The ancient Hindu sages realized that it was easy to believe in the lofty ideal of self-sacrifice, but it would be difficult for ordinary people to apply it in their daily lives. To help people practise self-sacrifice everyday, Manu, the ancient Hindu writer on ethics, prescribed five daily obligations, Panchmaha Yajna, for householders:
1. Brahma Yajna- Sacrifice to the holy scriptures
2. Deva yajna‑ Sacrifice to God
3. Pitri Yajna- Sacrifice to parents
4. Purusa Yajna- Sacrifice to people
5. Bhoota Yajna- Sacrifice to creatures
Before we describe each of the five daily obligations in detail, it must be emphasized that they have both external and internal application, and the medium for the external application may vary from region to region or from sect to sect.
Brahma Yajna: Sacrifice to the Holy Scriptures
Brahma is the name for God’s creative attribute. According to Hindu belief, when God created this world (in addition to material things to sustain life on this earth) he gave knowledge and spiritual wisdom to help people conduct their lives virtuously, and attain salvation; such divine knowledge is contained in the four Vedas. Therefore, it is the duty of every Hindu to study and teach the spiritual wisdom contained in their holy scriptures. Since Vedas are in pre-classic Sanskrit, it is impossible for the average person to read or comprehend them. On account of this practical difficulty, they read various other sacred books (e.g. Gita, Ramayana or Upanishads) which have been translated into many Indian and foreign languages, including English. Those who cannot read can listen to discourses given by other learned people, or have someone read it to them; usually, illiterate elders have their children or grandchildren read a holy book to them.
After the self-study, Hindus must pass on or propagate the knowledge they have acquired. However, many who do not have the skill or aptitude to do so, offer assistance in many practical ways to individuals and institutions that propagate the spiritual wisdom. For example, Canadian Hindus discharge this obligation by sponsoring a religious radio or TV program or organizing or financing a public discourse by a holy man visiting from India. Some Hindus hold a scripture reading session, called Paath, in their homes and invite friends and relatives to attend it. It is important to know that studying and spreading the sacred knowledge is not considered fruitful unless it is applied internally.
Dev Yagna: Sacrifice to God: The sacrifice to God is done in the form of a Hawan which has already been described in this chapter. In modern times, it is not possible to perform the Hawan every day since this is a time consuming exercise. Therefore, it has been replaced with other forms of worship and prayer.
Pitri Yagna: Sacrifice to Parents & Ancestors:
The word Pitri means parents and ancestors. After God, we owe our existence to our parents and ancestors. Our parents brought us into this world, nurtured us, gave us all necessities of life and education. Therefore, the Hindu scriptures say that the mother and father are worthy of reverence. The grandparents and other ancestors are also equally important as they created things which we now enjoy. In Hindu families, the younger members are expected to display utmost courtesy and politeness towards their elders. In traditional families, such reverence is externally expressed by touching their feet, an act which denotes utmost humility. This practice is no longer common among Hindu Canadians.
It is the moral obligation of Hindus to take care of their retired or disabled parents and grandparents; they must sacrifice to ensure that their elders’ physical and emotional needs are adequately met. In Hindu society, people who neglect their parents and elders are looked down upon. Hindus also express their gratitude towards the dead ancestors by performing an annual ritual called Shraddha which literally means faith and devotion. This tradition is a Thanksgiving day and Remembrance day combined into one. Each year, on the death anniversary of their parents or grandparents, divout Hindus invite a Brahmin (male or a female, depending on the gender of the deceased ancestor) to their homes for a feast. The invited guest is honoured as a substitute for their dead ancestor, and treated with specially prepared food, and gifts. Of course, the food and gifts given to the Brahmin guest do not reach the dead ancestor, but, this custom does give Hindus a formal opportunity to express their love and gratitude for the deceased ancestors. Some Hindus, instead of inviting a Brahmin guest, offer food to the needy and poor or donate money to their favorite charitable society in the memory of the deceased ancestor. Many Hindu Canadians follow the Shraddha custom by delivering groceries to their local food bank.
Purusa Yagna: Sacrifice to People
The concept of serving mankind is embodied in this obligation of sacrifice which is discharged through the rendering of genuine hospitality to all guests or visitors, and by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Hindus are known for treating even a casual visitor to their home with generosity. In the olden days, Hindu families offered food and shelter to wandering holy men whose presence was considered sanctifying. In modern times, Hindus give money or clothes to beggars and destitute. In Canada, Hindus meet this obligation by donating money to charities or delivering groceries to the nearest food bank.
Bhoota Yagna: Sacrifice to Creatures
The term Bhoota refers to all living beings besides humans. Since all living things are created by God, Hindus are duty bound to feed, protect and show consideration to members of the animal kingdom, especially those who are helpful to human beings. It means taking good care of farm and domestic animals or pets. Traditional Hindus, especially older people, discharge this duty daily by putting aside some food from their dinner plate before they start eating. The parted portion of the dinner is then fed to a domestic animal or put outside the house for birds or vagrant pets and animals. Many Hindus make donations to animal shelters run by charitable organizations.
The object of these five daily duties prescribed to Hindus is to remind them everyday that each individual is an integral part of the world around him, and his prosperity and progress depends on the welfare of others, including birds and animals.
Book: Hindus of Canada
Author: Ajit Adhopia