The Importance of Sacrificial Offerings

Krishna and Arjuna

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V


Summary: According to our scriptures, we are not totally at the mercy of gods. Brahma, the creator created a level playing field for both humans and gods by making them interdependent. The gods need you as much as you need them. If you ignore them you will harm yourself and harm them and harm the world. It means that when you ignore them you incur negative karma in three ways and greatly reduce your chances of a good life in the next birth. Besides it will take your straight into the hands of the Asuras (demons) and make you a slave to them. Evil grows in us and in the world when we neglect the gods who reside in us.

Previously we discussed the importance of sacrifices to gods (deva-yajna) and why they stand first in all Vedic sacrifices. Today, we will discuss the remaining four sacrifices according to their importance. As stated earlier, the importance is determined based upon how completely or partially the recipients of the sacrifices depend upon the human beings. Sacrifices to gods come first because gods depend upon us fully. Next in the order is the sacrifice to ancestors (pitra-yajna). They also depend upon us almost entirely for their nourishment. However, compared to gods, their dependence is less. According to the Vedic beliefs, those who perform good deeds but do not qualify for liberation go to the world of ancestors and stay there in their astral and casual bodies, until those bodies are exhausted and they return to the earth to take rebirth.

To survive in the ancestral world and keep their bodies intact, the beings need sacrificial food, for which they have to depend upon their descendants. If they are not nourished through ritual offerings, their astral bodies disintegrate and they will fall down upon earth and take rebirth prematurely. It means that those who fall down prematurely because of the negligence of their descendants do not have enough opportunity to prepare for their rebirth and find favorable wombs. In other words, their chances of taking birth in the same family become greatly reduced. Our karmic debt to the ancestors can be repaid only by means of sacrifices to them.

Third in the list is sacrifice to animals. The domestic animals depend upon us fully for food and fodder, while those which live in the forests need our help and protection to survive. Their dependence is partial because animals can still survive without our help. However, we have a duty to help the animals by nourishing them and protecting them because we also depend upon them for our own food and survival. The bad karma that arises from killing animals or the karmic debt we incur when we use their products and services can be repaid only through sacrifices to animals.

Sacrifice to humans means making offerings of food to guests who visit us, feeding the poor and the hungry who seek our help and protection, serving food to Brahmanas who are to be respected for their knowledge and intelligence, ascetics and wandering monks who are prohibited from cooking food for themselves, and students of Vedic studies who are expected to beg for food until they begin their householder duties. The dependence of humans upon humans is even less. Yet, helping other fellow humans is important to the order and regularity of the world and for our own salvation. We owe a lot of karmic debt to fellow human beings also, since a number of people play an important role in our lives and contribute to our happiness and Wellbeing, such as people who bring us up, who educate us, who help us in our duties, etc. We need to repay the karmic debt we owe to them through sacrifices to humans

Finally, the sacrifice to Brahman (brahma-yajna) has to be done entirely in our own interest and for the sake of our liberation, because Brahman does not depend us at all. He is complete and perfect, like the Zero which is neither diminished when something is deducted nor increases when something is added. We need to make offerings to Brahman, the Supreme Self, for our own good. Sacrifice to Brahman is done both ritually through sacrificial ceremonies and spiritually as the study of scriptures, prayers, internal rituals such as meditation, offering our actions to God, devotional services and serving the knowers of Brahman, (Brahmajnanis) and ascetics (sadhus).

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