The Importance of Sacrifice in Yoga

By Rudra Shivananda

Sacrifice or Yagna is a pivotal concept in the Sanatana Dharma. It is one that is not really explored much in popular treatments of yogic philosophy. However, sacrifice permeates all levels of spirituality.

In one of the creation myths, it is the sacrifice of the first being, Prajapati that gives rise to the rest of creation! In another myth, it is the sacrifice of Sati, the first wife of Lord Shiva which made possible the 51 shakti-piths or centers of the Divine Mother for the welfare of humanity – each of the piths has the essence of one part of her body.

VedasIn the ancient Vedas, sacrifice is the
primary means of attaining to the higher
realms and or achieving success in
this world. The priests would perform
the sacrifice on behalf of the sponsor,
who would usually be a king and like
a correctly performed science experiment,
the results desired would be fulfilled
by compelling the responsible deity to discharge his duties.

In the Bhagavad-gita, we find thatGita
instead of an externally performed sacrifice
by someone else, the emphasis is now on either an internal sacrifice or at the least action performed by oneself.

The definition of sacrifice now becomes selfless action, that is, any actions performed without regard to one’s own welfare but for the sake of others would be yagna. Thus the fire of yagna is fueled either by a sense of duty or compassion.

Whatever one’s circumstances, one has assumed certain duties whether voluntarily or by birth, and the selfless commission of one’s duties is as a sacrifice. If one does not have a specific duty towards another, but still chooses to act out of compassion, it is also a yagna.

The sacrificial act is self-less and consequently without karmic impact – this is very important, since if one completes a kind action for another, one would acquire good karma, but just as bad karma should be avoided, even good karma will bind us in the cycle of birth and death. It is only non-karmic acts that don’t bind us, and therefore
sacrifice is the essence of Karma Yoga.

The performance of sacrifice is connected with dispassion and non-attachment because only with non-attachment to the results of one’s actions can the yagna be perfect. All spiritual practices which lead towards Self-Realization are also considered
to be sacrifice. This is because the sadhana is not done with any material benefit in mind and to be able to achieve Self-Realization, there has to be a dispassion towards the results as well.

Therefore, the process of Yoga is an internal sacrifice which results in the state of Yoga or union with one’s true Self. It is the attainment of divine knowledge and wisdom which liberates one form the cycle of birth and death.

It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita:

Apaane juhvati praanam, praane’paanam tathaapare
Praanaapaana gati ruddhvaa praanaayaama

Those who practice yoga as a sacrifice by offering the inhaled breath into the exhaled breath and the exhaled breath into the inhaled breath, achieve the breathless super-conscious state.

It is this verse that emphasizes to all those who practice Kriya Yoga that their practice is the internal fire ceremony or sacrifice and it is the death of desires burned in the fire of breath that leads to the immortal spirit.

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