The Significance of Sacrifice (Yajna)

THE GITA’S theory of sacrifice is stated in two separate passages; one we find in the third chapter, another in the fourth; the first gives it in language which might, taken by itself, seem to be speaking only of the ceremonial sacrifice; the second interpreting that into the sense of a large philosophical symbolism, transforms at once its whole significance and raises it to a plane of high psychological and spiritual truth.

Ceremonial Sacrifice ( Agnihotra, Hawan or Yahna )

“With sacrifice the Lord of creatures of old created creatures and said, By this shall you bring forth (fruits or offspring), let this be your milker of desires. Foster by this the gods and let the gods foster you; fostering each other, you shall attain to the supreme good. Fostered by sacrifice the gods shall give you desired enjoyments; who enjoys their given enjoyments and has not given to them, he is a thief. The good who eat what is left from the sacrifice, are released from all sin; but evil are they and enjoy sin who cook (the food) for their own sake. From food creatures come into being, from rain is the birth of food, from sacrifice comes into being the rain, sacrifice is born of work; work know to be born of Brahman, Brahman is born of the Immutable; therefore is the all-pervading Brahman established in the sacrifice. He who follows not here the wheel thus set in movement, evil is his being, sensual is his delight, in vain, O Partha, that man lives.”

Having thus stated the necessity of sacrifice,—we shall see hereafter in what sense we may understand a passage which seems at first sight to convey only a traditional theory of ritualism and the necessity of the ceremonial offering,—Krishna proceeds tostate the superiority of the spiritual man to works.

“But the man whose delight is in the Self and who is satisfied with the enjoyment of the Self and in the Self he is content, for him there exists no work that needs to be done. He has no object here to be gained by action done and none to be gained by action undone; he has no dependence on all these existences for any object to be gained.”

Here then are the two ideals, Vedist and Vedantist, standing as if in all their sharp original separation and opposition, on one side the active ideal of acquiring enjoyments here and the highest good beyond by sacrifice and the mutual dependence of the human being and the divine powers and on the other, facingit, the austerer ideal of the liberated man who, independent in the Spirit, has nothing to do with enjoyment or works or the human or the divine worlds, but exists only in the peace of the supreme Self, joys only in the calm joy of the Brahman. The nextverses create a ground for the reconciliation between the two extremes; the secret is not inaction as soon as one turns towards the higher truth, but desireless action both before and after it is reached. The liberated man has nothing to gain by action, but nothing also to gain by inaction, and it is not at all for any personal object that he has to make his choice. “Therefore without attachment perform ever the work that is to be done (done for the sake of the world, lokasan˙ graha, as is made clear immediately afterward); for by doing work without attachment man attains to the highest. For it was even by works that Janaka and the rest attained to perfection.” It is true that works and sacrifice are a means of arriving at the highest good, “shreyah param avaapsyatha”; but there are three kinds of works, that done without sacrifice for personal enjoyment which is entirely selfish and egoistic and misses the true law and aim and utility of life, “mogham paartha sa jeevati”, that done with desire, but with sacrifice and the enjoyment only as a result of sacrifice and therefore to that extent consecrated and sanctified, and that done without desire or attachment of any kind. It is the last which brings the soul of man to the highest, param aapnoti purushah.

The whole sense and drift of this teaching turns upon the interpretation we are to give to the important words, yajna, karma, brahma, sacrifice, work, Brahman. If the sacrifice is simply the Vedic sacrifice, if the work from which it is born is the Vedic rule of works and if the brahman from which the work itself is born is the shabdabrahman in the sense only of the letter of the Veda, then all the positions of the Vedist dogma are conceded and there is nothing more. Ceremonial sacrifice is the right means of gaining children, wealth, enjoyment; by ceremonial sacrifice rain is brought down from heaven and the prosperity and continuity of the race assured; life is a continual transaction between the gods and men in which man offers ceremonialgifts to the gods from the gifts they have bestowed on him and in return is enriched, protected, fostered. Therefore all human works have to be accompanied and turned into a sacrament by ceremonial sacrifice and ritualistic worship; work not so dedicated is accursed, enjoyment without previous ceremonial sacrifice and ritual consecration is a sin. Even salvation, even the highest good is to be gained by ceremonial sacrifice. It must never be abandoned. Even the seeker of liberation has to continue to do ceremonial sacrifice, although without attachment; it is by ceremonial sacrifice and ritualistic works done without attachment that men of the type of Janaka attained to spiritual perfection and liberation.

Obviously, this cannot be the meaning of the Gita, for it would be in contradiction with all the rest of the book. Even in the passage itself, without the illumining interpretation afterwards given to it in the fourth chapter, we have already an indication of a wider sense where it is said that sacrifice is born from work, work from brahman, brahman from the Akshara, and therefore the all-pervading brahman, sarvagatam˙ brahma,is established in the sacrifice. The connecting logic of the “therefore” and the repetition of the word brahma are significant; for it shows clearly that the brahman from which all work is born has to be understood with an eye not so much to the current Vedic teaching in which it means the Veda as to a symbolical sense in which the creativeWord is identical with the all-pervading Brahman, the Eternal, the one Self present in all existences, sarvabhuteshu, and present in all theworkings of existence. The Veda is the knowledge of the Divine, the Eternal,—“I am He who is to be known in all the books of the Knowledge,” vedais cha vedyah, Krishna will say in a subsequent chapter; but it is the knowledge of him in the workings of Prakriti, in the workings of the three gunas, first qualities or modes of Nature, traigunyavishayaa vedaah. This Brahman or Divine in the workings of Nature is born, as we may say, out of the Akshara, the immutable Purusha, the Self who stands above all the modes or qualities or workings of Nature, nistraigunya. The Brahman is one but self-displayed intwo aspects, the immutable Being and the creator and originator of works in the mutable becoming, atman, sarvabhutani; it is the immobile omnipresent Soul of things and it is the spiritual principle of the mobile working of things, Purusha poised inhimself and Purusha active in Prakriti; it is aks.ara and ks.ara. In both of these aspects the Divine Being, Purushottama, manifests himself in the universe; the immutable above all qualities is His poise of peace, self-possession, equality, samam˙ brahma; from that proceeds His manifestation in the qualities of Prakriti and their universal workings; from the Purusha in Prakriti, from this Brahman with qualities, proceed all the worksof the universal energy, Karma, in man and in all existences; from that work proceeds the principle of sacrifice. Even the material interchange between gods and men proceeds upon this principle, as typified in the dependence of rain and its product food on this working and on them the physical birth of creatures. For all the working of Prakriti is in its true nature a sacrifice, yajna, with the Divine Being as the enjoyer of all energisms and works and sacrifice and the great Lord of all existences, bhoktaram yajnatapasam sarvaloka-maheshvaram, and to know this Divine all-pervading and established in sacrifice, sarvagatam yajne pratisthitam, is the true, the Vedic knowledge.

1  That this is the right interpretation results also from the opening of the eighth chapter where the universal principles are enumerated, akshara (brahma), svabhaava, karma, kshara bhaava, purusha, adhiyajna. Akshara is the immutable Brahman, spirit or self, Atman; swabhava is the principle of the self, adhyatma, operative as the original nature of the being, “own way of becoming”, and this proceeds out of the self, the Akshara; Karma proceeds from that and is the creative movement, visarga,which brings all natural beings and all changing subjective and objective shapes of being into existence; the result of Karma therefore is all this mutable becoming, the changes of nature developed out of the original self-nature, kshara bhaava out of svabhaava; Purusha is the soul, the divine element in the becoming, adhidaivata, bywhose presence the workings of Karma become a sacrifice, yajna, to the Divine within; adhiyajna is this secret Divine who receives the sacrifice.


Chandan Priyadarshi

Chandan Priyadarshi

A student of Spirituality from the ancient city of Nalanda, a Vedantic by faith, an independent philosopher and wanna be philanthropreneur by interest just trying to explore the subtle world of Ancient Philosophy with reference to Modern Science. Having an immense ineterest in Ancient Indian and Vedic Philosophy, Philology, Lexicography, Comparative Religion, Comparative Philosophy, Oriental and Occidental Philosophy, Astrophysics and Astronomy, Ancient and Modern History, Parapsychology, just want to project an integral and synthesized approach of Ancient Philosophy and Modern science to world.

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