Yajna

Vedic and tantric yajnas

Yajnas are always vedic. The Mongol, Semitic, Aztec, Chibcha – there are many such ancient cultures that have come and gone in the last four to five thousand years. None of them had the practice of yajna. And in case they had it, they would have learnt it from the Aryan culture. Take the example of yoga. Today the English, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Amercian, Arab, Korean or Pakistani people practise yoga, but the influence has gone from here. Similarly, yajnas are vedic. In the vedic period, the Aryan people focused on yajna. Therefore, yajnas should essentially be considered vedic. However, with time yajnas had to assume two forms: vedic and tantric. Tantric yajnas came about when the views of the Aryans started reaching the common people.

It is said that Manu had two wives, Aditi and Diti. From them the two races of devatas and asuras were born. These came to be the Aryan and Dravidian civilizations. The influences of the Aryans reached the Dravidians, and here came to be called tantra. The difference between vedic and tantric yajnas is a vast subject. Their basis is agama and nigama. Agama is the term used for tantra and nigama for vedic. Nigamagam samanatam. “Nigama and agama are equal.” The intellectuals differ in their opinion on this, and I have a different thought as well. Yoga considers the Vedas very ancient and that tantra came afterwards. From my own findings and thinking, I think tantra, agama, is older than nigama. The tradition of agama has been smriti, oral, travelling from mouth to mouth. The tradition of nigama has been shruti, revelationary – that which was revealed to the ear.

Yajna does not just contain philosophy, but also many points of view. Some people think of yajna only in terms of its rituals. The Bhagavad Gita mentions jnana yajna, swadhyaya yajna, daan yajna, and so on. It gives a philosophy of yajna. So yajna is a philosophy as well as a ritual. These days if you hold an eye operation camp, it is called netra daan yajna. This is part of yajnic philosophy. Swadhyaya yajna, anna daan yajna, these are philosophies, not actually yajna. In yajna, the basic practice is making an offering in the fire. Ritwij, hota and adhvaryu, these three representatives of the Vedas witness the yajna.

27 August, 2000

The process and effects of yajna

To light a fire and make oblations in it is the essential definition of yajna. Many kinds of fire pits are used for this purpose: triangular, hexagonal, square, round. Sacrifices are made in the yajna fire. This is part of the ritual of yajna. One of the sacrifices is also of an animal. The Vedas describe animal sacrifice as well as human sacrifice. The Jews have had the same tradition called Passover. It is described in the Bible how Abraham was about to sacrifice his daughter when God came and stopped him. The ritual of yajna was prevalent among the Jews, but not among Christians and Muslims, and not among Jains or Buddhists. It is practised by Vaishnavas, Shaivas and Shaktas.

There are many rituals in yajnas, among these animal sacrifice was very common once upon a time. Lord Buddha opposed this; he was a very powerful sannyasin and a prince, so with his power he put a stop to it. Yajnas stopped, animal sacrifice stopped. Nevertheless, sixty years ago they used to still perform animal sacrifice in Almora. Even now it is practised at certain places, but essentially people do not accept animal sacrifice any more.

The main factor in a yajna is its medicinal effect. Different medicinal herbs gathered from forests are used in different yajnas. At different places – Orissa, South India, North India, Kashmir, Nepal, Burma – different herbs are used, and certain things like resin are common to all. The time of the month or year when a yajna may be performed is also different at different places. In North India where pure vedic customs prevail, yajnas are commenced only in the bright fortnight. In South India it is acceptable to perform a yajna in the dark fortnight.

What we need to prove to people is that with the performance of yajnas the environment is purified, the ecology is improved and the amount of carbon and other harmful gases in the atmosphere goes down. The scriptures make this very point. In order to spread the word of yoga, I had to first tell people how its practices helped them get rid of diseases, and not that it will give them moksha. That’s what worked. You have to give the science that you possess to people for its usefulness to them, not to display your knowledge. What is the point of your knowledge if it does not help others? By performing yajnas, diseases are cured, the air is purified, trees yield better fruit, the quality of water is improved. Let people know this. You will have to treat yajna scientifically. Its environmental value, its ecological value – that is what you will have to place before people. If you say that you are holding a sutra yajna or jnana yajna, you are referring to philosophical yajnas, not the actual practice of yajna. The definition of yajna should not be based on interpretation, it should be real.

Yajna means a fire pit which is square, hexagonal or round, has a certain height and depth, faces the east or west or north or south. It sits in a particular way. Yajna is performed with the desire to remove disease, have better health; it may even be performed to remove Indra from his seat of power in the heavens. Yajnas were also used to dethrone someone. Janmajaya performed taksha yajna, and therefore Parikshit died of snake bite. This event has been described in the Srimad Bhagavat. You will find details of all yajnas in the Puranas. Ashwamedha yajna is a kind of yajna in which a horse is sacrificed. Rajasooya yajna is another kind of yajna. There are yajnas that are performed collectively and yajnas that anyone can perform. Sat Chandi yajna is a certain kind of yajna in which the Sat Chandi path must be done a certain number of times. The number that you fix, it has to be read that many times. This is common to all yajnas, because all use mantras. All yajnas have rituals.

All places in India that are called Prayag – Karna Prayag, Rudra Prayag, Nanda Prayag, Son Prayag, Dev Prayag – are historical places where once upon a time yajnas used to be performed. Yajna is a scientific process by which one may even acquire weapons. Ravana attempted a yajna with this desire, but Hanuman and Angad did not let him complete it. Meghnad performed a yajna to acquire weapons, but the monkeys disturbed it. I am just giving a hint. With the help of yajna such a scientific process is activated that one can actually get weapons. Vishwamitra provided divine weapons to Rama that worked through the power of mantras, not with the power of technology. We have forgotten those processes, which is a good thing. A revolver is more than enough in our age.

Once I visited an area called Cali in Colombia. For many years it hadn’t rained there. Swami Kaivalyananda used to look after the ashram there at that time. I have always liked performing yajnas – though I do not do it, I get it done – so I said, let us perform a yajna. All arrangements were made. In Colombia, people belong to olden races and believe in such things. That day it rained so much that my room started leaking. I said you people wanted rain so rain has come. This can happen.

Swamiji, what mantra was that?

You are asking for treasure? Pray to God that you are reborn quickly and from your very childhood take sannyasa and learn this.

—30 April, 2000