Grace & Surrender: A Common Theme Across All Religions
Tuesday November 1 is All Saint’s Day, celebrating the many Saints in Christianity who are believed to have had special connections with God, surrendering to the grace of God to fulfill holy missions on Earth.
How is it that, so often, you work really hard but instead of achieving success, you end up burning out? Or that what you really want doesn’t always happen? What is that variable that plays out, beyond one’s own initiative and motivation? It is grace. It is what kicks in when you surrender your ego, putting the active conscious mind into sleep mode. You let go and Let God.
All religions believe in grace and surrender — the antithesis of the ego and self-will. It is the idea of actionless action, guided by a peaceful confidence where the individual will become aligned with the divine will with seamless ease and faith. In Christianity, grace takes place when God guides the actions of human beings, replacing their will with His own. Islam itself translates into “submission” to God’s will. Inshallah or God Willing is a repeated refrain.
Hindus and Buddhists believe that you must surrender the ego-self and make way for the higher self which is collective and non-dual. That is when the flow — of grace — really takes place. The Taoist virtue of wu wei (actionless action or effortless effort) is similar to Christian grace — the belief that by putting the ego-will in abeyance, the Tao will flow effortlessly through an individual and harmoniously coincide with the ways of nature.
According to the Tao te Ching, a foundational text for both Taoism and Zen Buddhism, ‘If you want to become full, let yourself be empty; if you want to be reborn, let yourself die.’ The idea of ‘dying before you actually die’ or ‘letting go’ or ‘emptying your vessel’ thus become metaphors for surrender to enable the transformation to be born again into your higher self.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
— The New Testament (Ephesians 2:8–9), Christian text
“However great the effort we make to do so, we cannot enter. His Majesty must place us there and enter Himself into the center of our soul.”
— Teresa of Avila, Christian saint
“It was He who made His tranquility descend into the hearts of the believers, to add faith to their faith.”
— Qur’an (48:4), Islamic text
“His Lord said to him, ‘Devote yourself to Me.’ Abraham replied, ‘I devote myself to the Lord of the Universe,’ and commanded his sons to do the same, as did Jacob: ‘My sons, God has chosen [your] religion for you, so make sure you devote yourselves to Him, to your dying moment.’”
— Qur’an, Islamic text
“Our Lord, make us devoted to You; make our descendants into a community devoted to You. Show us how to worship and accept our repentance, for You are the Ever Relenting, the Most Merciful.”
— Qur’an (2:131–32), Islamic text
“This is the activity of the human being who has become whole: it has been called not-doing, for nothing particular, nothing partial is at work in man and thus nothing of him intrudes into the world. It is the whole human being, closed in its wholeness, at rest in its wholeness, that is active here, as the human being has become an active whole. When one has achieved steadfastness in this state, one is able to venture forth toward the supreme encounter.”
— Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher
“No one lifts a finger on earth unless it is so decreed in heaven.”
— The Talmud, collection of Jewish literature
“You are born with grace. There is nothing for you to do to deserve grace; it is an ordained state of generosity, goodness, and purity that already resides in your consciousness. When you are gracious to another, grace emanates through you and serves humanity and the earth.”
— Shoni Labowitz, Rabbi and author
“The grace of God is beating down upon mankind, even as the rains in spring, and the rays of the manifest Light have made this earth to be the envy of heaven […] Only a few receive this grace and take their share of it. Wherefore, let us put our hopes in whatever the strong arm of the Beloved can bring about.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader
“Bowing helps to eliminate our self-centered ideas. This is not so easy. It is difficult to get rid of these ideas, and bowing is a very valuable practice. The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice.”
— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher
“Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice. Better than knowledge is meditation. But better still is surrender of attachment to results, because there follows immediate peace.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (12:12), Hindu text
“This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it.”
— Mahatma Gandhi, acknowledged by Indians as Father of the Nation
“Sincerity requires getting rid of all sorts of falseness. Reverence requires getting rid of all sorts of laziness. Desires should be blocked.”
— Zhu Xi, Confucian scholar
“Life stops and starts, is born and dies, grows and declines, and there is nothing which can be done about this. People think the ruler of all this is humanity. Forget that, forget Heaven and be known as one of those who forgot self. The person who forgets self can be known as the one who enters Heaven.”
— The Book of Chuang Tzu, Daoist text
“It is said, ‘One who follows the Tao daily does less and less. As he does less and less, he eventually arrives at actionless action. Having achieved actionless action, there is nothing which is not done.’ Now that we have become active, if we wish to return to our original state, we will find it very difficult!”
— The Book of Chuang Tzu, Daoist text
Modern Philosophy and Theology
“Only when you discard completely, through understanding, the whole structure of the self, can that which is eternal, timeless, immeasurable, come into being. You cannot go to it; it comes to you.”
— Jiddu Krishnamurti, Indian philosopher and speaker
“There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God.”
— William James, philosopher and psychologist
To learn more about other common themes across religions, visit us at uef.org/weekly-wisdom.