Spiritual aspirants often face a dilemma between self-help and self-surrender. They are always confused as to how much one should exert oneself and how much one should surrender to God or a superior power. Sri Ramakrishna used to highlight the difference between the two using an example from daily life.
Supposing a cow is tied to a pole. It is allowed to graze. It eats grass whenever it is hungry. It can move about subject to certain limitations. The rope by which it is tied to the pole is the determining factor regarding the distance upto which it can go. In other words the rope virtually acts as the radius permitting the movement of the cow in a circle. If the cow wants to eat grass, it can do so within the circle created with the rope as the radius. But, it has to exert itself to satisfy its hunger. This is self-effort. It cannot expect the cowherd to pluck grass and feed it. But, once it exhausts the grass within the area which it is permitted to move about, it has to wait for the cowherd to release it and tie it at a different place. This dependence on the cowherd for release from the place where it is presently tied to and be tied to a new place to facilitate grazing, after exhausting all the remedies available to it is what is called self-surrender or dependence on God or divine grace.
Hence, spiritual aspirants should understand clearly the difference between self-effort and self-surrender. A proper understanding of this difference is very essential for progressing in spiritual life. Otherwise, one might wrongly assume an attitude of pseudo self-surrender and stop self-effort. One should understand that only at the end of self-effort, the grace of God operates.