by Swami Krishnananda
In the middle of the fourth chapter of the Gita, certain instructions are given on the performance of different kinds of sacrifice, known as yajnas. The word 'yajna' is a very significant one throughout the Bhagavadgita, perhaps through most of the scriptures in India, indicating that the principle of life consists in sacrifice of some sort or the other. The philosophy of India may, in a way, be summed up by the word 'yajna' – sacrifice. Every moment of our life is a sacrifice that we perform in the direction of a higher fulfillment, and a sacrifice is therefore a gain and not a loss. In ordinary language we praise a person who has performed a sacrifice, thinking that sacrifice involves a sharing of one's joy with others, in a sense a sort of loss which one has voluntarily incurred for the welfare of other people. "Oh, what a sacrifice he has done," thus we ejaculate. This is our point of view – whenever we give something, we feel we lose something. Sacrifice, no doubt, means giving something, but it does not mean losing something. In giving, we do not lose. Give and it shall be given back hundredfold. It is difficult to understand the meaning of sacrifice, and a knowledge of it is absolutely necessary to understand the teachings of the Bhagavadgita. The whole of karma yoga, or any yoga for the matter of that, is centred round this principle governing all life and existence – the principle of yajna, sacrifice.
In the fourth chapter, indications are given of the possibility of performing different kinds of sacrifice. A purely philosophical and spiritual touch is given to this description of the different forms of sacrifice here, because the Bhagavadgita is pre-eminently a spiritual gospel, a gospel of all life, and thus very comprehensive in its treatment of the basic values of life. Dravyayajna, yogoyajna, tapoyajna, jnanayajna are some of the terms used in this connection. Without going into the verbal or linguistic meaning of these terms, and without confusing you too much with the academic interpretations of these enunciations of the forms of sacrifice, I can clinch the whole matter by bringing you back to the process of cosmology, evolution - a thing we can never afford to forget throughout our studies because the story of creation or the procession of the cosmological event also suggests acutely the position we occupy in this world, our status in this universe, without which we can do nothing correctly, nor can we know anything properly. Yajna – sacrifice – whatever be the form it may take, is a summoning of the higher power into one's own self, and a consequent surrender of the lower self for the higher dimension of one's own being, known as the superior Self.
It is also not easy to understand what this higher Self means; nor can we know what the lower self is. Though we may repeat these words again and again, and to some extent know their literal meanings, their practical suggestiveness is hard for the mind to grasp. The higher Self is not a spatially located, ascending series, but a more intensely inclusive and pervasive nature of our own self – something like the superiority of the waking consciousness over the dream consciousness. The waking mind is not kept over the dreaming mind, as one thing kept over another thing. The superiority, the transcendence of one thing over the other, or one thing being higher than the other, should not and does not suggest a spatial distance, but a logical superiority which is to be distinguished from spatial transcendence as someone sitting over another person's head. The cosmological scheme, to which we have made reference earlier, enlightens us into the fact that we as individuals or human beings are basically inseparable from the whole of creation, the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether; the five tanmatras: sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha; and the whole of space-time itself. We are not outside this large complex of the expanse of the universe. Though this may be the fact, this also seems to be the conclusion that we are driven to by a study of the cosmological process.
We, in our daily life, seem to be totally ignoring this fact; and by a complete violation of this principle, asserting our individuality, seem to be totally disconnected from everything else as if we have nothing to do with anybody else. We have various types of selfishness - attachment to one's own body is the grossest form of it, and it has subtler forms of egoism, such as psychological self-assertiveness. Attachment to anything that is connected to one's self also comes under the purview and the gamut of selfishness. Anything that would not accept the basic organic relations of one's self with what is external to one's self, should be considered as a form of selfishness, whatever be the height it has reached; it may be a national egoism, or even an international one, but it is nothing short of it. One cannot easily escape this predicament because of the perception of the world by the senses. The yajnas or the sacrifices mentioned here in the Bhagavadgita in the fourth chapter are, to some extent, gradational attempts on the part of the seeker to overcome selfishness and increase their dimension of one's self by attuning one's self to the larger Self, which is nothing but the establishment of an en rapport with a wider area of our relationship than the one to which we are limited at the present moment, due to our sensory outlook. Physically, psychologically, and even intellectually, we are somehow connected to other people and even the five elements, the tanmatras, the ahamkara, the mahat and the other things we have mentioned in the Samkhya cosmological scheme. So sacrifice, yajna, should therefore mean an inward transmutation of our consciousness in its apprehension of relationship with these layers or levels of cosmological descent and ascent; and there are, perhaps, as many types of sacrifice as we would recognise layers in the cosmological scheme. If we say there are infinite series, there can be infinite types of sacrifice. It depends upon our understanding of what the universe is and how the creation process has taken place.
Again, I wish to bring to your memories our earlier studies concerning the structure of our personality and its connection with the outer world – namely, that internal to the body we have other types of apparatus like the sense organs, the pranas, the mind and the intellect, which have a tendency to affirm the physical individuality of the person, and affirm also all the attachments and aversions consequent upon this affirmation in respect of the outer world of persons and things. So, one kind of yajna or sacrifice would imply self-control, a restraining of the movement of the senses of the mind and the intellect, because an unrestrained set of senses, uncontrolled mind, and unsubdued intellect would mean a personality that is engulfed in a desire for spatial contact with persons and things outside, while really, persons and things are not outside. The reason for self-control arises because of the fact that the usual perceptions of the senses are erroneous perceptions, because the senses have no other work to do than to din into our minds the externality of the world, the outsideness of things, and the isolation of our self from other people. There is a continuous brainwashing process going on in our relationship to the senses; and we have no other relationship in the world, unfortunately. We are totally sense-ridden, and the world that we live in is a sense world. Our thinking process and our intellection also is conditioned by the knowledge provided to us by means of sense perception. There is a total misfortune descended upon us, as it were, considering the state of affairs in which we are now – socially, physically and psychologically. Socially we are in a misfortune because of a wrong understanding of our connection with other people, and psychologically so, because of our dependence, inwardly also, upon what we know by means of the senses, which is erroneous. So, self-control, which includes sense-control, is also mind-control, intellect-control, reason-control – the total control of one's own self. The control of one's self is the essence of yoga. Here a word of explanation may be necessary as to what is meant by control of one's self. What do we do with ourselves when we try to restrain our selves? For that we may need to know what we are.
This again brings us to the point of the cosmological scheme. We can know, to some extent, what we are, by placing ourselves in the cosmological scheme, and we do not require instruction of any kind in this context, because the moment we know how we have come, we can also know where we are sitting. Our duties become explicit and perspicacious the moment we know our condition and the atmosphere in which we are living. The control of one's self – sense-restraint, self-control – is the restraint of consciousness, finally; it has little to do with our physical limbs. It is not tightening the legs, plugging the ears or closing the eyes physically speaking, because our joys and sorrows are the outcome of a movement of a consciousness in a particular way. Thoughts are joys and sorrows; so joys and sorrows are nothing but thought processes, which is another way of saying the whirling of consciousness in a particular manner. Our individualised consciousness, for the purpose of easy understanding – we may identify it with our mind in a more generalised sense – this individualised consciousness is the principle of the affirmation of individuality. The ego, the intellect, the reason, and what we think we are at the present moment – all these are inseparable from this type of activity of consciousness. Thus, self-control would mean a bringing back of the surging individual consciousness in the direction of external things, and enabling it to settle in its own self. This is the whole yoga of Patanjali, for instance, which summarises in two sutras – Yogah chitta vritti nirodhah; Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam: "The restraint of the mind is yoga, and then there is establishment of self in its own self." Here is the whole of yoga in two sentences.
Now, the establishment of consciousness in its own self is simultaneous with and inseparable from the restraint of consciousness from its movement in the direction of objects; and vice-versa - the restraint of consciousness in its movement in this form would be a movement in the other direction, for establishment in its own self. Every perception involves a degree of loss of self-consciousness. Whether we love a thing or hate a thing, we have lost ourselves in that measure and to that degree. An amount of ourselves, a quantum of our personality, moves out of itself towards that which we like or hate, and to that extent we are weakened. One who loves or hates is a weak person, because of the fact that some part of one's self is borne in the direction of that which is liked or hated. So to strengthen one's mind for the purpose of higher concentration, to free one's self from this weakness that has arisen on account of love and hatred, one has to bring the mind or consciousness back from that centre, which is the source of its like or dislike, and then there is a rejuvenation of ourselves. We feel an inner strength arising from a source unknown, due to the mere fact of our coming back to our own selves. Mostly, we are not in our own selves – we are other than what we are. This being other than what we are is the malady of life – we are always conscious of somebody else. There is no other work for us except to be aware that others are and to deal with others – with other people and other things. This so-called 'otherness' harasses us so much that we seem to be living in a world of destruction, death – mrityuloka as it is called – and nothing can be worse than this condition of ours. To be brooding over what is not there, and to be totally oblivious of what is there, seems to be the great business of this world. That things are not totally outside us is obliterated from our consciousness by the vehemence of this surge of ourselves in the direction of things. Yajna or sacrifice as yoga or self-control implies therefore an inner training, a sort of educational activity going on inside, enlightenment as it is, by which we become filled with strength with our inward bond with things – not as the senses tell us, but as things really stand.
The world of sense-perception is conditioned by space-time and the various categories of the psychological process; while the thing, the person, the being, the substance as it is in itself, is behind this curtain of space-time. Our real being also is behind this curtain of the psycho-physical individuality. Thus we are living in a phenomenal world, both subjectively and objectively. The thing-in-itself, as they say, the substance as such, eludes the grasp of this phenomenal process - thus no man can see God, and the intellect of man is not fit enough to contact reality. Unless we develop a mechanism within our own selves to go deeper into this large area of phenomenality – subjectively as well as objectively – the plumbing into one's own self is also the plumbing through space and time. Modern science says the inward, subjective, subatomic philosophy of quantum theory is identical with the spatio-temporal theory of relativity – Tat tvam asi: That is this and this is That. The inward depth is also the outward plumbing of the abyss of space and time. The deeper we go inwardly, simultaneously there is a going deep into the outer cosmos – and vice-versa, the plumbing into the cosmos objectively would also imply a going deep into one's own self. Knowledge of the self is the knowledge of the universe, and the knowledge of the universe is the knowledge of the self. Atman is Brahman.