself to be picked by the scruff of the neck and taken wherever its mother goes. For the movement to be smooth, the kitten should only surrender to its mother completely.
A true bhakta’s nature should be to completely surrender to God, just like a kitten to its mother.
A bhakta’s prayer to Lord should be “Lord they build high temples in your name; they make large gifts in Your name; I am poor, I have nothing; so I take this body of mine and place it at your feet. Do not give me up, O Lord’.
The test of Self Surrender
One of the foremost requirements of a person seeking god is fearlessness. A true bhakta is not perturbed by solitude or crowd. It is through constant remembering of Him, meditation and prayer that the mind can be made to think of Him. A bhakta should realise that God who is Absolute, resides within. He is no different from God, i.e he and God are one and the same. The initial hiccups should not deter a devotee from praying to God. The spirit of surrender must be cultivated in discharging mundane duties, until such time the ego merges with the Self, or the God residing within. Treading on the path of self realisation is not easy. Obstacles and sufferings dot the path. While the former must be borne, the latter must be overcome with His help. Repetition of God’s name helps in concentration.
Examples of Atma Nivedana
Once Bali Chakravarthi, the grandson of Prahalada and the king of all the demons was preparing for a fire sacrifice under the guidance of his Guru, Sukracharya. Bali was a very powerful ruler. He had conquered many worlds and had amassed huge wealth. He desired to rule over the Deva Loka by defeating Lord Indra and Lord Vishnu. Preparations for the fire sacrifice were made so that Bali could get powers to rule over the Deva Loka. As the preparations were underway for the fire sacrifice, suddenly a young dwarf Brahmin boy dressed in a deerskin and carrying a pot of water walked towards the Yagna. The Brahmin boy was known as Vamana. He had a divine glow. King Bali was enchanted by Vamana and asked him what he would like as a gift. The young boy replied, he would want land just to cover his three footsteps as gift. King Bali thought that a young boy’s three footsteps would not take much land and said he would give small villages, gold, horses and as much land to Vamana, as he owned the entire earth. Vamana replied only three footsteps of land is all that is required. Bali’s guru realised that the boy was no ordinary Brahmin, but Lord Vishnu Himself, urged Bali not to give anything to Vamana. But as Bali had already given his word to Vamana, he could not go back on his words. Thus Bali asked Vaman to take the first step. At this, the boy grew in size to the amazement of everyone around. The entire universe appeared to be within him. Occupying the entire universe was merely two steps, so Vamana asked Bali, where he should keep his foot for the third step. Bali, at once realised that it was indeed Vishnu Himself who had come as Vamana to rid him of his two sins, “I” and “mine”. Bali thought how foolish he must have been to have claimed that the entire earth belonged to him. Bali looking at Vamana realised that only by losing “I” or one’s ego the Lord can be realised; which is the reason for the Lord asking Bali, the place to keep his third foot. Bali realised his mistake and thus offered his head as the place to keep the third footstep.
Bali who had amassed wealth gave away all that in no time. Bali’s Supreme Consciousness was awakened. He was filled with divine ecstasy.
Lord Vishnu recognised the Supreme awakening in Bali and thus made him the king of the Underworld and decided to serve His devotee by being the gate keeper Himself. The Gopis of Vraja offered themselves to Lord Krishna and attained Supreme Consciousness.
A devotee can practice any of the nine modes of bhakti to realize the Supreme. Bhakti is the easiest form of reaching god. It slowly and gradually takes the individual to higher levels of realisation of God, even being amidst samsara. It is not a direct assertion of God, but a progressive realisation of Him.