Meaning of Sacrifice

My grandfather in India died at the ripe old age of 108. He devoted the last 48 years of his life to following a daily routine of meditating, praying and performing rituals. He would start his day with an early morning walk in a nearby public park. He carried a pouch containing bran. He would search for ant holes under the bushes and sprinkle a pinchful of bran around them, reciting a mantra.

I found this strange act quite amusing. I could not help asking him why he was doing it. Grandpa replied, “These ants are the tiniest creation of God. As a Hindu, it is my duty to take care of them.”

While returning home, Grandpa gave me a mini-discourse on the importance of helping and preserving nature and all living beings, including birds, animals and insects, for they are all created by God. People who destroy them for food or pleasure are ignorant, he asserted. This was also his reason for being a vegetarian. In retrospect, Grandpa sounded like an environmentalist or a modern-day animal-rights pacifist.

Later in life, when I studied Hinduism, I discovered that Grandpa was talking about the bhoota yajna, meaning sacrifice to creatures, one of the five daily obligations, called panch maha yajna, prescribed by Manu, the ancient Hindu law-giver.

The other four are: deva Yajna or sacrifice to God, brahma yajna, or sacrifice to the holy scriptures, pitri yajna or sacrifice to parents and ancestors, and purusa yajna or sacrifice to (other) people.

Deva yajna: The sacrifice to God is done in the form of devoting time to prayer, pooja (ritualistic offerings to God), meditation and other prescribed forms of worship.

Brahma yajna: It is the duty of every Hindu to study and spread the spiritual wisdom contained in the four Vedas, their holy scriptures. Since the Vedas are written in Sanskrit, impossible for the average Hindu to read, Hindus read various other sacred books or attend public discourses.

After the self-study, Hindus must pass on or propagate the knowledge they have acquired. Canadian Hindus discharge this obligation by sponsoring religious radio and TV programs or by organizing or financing public discourses by a holy man visiting from India. It is important to know that studying and spreading the sacred knowledge is not considered fruitful unless it is imbibed and applied in one’s own life.

Pitri yajna: 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 that parents, grandparents and other ancestors are worthy of profound reverence.

In Hindu families, the younger members are expected to display utmost courtesy and politeness toward their elders. 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 toward the dead ancestors by performing an annual ritual called shraddha, which literally means faith and devotion. This Annual Hindu ritual expresses gratitude to dead ancestors. Instead of following this ritual, some Hindus offer food to the needy and poor or donate money to their favourite charitable society in the memory of the deceased ancestors. Many Hindu Canadians follow the shraddha custom by delivering groceries to a local food bank.

Purusa yajna: The concept of selfless service to humankind is embodied in this obligation, which is discharged through the rendering of genuine hospitality to all guests or visitors, and by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. In modern times, Hindus give money or clothes to the destitute. Canadian Hindus meet this obligation by donating money to charities, volunteering time to community groups or delivering groceries to a food bank.

The object of these five daily duties prescribed to Hindus is to remind them every day that we are an integral part of the world around us, and that our prosperity and progress depend on the welfare of others, including birds and animals.

Book: Dharma, Karma and much more

Article: Ajit Adhopia