To take complete shelter of Kṛṣṇa is called śaraṇāgati. It is related in the Mahābhārata, that when Duḥśāsana wanted to denude Draupadī in front of the kings and others such as Droṇa and Bhīma, Draupadī cried out Kṛṣṇa’s name, calling to Him to rescue her. Kṛṣṇa did save her, but not immediately. Because He came to the rescue a little late, Draupadī complained to Him. She said, “Thank You very much for saving me, but You could surely have come a little earlier. Why did You wait so long? What is the reason You delayed?”
Kṛṣṇa replied: “You called out My name, I admit. But those words were not enough. You did not take shelter of Me. At first you took shelter of Bhīma and Arjuna thinking that they would come and kill Duḥśāsana and protect you. Why should I come if you think that Bhīma and Arjuna can protect you? You uttered My name, but you did not take My shelter. You took shelter of Bhīma and Arjuna.”
We cannot deceive Bhagavān. It is not possible. He is residing within us and sees everything.
Kṛṣṇa: “Is it not true that you took shelter of Bhīma and Arjuna?”
Draupadī: “Yes.”
Kṛṣṇa: “Then why should I have come?”
Draupadī: “Well, You should have come after that.”
Kṛṣṇa: “After that you took shelter of Droṇa, the teacher of the Kaurāvas and Paṇḍāvas. If Droṇa had intervened, no one would have had the power to stop him. So why should I come if Droṇa could come and rescue you? Am I not correct?”
Draupadī: “Yes, You are correct.”
Kṛṣṇa: “After that you took shelter of grandfather Bhīṣma, the formidable warrior, and most respected member of all the court. If he had intervened, no one could have done anything… You took shelter of him. Why should I come if Bhīṣma could rescue you? You did not take shelter of Me. Actually, you were crying, ‘Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa,’ but you had not taken shelter of Me, but of those whom you could see before you. Why then should I have come? I thought, Let them protect you.
“After that, you took shelter of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and after that, all the other kings. After all that, you tried to rescue yourself by holding tightly onto your cloth—with one hand up you were trying to hold onto your cloth. But I do not appear where śaraṇāgati is only partial. I do not descend in such circumstances. When, you raised both your hands and called to Me, taking absolute shelter of Me, then I came immediately.”
Unless we take absolute shelter, we cannot have any kind of remedy for our miseries. As long as we do not submit to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa sincerely, completely, we shall have to suffer the distress of this world. We are trying to earn money and maintain our worldly relations so that we might have happiness. Yet we can see the consequences of our attachment to non-eternal things—severe miseries. Even so, due to our ignorance, our misconception of self, we keep on trying for this ephemeral happiness. We have lost our money and we have lost our near and dear ones, but again we keep trying to get those things back again. If no human being is available, we acquire a dog, a cat, a parrot or whatever, and become attached to that. Again and again we try for the non-eternal because the root cause of our affliction is not eliminated. This root cause is our misconception of self and the ignorance of thinking that by getting material benefits we will be truly benefited. As long as we do not surrender to the Lord, we will never be able to attain the ultimate goal of life. The Kaṭhopaniṣad (2.23) mentions:

nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo
na medhayā na bahunā śrutena
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas
tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanuṁ svām

“God cannot be attained and realized by delivering lectures, by intellect, or by great erudition. The Supreme Lord will reveal His own eternal form only to a surrendered soul.”

And at the end of the Bhagavad-gītā (18.65-66) Kṛṣṇa has given His highest instruction to all conditioned souls of the world for their eternal welfare:

man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te
pratijāne priyo ’si me

“Devote your mind to Me. If it is difficult to devote your mind to Me, serve Me; engage your senses in My service. If this is also not possible, worship Me. If even that is not possible, take absolute shelter of Me. I promise you that you will surely get Me.”

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

“Relinquish all My previous spiritual instructions about dharma (the relative social-religious duties enjoined by the Vedas) and take absolute shelter of Me.”

The Bhagavad-gītā ends with śaraṇāgati, and that is where the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam begins. Without śaraṇāgati we cannot enter into the spiritual realm. So first we have to take shelter of Kṛṣṇa. When one becomes a person who is of Kṛṣṇa and does only things for the satisfaction of Krsna, then that is called bhakti. Hearing about His name, form, attributes and pastimes is completely transcendental. But first we have to take shelter of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. We have to know that “I am of Kṛṣṇa.” That knowledge will be given by a realized soul, a śuddha-bhakta, or sad-guru. For that reason we have to go to a realized soul who is established in the eternal nature of the soul. He knows that he belongs to Kṛṣṇa, and he is always serving Kṛṣṇa. If we submissively approach such realized souls, inquire humbly from them and serve them, then they can awaken the nature of our eternal self. For that reason śaraṇāgati is necessary. And we can get actual śaraṇāgati by submitting to a śaraṇāgata-bhakta.
Śaraṇāgati has six aspects that are described as follows:

ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ
rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāso
goptṛtve varaṇaṁ tathā
ṣaḍ-vidhā śaraṇāgatiḥ

“We should accept whatever is congenial for the service of Kṛṣṇa. We should give up what is unfavourable. He is the only protector, and nobody else can protect me. And He is the only sustainer and maintainer. We should take absolute shelter of Him. We should be humble and give up our mundane material ego. These are the six divisions of śaraṇāgati.”

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākur ends his song* about surrender, with the words, rūpa-sanātana-pade dante tṛṇa kôri, bhakativinoda paḓe duhũ pada dhôri, “With straw between my teeth I fall down at the feet of Śrī Śrī Rūpa and Sanātana.” The point is that we have to go to a śuddha bhakta, a realized soul. He will impart knowledge of śaraṇāgati to us. If we do not submit to him, the process of surrender will never become manifest in us.
What then should we pray to Kṛṣṇa for? We should pray to Kṛṣṇa for the service of His lotus feet and that of His devotees. That is the highest prospect. “Please, kindly bless me so that I can get the association of Your true devotee. If I get the association of Your true devotee, I shall get You. Please give me this sort of blessing. Unless and until I get the dust of the lotus feet of a śuddha bhakta, I will never develop my love for Kṛṣṇa.” That should be our prayer.

*Śrī Kṛṣṇa-Caitanya Prabhu Jīve Dayā Kôri’

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura

śrī kṛṣṇa-caitanya prabhu jīve dayā kôri’
sva-pārṣada svīya dhāma saha avatari’ (1)

Out of compassion for the living beings, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu descended in this world along with His personal associates and divine abode.

atyanta durlabha prema kôribāre dāna
śikhāya śaraṇāgati bhakatera prāṇa (2)

In order to bestow the extremely rare treasure of prema-bhakti, He taught śaraṇāgati, which is the life and soul of the devotees.

dainya, ātma-nivedana, goptṛtve varaṇa
‘avaśya rakṣibe kṛṣṇa’—viśvāsa-pālana (3)

Humility, submission of the self, acceptance of the Lord as one’s only maintainer, faith in Kṛṣṇa’s protection.…

bhakti-anukūla-mātra kāryera svīkāra
bhakti-pratikūla-bhāva varjanāṅgīkāra (4)

… acceptance of acts favourable for bhakti and rejection of that which is unfavourable.

ṣaḓ-aṅga śaraṇāgati hôibe ĵā̃hāra
tā̃hāra prārthanā śune śrī nanda-kumāra (5)

Whoever embodies each of these six facets of śaraṇāgati has their prayers heard by the son of Nanda Mahārāja.

rūpa-sanātana-pade dante tṛṇa kôri’
bhakativinoda paḓe duhũ pada dhôri’ (6)

With a straw between his teeth, Bhaktivinoda prostrates before Śrī Rūpa and Śrī Sanātana, embracing their lotus feet.

kā̃diyā kā̃diyā bôle—“āmi tô’ adhama
śikhāye śaraṇāgati karô he uttama” (7)

Weeping, he says, “I am the lowest of men! Kindly teach me unconditional surrender and make me an excellent Vaiṣṇava.”

―Śrīla Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja (Śuddhā bhakti)
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