The Yajna of Life

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What is the meaning and significance of yajna in our spiritual lives?

This is not a relevant question for now, but I will answer in brief. What is the relevance of anything in life? Anything and everything that is auspicious and beneficial, either for the body, the mind or the spirit, the environment or society, is relevant in life. More or less than that, the meaning of the word relevant changes. Anything that is auspicious and beneficial, not only for oneself but for others and for a greater purpose, becomes a part of our life, our thinking process, attitude, behaviour and understanding.

Yajna is the exoteric aspect of the process of change which you are developing internally. In order to encourage yajna, the yamas and niyamas of yoga are relevant. Mouna at mealtimes is relevant in an ashram. Yajna has no meaning if you do not adhere to the process involved in it. Mouna has no meaning if you do not adhere to it. Discipline has no meaning if you do not adhere to it. When you adhere to and go deep into these things, they have a meaning and everything is relevant. When you say, “This is irrelevant,” it means it does not apply to you at the present time.

The common meaning of yajna is a process of transformation. Yajna is not only a fire ceremony, it is also related to one's life. You should think of life as a yajna. You should see your life as a yajna. What is offered in a yajna? The right stuff, the pure stuff, the unadulterated stuff, whether it be grains, fruit, nuts or other different samagri that are offered. One of the prerequisites of a yajna is that everything should be pure and unadulterated. The outer ritual has no meaning if your thoughts, feelings and actions are adulterated. You can practise hundreds of fire ceremonies, but what is the purpose of it all if you are not aware of your basic nature and self?

Change comes from within

Society believes that things have to be done on the outside and not within. Everyone thinks that an external ritual is going to help them improve, but it cannot and it will not! We know that Ganges water is considered to be purificatory. If you fill a bottle with urine, plug it and put it in the Ganga, it can stay there for many years. When you reopen the bottle later, the urine will still be urine; it will not have purified. Similarly, our personality, mentality, attitudes and perceptions are all put inside a bottle and plugged. Nobody can change it, nobody should touch it – “I am me.” Then we expose ourselves to an external ritual and for some time we feel good, happy, wonderful, fantastic. Good vibes, good energy. But what does it mean? What did you gain from it? Positive vibrations don't mean anything until and unless they become a part of you. In order to make something that is beneficial and auspicious a part of you, you have to bring about a change from within.

It is not the yajna that is important, it is you. If your appreciation is intellectual, it has no meaning. For a person who is not a jeweller, a diamond is of no value, it is just a clear rock. You may say, “This is a diamond,” but you will not know how to differentiate between a diamond, a crystal and a piece of glass. In order to know the difference, you need to have some understanding of the quality and usefulness of these different items. Therefore, the important person is you, not the external ritual or the external discipline or the external event. The change has to come from within.

Trust in the process

If you are able to bring about that change, I will not need to answer any questions at all. If you are not able to appreciate your role in the development of your life, then there is no end to questions, and the answers you get will have no meaning for you; they will be just another event. “Ah, it was a good answer but what did it mean?” “Oh, he spoke very well but I don't know how to relate it to my life.” With this kind of mentality it is difficult to understand the spiritual dimension that governs each and every individual.

Different religions and philosophies tell us that there are some thoughts, actions and perceptions in life which act with the support, force, strength and energy of belief and trust, and that there are other things which are guided by the force of the intellect. Those events which are guided by the intellect are understandable and clear. But if you try to convert a process that is being directed, guided and motivated by trust and belief into intellectual understanding, you are going to mess it up because you don't have the ability to understand it.

Human beings tend to use the intellect in relation to external events, not to themselves personally. When it comes to yourself you say, “I feel,” “I believe,” but when it comes to something else, you say, “I want to know!” Why can't you say at that time, “I can experience”? Why do you have to say, “I want to know”? When it relates to yourself, you say, “I feel and my feeling is appropriate, my feeling is right, I know my feeling can't be wrong.” Can you justify that feeling through the intellect? No, you can't. Why? It is a conviction and that conviction, that belief and that trust is part of you. Knowledge is not part of you, it comes from outside. Some aspects of knowledge are uniformly distributed in every individual, but other forms of knowledge, which are not usually within the grasp of an individual, are not contained within; you have to search for it.

See life as a yajna

Become aware of yourself and see your life as a yajna, as an event of transformation that happens constantly and regularly, no matter what situation you are in. I have not come across a single situation that I can say is not a part of the yajna of life. Negativity is part of the yajna of life, happiness is part of the yajna of life, because they are the result of our actions, of the situations in which we find ourselves, how we perform, think and act. We are sick because we think we are sick, we are happy because we think we are happy and we are sad because we think we are sad. We put on these different masks and then we look at ourselves in the mirror every day wearing that mask. When we are happy, it is because of a sense of fulfilment, attainment and contentment. When we are distressed, it is because there is a lack of fulfilment and contentment.

Now what is fulfilment? Is it something definable that can be uniformly applied to everybody? No. Just as you cannot define fulfilment, so you cannot define yajna. You have to experience it, to feel it, to believe in it, because it is the fusion of your energy with the energy of the event that makes it a process of transformation. It not only applies to the yajna but to every situation in life.

Belief and action in harmony

One example is mouna in the ashram. Some people think that because their course is over and they are leaving soon, that they don't need to keep mouna any longer. You will be the loser because you are separating yourself from something which you see as an external discipline, but which is there to improve your nature and mind. If you believe in improving, follow the disciplines, and if you don't believe in improving, don't stay here. That is one example of what we believe in and how we act.

Similarly, a yajna is a process of believing and acting. When belief and action become harmonious, then life becomes a yajna where, in the fire of spirit, right actions, right thoughts, right speech and right behaviour are offered as oblations, and an inner, psychic, spiritual unfoldment and transformation takes place. So, rather than trying to discover the exoteric meaning, try to feel and understand the esoteric meaning that is being conveyed, then you will be the winner. This is the vision that yoga tries to give.

There will always be external differences. Where there are two pots there is bound to be noise. In the kitchen there is noise when you shift one pot, so when there are three hundred pots in one place there is bound to be noise. But each pot has to realize that it has a specific role to play. A spoon cannot fulfil the role of a cauldron and a cauldron cannot fulfil the role of a cup. The role is defined. Similarly, the role of every action and every thought in life is defined. You may not understand or appreciate it now, but if you think rationally, logically, intuitively, you will begin to see a link connecting the external you and the inner you.

Opening up leads to wisdom

It is becoming aware of that connection between the external you and the inner you that is the purpose not only of yoga but of the whole of life. Yogis have viewed every interaction in life as an event leading to greater realization, harmony and understanding. So, remember that you are the centre and if you open yourself up and don't keep yourself bottled up, just lost in imagination and fantasies of “this is beautiful and that is ugly,” “this is right and that is wrong,” then the eye of wisdom opens up. This eye of wisdom is awakened by opening ourselves.

It doesn't matter if a bottle is full of urine. If the cap is not on, after a few days in the Ganges river the urine will have gone and the bottle will be filled with Ganges water. But if the cap is on, then that closed bottle can lie on the river bed for thousands of years. The river may dry up but the stink in the bottle will remain. So, you have to decide if you want to be a closed bottle or an open bottle.

Ganga Darshan, January 24, 2000