The “either/or” limitations of the mental processes leads us generally to believe that spiritual progress either comes with individual effort, or alternatively, through ‘surrender’ of the ego and letting the Divine, or the Guru, bring about the progress. Thus, there are individuals who undertake extreme austerities and concentrated effort, quite certain that these efforts will result in the ultimate realisation, while there are others who preach that such efforts are unnecessary and one must only have devotion and open oneself to the Divine or the Guru to achieve the results.

The reality is, however, that neither of these approaches is totally correct and self-sufficient, and that a much more modulated understanding can be developed that understands the role and place for individual effort as well as the role and necessity of devotion and surrender.

Eventually, the ego-personality needs to be overpassed and subordinated to the Divine Force in action, but along the way, there are many snares and deceptions that the mind and vital ego create for the seeker to appropriate the fruits of the effort and to mislead about the progress. Until that occurs, individual attention and effort are needed to avoid the mistakes caused by the action of either tamas, in the form of laziness or ignorance, or rajas, in the form of self-aggrandisement, desire or ambition, or sattva, in the form of self-satisfied understanding within the limited mental framework that hides the true nature of the Divine Truth from the seeker in the web that the mental understanding weaves.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “In the early part of the sadhana — and by early I do not mean a short part — effort is indispensable. Surrender of course, but surrender is not a thing that is done in a day. The mind has its ideas and it clings to them; the human vital resists surrender, for what it calls surrender in the early stages is a doubtful kind of self-giving with a demand in it; the physical consciousness is like a stone and what it calls surrender is often no more than inertia. it is only the psychic that knows how to surrender and the psychic is usually very much veiled in the beginning. When the psychic awakes, it can bring a sudden and true surrender of the whole being, for the difficulty of the rest is rapidly dealt with and disappears. But till then effort is indispensable. Or else it is necessary till the Force comes flooding down into the being from above and takes up the sadhana, does it for one more and more and leaves less and less to individual effort — but even then, if not effort, at least aspiration and vigilance are needed till the possession of mind, will, life and body by the Divine Power is complete.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Surrender, pp. 100-105

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. he is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.