The Meaning of Sacrifice / Yajña
Bhagavad Gita XVIII.65 / Part I
Bhagavad Gita XVIII.65
Be devoted to Me [the One], fix your mind on Me,
To Me sacrificing, in reverence to Me,
Thou shalt come in Truth to me, to thee
I promise, as you are dear to Me.
manmana bhava madbhakto
madyaji mam namaskuru
mam evaishyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo ‘si me
The concept of sacrifice, yajña, is found in the ancient sacred Sanskrit texts, including the four Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. Today there are many Indian scholars who have come to conclusion that the original real meaning of yajña was symbolic, interior and esoteric — and not what came to be the practice of priestcraft ritual sacrifice.
Creation itself is the ultimate cosmic sacrifice. The universe as multiplicity is understood as the One sacrificing Its oneness into innumerable forms and consequently creating-manifesting the temporal realms. When we offer anything to the God-within us, we are in fact giving back to the One that which belongs to and is the One. My way of saying this has been that we may as well offer everything we think, feel and do to the God-within, because everything belongs to, or more properly said, is in fact the One.
The above verse is Krishna’s reminder to Arjuna to focus his mind and being on the God-within, the Oneness, Brahman, Parabhairava, the eternal luminous effulgence that pervades and permeates the All. Our lives here on earth, the planet herself, all appearances, objects, every temporal holographic effect, are the result of the sacrifice of the One into magnificent multiplicity. We are That. When we offer our thoughts and actions as a kind of sacrifice to the God-within us, we are merely giving back what has been given to us. We are returning the apparent temporal aspects of the Oneness back into the One!
We are the event, effect and result of the sacrifice made by the One of Its Oneness, Its wholeness transformed into form, into multiplicity — and we are Its mirrors. We each are a mirror for and back into our Source of a small aspect, a portion of Its infinite manifested Being. As the One Veiled in Time & Space, we perceive and enjoy the banquet of temporal multiplicity through Prakriti’s gunas and differentiated five-sense perception. Each of the five senses transmits signals to our brain from their sense-objects. These sense objects are formed of the same substratum effulgence as we are; and therefore, we are interconnected with them as everything is in the Oneness. These signals sent to our brain are interpreted differently by each of us, because over many life times each one of us has evolved complex variations in our gunas, the three modes or qualities of our being. Our individual receptivity and capacity for awareness therefore varies in what is often bewildering diversity.
The perceptions of our five-senses are comparable to food. What is perceived as being ‘out there’ in the temporal world is like food for the One. Yajña as the symbolic ritual act of offering food to the God-within is Truth, a perfect expression of ancient wisdom-knowledge. Krishna counsels his friend Arjuna to offer his own self to the One. Arjuna is an aspect of the One and thus his every thought, act and feeling have always truly been the One all along. By offering our daily lives, every moment to the One within, we are simply recognizing what has always been and always will be. We are That!
In the next verse, BhG.XVIII.66, Krishna urges Arjuna to abandon all duties, dharmas, and take refuge in the One alone! The Kashmir Shaivite, Abhinavagupta takes this to mean that we should give up any idea that we are the Doer. In the real sense we do not even exist as individuals, because in Truth we are the temporal forms of the One that are born and die, rising and falling like waves in the vast ocean of ethers.
The Kashmir Shaivite, Swami Lakshmanjoo translates verse 66 as:
“Leave all, surrender all acts, good and bad, to Me (sarva dharman parityajya)…because good actions are also bad, bad actions are also bad in this world. [Whenever] you do good actions, those also have a bad effect. [Whenever] you do bad actions, those also have a bad effect. Surrender all of these both actions to Me, and surrender everything in Me. I have taken responsibility to save you from all diseases of good and bad. This is a disease; this is an incurable disease.
“What is an incurable disease? Doing good actions and doing bad actions, or doing good actions and not doing bad actions. This is an incurable disease; this is just like a cancer disease.”
From his state of being Parabhairava, the One, Swami Lakshmanjoo has the fullness of all wisdom-knowledge to see, as only the true Seer does see, that only the One within does all acts. We are not the Doer and any other conception is a misconception, a disease that leads us back into Samsara, the endless cycles of death and birth. As long as we remain in ignorance under the delusion that we are the Doer, then our acts both good and bad continue to bind us in the temporal illusory hologram, trapped in endless self-created entanglements both good and bad.
Good deeds will get us to temporal heavens, but not liberate us from Samsara. Again and again we must return here to reach the final goal, the understanding that we are not the Doer, and we have never existed as separate from the One — ever. Our identification with our temporal holographic identity and our current data-collecting vehicle was merely another appearance, all of which arise out of and subside back into the oceanic waters, the eternal imperishable luminous effulgence of God-Consciousness. We are That!
In his commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad, Swami Muni Narayana Prasad says that “Perceiving one’s own life as a yajña marks the culmination of attaining wisdom.” We are not here to achieve anything lasting in the time-space illusory holographic universe. We are here as the Veiled temporal appearances of the One to enjoy the experience of limitation, eventually coming to the wisdom of realizing that everything indeed begins in pleasure and ends in pain and inevitably death. This is Truth.
There is nothing permanent in this realm, all is temporal and cyclical, rising and falling, emerging and dissolving forms. Our goal is not success in the temporal. Our goal is the Realisation that we have always been the Oneness beneath all appearances, beneath the curtain of each atom. The One has sacrificed Its Oneness into multiplicity and therefore without any attachment to results – because results are immaterial to our purpose - we offer our acts and deeds as sacrifice to the One, That which we are.
Bhagavad Gita III.9
Other than actions for the purpose of sacrifice,
This world is bound by actions, deeds.
That purpose and aim, Arjuna, actions
Released from attachment perform!
yajñarthat karmano ‘nyatra
loko ’yam karmabandhanah
tadartham karma kaunteya
When we perform any act or deed without attachment to the results, in other words when we are not emotionally invested in the winning or losing results of our action, we are in a state of consciousness that induces and allows us to enter into our Real nature, the One. Such actions performed without attachment do not bind us in the cause-and-effect webs of the external hologram. They do not catch us, entrap and draw us into further attachment. Those acts in which we fix the idea that we are the Doer bind us, pulling our consciousness into deeper states of delusion and bondage.
Non-attachment means not caring for the results, not desiring the fruits of our actions. Realising that we do nothing, meaning we are not the Doer — in fact we are merely a temporal appearance of the One — so we are content in the understanding that there is nothing to be gotten, nothing to be possessed by our acts. Desiring the fruits of our deeds is ignorance. Fruit rots. Gaining the wisdom of our origin and Source is the goal to be reached, not the external illusory stuff.
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad: “When one becomes aware of the truth that it is all part of Prakriti [the Matrix], one feels like offering back to Prakriti what one considered one’s own. Once that happens, every moment of one’s life and all one’s karma are experienced as a sort of oblation at the sacrificial fire of Prakriti. Such is the symbolic significance of the yajña…”
Rather like the infinity ∞ symbol, energy in perpetual motion rolling back and forth from the un-manifest into the manifest and back again, we give, offer into, an eternal return as the symbolic sacrifice what was never ours, but always us, back to the Source that created it. God sacrifices Its Oneness for us — and we sacrifice our deluded individual ego back into that One, world without end.
The perspective of scholar and polymath K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya is that the Wisdom-Knowledge Krishna imparts to Arjuna is to be used for the well being of the world, the loka-samgraha. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is counselling Arjuna to kill the tyrant bad guys in an internecine war, which eventually ushers in the Kali Yuga. In his illuminating book “The Betrayal of Krishna” K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya says that the world of men suffers bondage from all action save that which is yajña, which he defines as sacrificial in the sense of altruism. We are encouraged to perform altruistic acts, in harmony with the eternal Righteousness, the Sanatana Dharma, and free from narrowly personal attachment.
K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya: “Why is the altruistic action liberating and elevating? The encapsulated self is always an impoverished self. Its satisfaction when its trivial desires are fulfilled does not have the quality of pure happiness; its pain when desires are frustrated, does not have the nobility of the tragic, which always changes by a strange alchemy into reconciliation, even euphoria, even if it be in a most intimate chamber theatre of the lone self. The altruistic self expands its ego boundaries to be coextensive with the world…the teleology inherent in the ecological harmony of the world where every component functions to conserve the whole.”
K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya makes the word sacrifice into sacramental, thereby implying that whatever we do without personal ego and in the sense of altruism, working for the well being of the world, becomes sacred by intention. “Man has to make the first sacramental offering of knowledge (buddhi yoga, jñana yoga) for unitive understanding. …In the wake of the sacramental offering of understanding, comes the sacramental offering of action.”
K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya: What “initiated the great discourse [the Bhagavad Gita] was Arjuna’s renunciation of action because he felt, or rationalized his collapse of morale to argue, that fighting the battle would be a sin.” Arjuna cannot face killing his own kin [Duryodhana and the Kauravas] and his beloved respected mentors [Bhishma and Drona], so in the midst of two massive armies assembled on both sides of the battlefield, Arjuna has sunk onto the floor of his chariot in depression while Krishna explains to him why he should fight. Thus we understand that Krishna is not extolling Arjuna to renounce the world, shave his head, go off into the forest and become a wandering monk! The gritty metaphysical issue is not the fight, but rather our state of consciousness.
K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya says that action becomes sin when it violates the whole law, meaning the order of an environment. “As deity’s design unfolding, the world is a sacred environment. It can be sustained only by work and since there are many who oppose that design, those who choose freely to align themselves with it, have often to undertake disagreeable actions, akushalam karma (XVIII.10) to resist the former.”
Bhagavad Gita XVIII.10: The man who has cut away doubt, who is wise and intelligent, has abandoned (tyaga) attachment, and so does not hate inauspicious disagreeable action, nor does he cling to auspicious agreeable action.
This is not mere indifference. This abandonment, tyaga is a profound giving-up, reached in the ultimate wisdom-knowledge that we are not the Doer. Thus it becomes obvious that our best course is to align our acts in harmony with and to the God-within, the same luminous effulgence, the One that is ubiquitous, pervading and permeating All.
Spontaneous and natural behaviour
K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya translates XVIII.9 as: “The world of men suffers bondage from all action save that which is done as yajña, sacrificial, altruistic act. Perform action to that end, free from (narrow) attachment.” K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya feels that there is an interaction between men, the order of the world and an anterior or transcendental order. The evolved person “constantly works for the well-being of the world, not because this is a duty imposed on him, but because this is the spontaneous and natural behaviour of the man who has gained true knowledge of reality where every entity and process work for the totality.”
K.K. Nair/Krishna Chaitanya translates Bhagavad Gita III.16-19 as, “He who does not work here in this world to help turn the wheel thus revolving leads a sinful life, rioting in the senses; he lives in vain. But he who rejoices in the Self, and is content only with the Self, for him verily there is nothing that has to be done (as obligatory duty or for need-gratification). For him there is no stake in this world in anything done, nor in anything not done; nor is there for him any dependence in respect of anything obtainable from any being. Therefore perform ever the action that needs to be done, without attachment. For by performing action without attachment, one attains the supreme state [param].”
The Sanskrit term loka-samgraha means the maintenance and well being of the world. In III.20, Krishna uses this loka-samgraha to urge Arjuna to act for the purpose of holding the world together. Kashmir Shaivite Swami Lakshmanjoo’s interpretation is that the enlightened master, who is “resting in the Parabhairava state” has nothing to do in this world. “Whatever he does, he does for the sake of play, for the sake of just play. He has no particular thing to be done. Whatever was to be done, he has done that. He has conquered the whole universe.”
The enlightened one is not dependent on anything in this world, but Swami Lakshmanjoo says that even though there is nothing that has to be done, the enlightened “should do, still you should do action. You must not mislead those who are ignorant. …So, it is for the sake of the world, not for him.” The ignorant will naturally do what the best men do, so he must set a standard [III.21] — lokas tad anuvartate, meaning the world follows this.
Making the ordinary sacred
The actions of an enlightened being become yajña, sacrificial in the sense of making the ordinary sacred. For the well being of the world, the loka-samgraham, we offer our deeds into the Source of all. Krishna is not advising Arjuna to reject his warrior dharma, abandon the battle and his grand wizard weapons, renounce the world and leave for the forest as a monk and beggar. No, not at all. Krishna says [BhG.II.17-21] that this universe is pervaded by that which is indestructible, and what “ends of this unending embodied, indestructible, and immeasurable being is just its bodies — therefore fight, (Arjuna) Bharata!” [translated by J.A.B. van Buitenen].
The conflict between renunciation and action has long been a factor in the ever-evolving changing schools in India. The freedom fighter and scholar, B.G. Tilak had time to study and consider these matters in his Gita Rahasya, which he wrote in a British prison. It may seem obvious, but permit me to suggest that Tilak was wrestling with the same questions as Arjuna. Should good Indians turn the other check to their conquerors, the British, renounce any acts of violence, and simply retire to the forest as Sannyasa monks, or should they revolt against their oppressors and fight as true Kshatriya warriors.
Doctrine-supporting ‘stretchings’ and mutilations
Seeking support from the ancient Sanskrit texts, B.G. Tilak found his answer in the Isha Upanishad. Studying the various commentaries on the Upanishads, he began to notice as I have and I’m sure other have also, that regardless of their intellectual brilliance, the various commentators tend to support the doctrines of their own schools. Even though all the Upanishads do not support the life of Sannyasa and renunciation of life, as Tilak says “the doctrine-supporting commentaries on the Upanishads do not show these differences, and they usually say that all the Upanishads support only one Path — and that too principally the Sannyasa Path. …these commentators have had to stretch and mutilate some hymns in the Upanishads, as has been done by them in the matter of some stanzas in the Gita.”
This habit of stretching and mutilating specific verses in the sacred Sanskrit texts to fit and support the doctrines and views of the commentators has also been a large part of the reason why the Rig Veda was initially so absurdly translated by western scholars with their own doctrinal agendas. We humans tend to want whatever we see as truth, accepted by everyone. Or as the song says, “A man hears what he wants to hears, and soon ignores the rest.” Dare I say that all these doctrine-supporting ‘stretchings’ and mutilations have continued to obfuscate the wisdom in the Sanskrit texts as humankind descends further into the Kali Yuga.
B.G. Tilak found his answer in the Isha Upanishad, which says that the best way is the union, the simultaneous possession and mastery of both wisdom-knowledge (jñana) and actions (karma). The 9th verse says “Persons who devote themselves only to avidya [ignorance, karma & rituals] enter darkness, and those who are steeped merely in vidya or the Knowledge of Brahman enter a still deeper darkness.” In other words, there is a necessity for the union of both, deeds performed with wisdom-knowledge.
B.G. Tilak: “Carrying on properly the affairs of the mortal world, or going through these affairs is called loka-samgraha in the Gita. It is true that obtaining Release [Moksha] is the duty of every man; yet, it is also essential that he should simultaneously bring about universal welfare (loka-samgraha)…the Gita is consistent with the Upanishads.”
Krishna says it clearly in the Bhagavad Gita III.5-8: No one can for a single moment remain without performing action. Those who do nothing while their mind is remembering sense objects, are hypocrites! But he who acts without attachment is superior, for action is indeed better than non-action.
The secret is as always in consciousness, meaning what is the state of our consciousness when we think, feel and do anything? Are we aware of our union (yoga) with the God-within, the One, the imperishable luminous effulgence, beneath the curtain of appearances, that which creates and sustains all universes, you and me. If so, then our every act becomes sacred, a sacrificial give and take, an exchange, and simultaneously an entry point into Union with our own Source, the Beloved, whose magnificence is beyond all words to describe.
Bhagavad Gita, In the Light of Kashmir Shaivism, with original video, Revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo, Edited by John Hughes, Co-editors Viresh Hughes and Denise Hughes; Universal Shaiva Fellowship, 2013.
The Gita for Modern Man, by Krishna Chaitanya; Clarion Books, Associated with Hind Pocket Books, New Delhi, 1986, 1992.
KRISHNA CHAITANYA, A Profile and Selected Papers; Edited by Suguna Ramachandra; Konark Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 1991.
The Betrayal of Krishna, Vicissitudes of a Great Myth, Krishna Chaitanya; Clarion Books, New Delhi, 1991.
Life’s Pilgrimage Through The Gita, by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad; D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2005, 2008.
The Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata, A Bilingual Edition, translated by J.A.B. van Buitenen; The University of Chicago Press, 1981.
The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Winthrop Sargeant; State University of New York Press, 1994.
Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Gitartha Samgraha, translated by Boris Marjanovic.
Srimad Bhagavadgita-Rahasya, or Karma-Yoga-Shastra, by Bal Gangadhar Tilak; Eleventh Edition, Kesari Press, Pune, India, 1926, 2004.
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