The Meaning of Sacrifice / Yajña
Bhagavad Gita XVIII.65 / Part II
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
Yajña and the ‘gods’
“Perceiving one’s own life as a yajña marks also the culmination of attaining wisdom.” – Swami Muni Narayana Prasad
Chapter III in the Bhagavad Gita reveals the interconnection between yajña sacrifice and the gods. What are the ‘gods’? The Sanskrit word is ‘deva’ from the verb-root ‘div’ meaning ‘to shine’ — leading back into the concept of the One as luminous effulgence. The gods are portions of the creative forces of the One. Over the centuries, the gods have been personified to make these metaphysical principles accessible.
Bhagavad Gita III.11
May you cause the gods to be,
May they, the gods cause you to be,
Each other feeding, causing to be,
You shall reach the highest bliss.
Te deva bhavayantu vah
Sreyah param avapsyatha
The Sanskrit word bhava means state of being, existence, emotion, feeling, attitude; from the verb-root √bhu meaning to become, exist [J.Grimes dictionary].
J.A.B. van Buitenen translates the verse thus: “Give ye the gods being with it, and the gods shall give ye being. And thus giving each other being, ye shall attain the highest good.”
In his wonderful translation as dictionary, Winthrop Sargeant says in a footnote that bhavayate is sometimes translated as ‘may you cherish’, or ‘may you nourish’, but it is actually a causative form of the root √bhu, meaning ‘be’ and ‘exist’ — thus its literal meaning is “may you cause the gods to be.” Sargeant is intrigued by this insight provided by the root meaning and continues by saying, “The metaphysical inference is interesting. Man causes the gods to be, and in return the gods cause man to be. This is by no means the only place in religious literature where a mutual creation is hinted at — man creating god and god creating man.” Sargeant quotes from William James in ‘Essays on Faith and Morals’ the view that: the very idea of the invisible world may depend in part on “the personal response, which any of us may make…”
The gods 'indriya' are the sense organs
The Kashmir Shaivite Abhinavagupta’s interpretation of the gods in the verse is: “The word gods (devah) stands here for the function of the sense organs that possess a playful nature. In the shastras [teachings] dealing with the sacred texts, gods are known as Lords of the senses.“ The translator Boris Marjanovic gives another meaning of the root √div as ‘to play, to sport, to rejoice.’
The idea that the sense organs are conceptualized as gods is born out in the Sanskrit word ‘indriya’ which means sense organ and relates to the word Indra, who is the Vedic deity and king of heaven. The senses are instruments of perception. They are the communicators between the external temporal and the eternal immutable God-within us. The continual transmission and relay of signals to the brain from sense objects and back out into the appearances of solidity in the external, manifests, alters and re-evaluates the universe moment by non-existent moment.
Again from Marjanovic’s translation of Abhinavagupta’s Bhagavad Gita: The gods (the senses) are satisfied by our actions, meaning by “engaging in the enjoyments of the objects of the senses appropriate… Thus, continuous exchange of two contradictory experiences, i.e., gratification of the senses, which brings satisfaction, and Samadhi [Liberation from sense delusion], in which sense organs are reduced to one’s own Atman [Self], quickly bring the highest good…in which the distinction between these two experiences is eliminated.”
Swami Lakshmanjoo says this: “Deva does not mean gods; you have not to satisfy gods. Deva means kridanasila indriya vrittayah, your own organs, your own organs are gods… your own organs you should feed by these karmas (actions) by giving them good…everything.” And “…with awareness, you have to serve [the sense] organs. Give them whatever they need, and in return, they will push you back in God consciousness.”
Our senses are the relay stations, subtle transmitters of waveform signals to the brain. They are the miraculous mechanisms of communication between our consciousness and the external hologram. When we understand the sense organs as God’s power stations of Creativity that transmit the One’s desire to manifest, express, and experience Its awesome infinite potential of sheer Beingness — then those same sense organs, which once deceived us, will become entry points for our Liberation. As we become the ubiquitous One within, so we become One with everything, including the indriyas, the sense organs which have allowed the ‘play’ meaning the Divine Lila to unfold for us. Suddenly even a sip of water or the taste of honey becomes an entry point into God-Consciousness, or Parabhairava in Kashmir Shaivite terms.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.5.1:
“This earth is honey for all beings, and all beings are honey for this earth — and he who is in this, earth the effulgent, immortal Purusha and he who is within one’s being, in the body, the effulgent, immortal Purusha are indeed the same. He who is this Self, this Immortal, this Brahman, this All.” [translated by T.V. Kapali Sastry]
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad translates BhG.III.11, as: “By making use of this (yajña) you shall satisfy the gods; they will in return satisfy you. Satisfying one another, you shall attain the supreme good.”
Krishna teaches Arjuna that the One, as Prajapati [meaning the lord of becoming, the lord of creatures; from praja = creation and pati = lord] created mankind together with sacrifices yajña. “By this yajña may you bring forth; this shall be your wish fulfilling cow.” [BhG.III.10]
The Sanskrit word that has been translated as ‘wish fulfilling cow’, the Cow of Plenty, is ishta-kama-dhuk; the literal meaning is ‘granting desires’. We need not imagine that the people of that era believed there was such a real cow. The Mahabharata is in poetic form and poets, even enlightened sages and Seers of ancient times use metaphors to illustrate meaning. Ishta = wished, desired, liked, beloved, agreeable, cherished; kama = desire; and dhuk comes from the root √dhu, meaning shaking, trembling.
Thus the Lord of Creation, Prajapati, created mankind along with yajña — and just as the One sacrifices Its oneness for multiplicity, so does everything in Nature sacrifice to achieve and restore harmony and balance. Swami Muni Narayana Prasad says that both the known worlds and the unknown invisible-to-us worlds together form one life system. “The existence and happiness of each entity ensures the existence and happiness of all others.”
Perhaps when we live in a city we forget that Nature is constantly in motion, one plant or animal subsisting on another. A forest is rather like a large buffet, everything is essentially eating everything else. Real Mother Nature is not Walt Disney. Yes, she is Beauty, elegance and perfection, but her commitment to balance can be felt as vicious. The ocean is no different and the unending food chain continues, hidden beneath the waters, as the larger fish are forever eating the smaller, in every moment, on and on. We humans are just beginning to understand that our interference in the perfection of Nature has both deadly and perilous consequences. We don’t as yet understand our Mother!
Everything in this universe is interconnected and therefore, every sacrifice ensures the happiness of everyone. With the wisdom-knowledge that everything is consciousness, we can understand that all forms feel as Swami Muni Narayana Prasad says, a kind of cosmic “gratitude in ensuring the happiness of all that depend on them, thus making their own existence meaningful. Everything in the world is connected with happiness (ananda). …the existence and life of every individual transient entity, is an oblation offered into the sacrificial fire, the effort for actualizing ananda. Having become part of this yajña, the individual realizes the meaningfulness of being born.”
“Perceiving one’s own life as a yajña marks also the culmination of attaining wisdom.” – Swami Muni Narayana Prasad
The Woven Universe
The universe is woven by yajña. Every life form is interconnected to every other life form. Every temporal form is continually sacrificing its form of being for every other form. That is Its happiness, ananda. The mother sacrifices her body, so that her baby is born; while the father sacrifices his life in labour to provide for their children. The green grass is an offering to the cows that graze; while trees offer fruit, shelter and shade. Bees carry pollen to the hive queen, and ants tirelessly labour carrying enormous dead insects for food. Everything lives at the expense of some other living thing. Everyone takes and gives, living and dying, changing continually. Even mountains eventually become sand. Individuals over generations leave their imprints through their bloodlines, the DNA — and thereby pass on unrealized dreams and heartaches, joys and suffering to those who follow them. Nothing is lost.
In ways beyond our perception, the One is effortlessly weaving Its vast holographic landscape, a carpet of desires, countless dreams, creativity and hope into this, the Woven Universe. The Maori in New Zealand say: “Immanent in all creation is mauri – the life force which generates, regenerates and upholds creation. It is the bonding element that knits all the diverse elements within the Universal ‘Procession’ giving creation its unity in diversity. It is the bonding element that holds the fabric of the universe together.” [Rev. Maori Marsden]
Bhava - a state of ‘being’
Swami Muni Narayana Prasad: “Every activity, every pulsation, that takes place in nature, is an act, karma.” The bonding element is bhava in Sanskrit, the state of ‘being’ that Swami Lakshmanjoo says is “the state of Parabhairava which is found, is existing in the background of all these objective worlds and subjective worlds, everywhere.”
The symbolic sense of Vedic Ritual
The gods in the Rig Veda, which is the earliest Sanskrit text and said to be the source of all the other texts, are Agni, Surya, Varuna, Mitra, the Ashvin Twins, Sarasvati, Usha, Vayu, and Indra. While I do not agree with Sri Aurobindo’s theories of evolution, I do find his analysis of the Rig Veda compelling. He evaluates the Rig Veda from the inner esoteric perspective.
Sri Aurobindo understands the term yajña to be symbolic: “We find in the Gita the word yajña, sacrifice, used in a symbolic sense for all action, whether internal or external, that is consecrated to the gods or to the Supreme [the One]. …If these words could be interpreted symbolically, I [Sri Aurobindo] found that the progression of thought became more perfect, more luminous, more coherent…I felt therefore justified…in pursuing my hypothesis…the symbolic sense of the Vedic ritual.”
Aurobindo says that the gods in the external sense are the “universal powers of physical Nature personified; in any inner sense they must be universal powers of Nature in her subjective activities, Will, Mind, etc.” By the inner sacrifice to the gods, man can reach immortality. Agni for example represents the fire of the divine Will and Wisdom. Surya is not only the Sun as centre of our solar system, but [Surya] symbolizes “the superconscient Truth.” Usha is not merely a physical dawn, she is “of a luminous movement, vast with the Truth, supreme in (or in possession of) the Truth, bringing with her Svar [heaven].” RV.V.801. “The Dawn is the inner dawn which brings to man all the varied fullness of his widest being, force, consciousness, joy…” Aurobindo concludes that, “The sacrifice is the giving by man of what he possesses in his being to the higher or divine nature…the outer sacrifice itself can be nothing but the symbol of an inner giving.”
"...for he has Become their Self."
In my life of almost 70 years, I have seen over 30 UFOs and experienced six months of visions showing me the colonization of this planet Earth by an advanced civilization of extraterrestrials. While I can accept the idea that other civilizations have come to Earth, perhaps experimented with our DNA for their own purposes, and then even abandoned us to our own struggles, I can find no reason whatsoever to bow down and worship these beings. Neither can I accept the idea of bowing down and worshipping any being, even those temporal beings in the Myriad Realms — except the ubiquitous One that dwells within me and All.
This is my understanding from the verse in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I.iv.10: "And to this day, those who know the Self as I am Brahman [the One], become all this universe. Even the gods [any other dimensional beings] cannot prevent his becoming this, for he has Become their Self. If a man worships another deity thinking: He is one and I am another, he does not know."
It is my view that the priestcraft variety of sacrificial ritual, animal and human, was designed to take advantage of the desperate, confused and the gullible. In the west we have had similar ruses in the guise of indulgences; basically you pay the priest to nullify your sins, no matter how heinous and get you into heaven.
We are all portions of the One. The Oneness, Brahman, Parabhairava, the Presence, or whatever name pleases you — That One dwells within the Heart of us all. Who should demand that we bow down and worship them? No one but wicked arrogant tyrants would ever conceive of needing to be worshipped, and enjoying it.
If the youth in India are disenchanted and abandoning their sacred traditions it is because of the abuses in both this ritual priestcraft and the cruel unjust caste system that indeed justifies their disgust. This is exactly what the Buddha railed against around 500 BC — and Krishna himself in the Bhagavad Gita XVI.17, derides the hypocrisy of the wealthy self-conceited, selfish, proud and arrogant, who sacrifice with no understanding from sheer vanity.
As Swami Muni Narayana Prasad says, “…if you think those of demonic nature will not be interested in religion and spiritual matters, you are wrong. …often spending much money…desire for fame, for making themselves known as religious [and charitable] people.” And Swami Lakshmanjoo says that these hypocrites are rigid in their pride because they have so much money and “they know no boundaries with [their] money. Money is just rolling before those people. …O Arjuna, they actually, those people actually hate Me [the Truth of the One], and they hate those who are residing in My meditation.”
"Dead ritual became the end in itself.”
It is entirely possible that when the technologically advanced civilizations abandoned this planet, that those who remained began to mimic whatever highly practical ‘rituals’ their mentors tried to teach them – which were not rituals at all, but simply practical survival techniques. Doris Lessing suggests this in her Canopus in Argos series. Malati J. Shenge has also postulated a similar idea when she talks about the mythopoeisation of ancient Vedic history. I quote Malati J. Shendge’s insightful definition of how history is turned into myth and ritual is born: “When the events became symbolic and were ascribed magical powers to attain certain aims, the process of mythopoeisation was complete. History was forgotten and dead ritual became the end in itself.”
Truth got very lost.
I hope I have shed some light on these ideas regarding the meaning of yajña sacrifice. In closing, I offer you one of my favourite gems of wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita II.46 — Krishna says that the Vedas are of no more use to the enlightened than a well, when the entire land is flooded on every side!
We are the One. We don't need tyrants and priestcraft. Truth is within us all, waiting patiently, eternally. Tat Tvam Asi. Thou art That.
We Meet in the Heart,
V. Susan Ferguson
Lights on the Upanishads, with Sri Aurobindo Darshana, by T.V. Kapali Sastry; Sri Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture, Bangalore, 1947, 2004.
The Woven Universe, Selected Writings of Rev. Maori Marsden; Published by the Estate of Rev. Maori Marsden, 2003.
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The Gita for Modern Man, by Krishna Chaitanya; Clarion Books, Associated with Hind Pocket Books, New Delhi, 1986, 1992.
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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.
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Srimad Bhagavadgita-Rahasya, or Karma-Yoga-Shastra, by Bal Gangadhar Tilak; Eleventh Edition, Kesari Press, Pune, India, 1926, 2004.
'Canopus in Argos' by Doris Lessing; Alfred A. Knopf; more recent paperbacks published by Flamingo, Harper Collins Publishers, London: Shikasta (1979); The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980); The Sirian Experiments (1980); The Making of Representative for Planet 8 (1982); The Sentimental Agents of the Volyen Empire (1983).
The Civilized Demons: The Harappans in Rig Veda, Malati J. Shendge; Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1977.
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