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What Are the Kinds of Sacrifice for Spiritual Growth?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

श्रोत्रादीनीन्द्रियाण्यन्ये संयमाग्निषु जुह्वति |

शब्दादीन्विषयानन्य इन्द्रियाग्निषु जुह्वति || 4.26||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 26

Others offer hearing and other senses in the sacrificial fire of restraint. Still others offer sound and other objects of the senses as sacrifice in the fire of the senses.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 26 (English Translation)

Fire changes the nature of anything that is offered to it. In the Vedic sacrifice rituals, fire physically consumes everything offered to it. In the internal process of spiritualism, fire is symbolic and it burns the desires of senses through self discipline.

Here, shree Krishna tries to differentiate between two diametrically opposite paths to spiritual advancement. There is one path of negation of senses, which is followed by the practitioners of hatha yoga. In this type of Yajna (sacrifice), the the actions of the senses are suspended except for bare minimum maintenance of the body. The mind is completely withdrawn from the senses by the will power.

In contrast in the bhakti yoga, the practitioners perform a different type of yagna, where the senses are made to see and appreciate the glory of the Creator that manifests in every particle of the creation. Here the senses are no longer instruments for the material enjoyment. They are trained to see God in everything.

What is the Connection Between Sacrifice and Self-Control?

सर्वाणीन्द्रियकर्माणि प्राणकर्माणि चापरे |

आत्मसंयमयोगाग्नौ जुह्वति ज्ञानदीपिते || 4.27||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 27

Some, inspired by knowledge, offer the functions of all their senses and their life energy in the fire of the controlled mind.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 27 (English Translation)

All of the activities of your mind, body, and senses are metaphorically offered into the fire of self-control. Self-control means you deliberately choose to follow dharma instead of being driven by raga-dvesha. Self-control is using your will to turn away the compulsion of raga-dvesha using your willpower and instead to follow dharma. In this way, all of your activities are offered into the fire of self-control. We are bringing our Vedantic perspective to bear on all of our activities throughout the day.

Everything we do throughout each day has both good and bad consequences. If we exercise self-control to resist raga-dvesha and use willpower, we can direct our lives to one of spiritual growth. 

All activities of our senses and prana are all offered into the fire of self-control. If you are truly committed to spiritual growth, your spiritual practice is not merely what you do when you engage in spiritual practice—it extends throughout the day in everything you do. As we know, karma yoga is a method of converting ordinary tasks into a form of spiritual practice. By doing this, you become a full-time spiritual aspirant.

What Are Examples of Yajna (Sacrifice) in the Context of Spiritual Growth?

द्रव्ययज्ञास्तपोयज्ञा योगयज्ञास्तथापरे |

स्वाध्यायज्ञानयज्ञाश्च यतय: संशितव्रता: || 4.28||

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 28

Those who sacrifice oblations or austerities, others who sacrifice through yoga, and those who sacrifice through knowledge and study, those aspirants are intensely committed.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 28 (English Translation)

If you offer your time or charity to a human being, you are also offering to Ishvara. Others sacrifice through spiritual practice such as fasting. Fasting is a form of spiritual practice that causes suffering and weakens the power of raga-dvesha. It is considered a form of offering because the suffering you undergo is dedicated to spiritual growth, which leads you closer to Ishvara. It’s being done as a form of prayer. 

Yoga is another offering as a form of meditation. Those who perform meditation sacrifice worldly involvements and instead focus within. Others perform the sacrifice of spiritual study. Finally, another type of offering is the sacrifice of knowledge which can be performed by teaching. 

All of these spiritual practices are forms of sacrifice. This means setting aside other things that you could do and dedicating yourself instead to sadhana. 

One who strives for spiritual growth is a yati. Those who are committed to a life of spiritual growth are purified of raga-dvesha.

अपाने जुह्वति प्राणं प्राणेऽपानं तथापरे |

प्राणापानगती रुद्ध्वा प्राणायामपरायणा: || 4.29||

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 29

Some offer inhalation into the exhalation, others offer exhalation into the inhalation. Controlling the flow of inhalation and exhalation, their focus is breath control.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 29 (English Translation)

Yoga doesn’t only include the practice of postures (asanas), but it also includes breathing techniques (pranayama). There is a mechanical practice of pranayama, but we can also look at it through the lens of Vedanta. When you inhale, that breath is offered to the divinity within; similarly, when you exhale, that divinity is offered to the external divinity.

Every breath is a prayer.

अपरे नियताहारा: प्राणान्प्राणेषु जुह्वति |

सर्वेऽप्येते यज्ञविदो यज्ञक्षपितकल्मषा: || 4.30||

Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 30

Others control their eating, offering vital forces into the vital forces. All of them understand sacrifice and through sacrifice are freed from sin.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 30 (English Translation)

Those who control what they eat offer the food’s prana into the prana within your body. Controlling eating does not refer to diet, but since we offer what we eat to the divinity, we should be selective about what we consume, not as a matter of diet but as a matter of spiritual practice. Whatever you eat is being offered to the divinity within, so we should be selective about choosing healthy foods.

Anything you consume and your activities are converted into a spiritual practice with this attitude of sacrifice (yajna). The most basic way of understanding the sacrifice of worldly pleasures for the sake of spiritual growth. This is how we convert our lives from being engaged in worldly activities driven by raga-dvesha to a life of spiritual growth. 

All people who have an attitude of sacrifice towards life have their sins removed. These sins are acts driven by raga-dvesha. Setting aside mere worldly pleasures for the sake of spiritual growth. Through this practice, raga-dvesha are overcome and removed. When you are free from raga-dvesha, you have overcome the most significant impediment to gaining enlightenment. If you are not free from raga-dvesha, attaining enlightenment is impossible.

What the Gita Teaches Us

There are many forms of yajna (sacrifice) in the context of spiritual growth, including yoga, teaching, eating, and more. While these are a few examples, in truth, anything we consume with the senses can be regarded as a dedication to the inner divinity in our question for spiritual growth. This is why it is crucial to be cautious and selective of what we decide to consume with the senses.