On Yajna

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

According to the vedic tradition, yajnas are conducted by priests with a deep knowledge of the Vedas, the yajna mantras and procedure. The priests, ritvij, are grouped into four categories: hota, udgata, adhvaryu and brahma, one for each of the four Vedas. The hota, udgata and adhvaryu conduct the ceremonies. The hota chants the Rig Veda mantras. The adhvaryu follows the procedures detailed in the Yajur Veda. The udgata sings the hymns from the Sama Veda. The brahma oversees the conduct of the yajna, and is knowledgeable in all Vedas, especially the Atharva Veda. He is considered to be the supervisor. If there is any mistake in the ceremony or in the chanting of the mantras, he will immediately point it out. These are the four important actors or creators of a yajna.

According to the Vedas the chanting has to be perfect. The vedic pronunciation and the vedic hymns are not chanted like music or like a statement. They have to be properly classified into three swaras - udatta, anudatta and swarita. Udatta is the highest of the three tones used for chanting vedic mantras aloud, anudatta is the lowest and swarita is the middle tone. These are three different plays of sound. Just as you have the seven notes: sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni and sa, in music, the Vedas utilize udatta, anudatta and swarita. Supposing the mantra is bhadraha tratavo. Each and every letter is placed at a certain level of sound pronunciation. If a mistake is made, the brahma will say so.

The hota is the one who offers the oblation to the fire with the manta Om Swaha. The offering consists of many ingredients collected together, such as barley and sesame. A fire pit, or yajna kunda as it is called, is prepared. The fire used in yajna is kindled in the kunda. The word kunda a deeper place, pit or cavity. The word kundalini also comes from the word kunda. Then agni, the fire, is lit using two types of firewood, aam or mango and palash. When the fire is ablaze, a certain mantra is chanted. At the end of each mantra, Swaha is repeated, and all the items of oblation in the hand must be offered into the fire. This is called yajna.

The outcome of one yajna is prosperity, of another yajna it is purity or health. In the days of the Vedas, thousands of years ago, many yajnas were performed, including jyotishtoma, somayajna and pravargyahoma, which no one knows about today. Nowadays people mostly just know the Gayatri yajna.

Yajna in the Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita (4:26-28) Sri Krishna says that yajna can be performed in many ways: "Some offer hearing and other senses as sacrifice in the fire of restraint; others offer sound and other objects of the senses as sacrifice in the fire of the senses. Others again sacrifice all the functions of the senses and those of the breath (vital energy or prana) in the fire of the yoga of self-restraint kindled by knowledge. Others again offer wealth, austerity and yoga as sacrifice, while the ascetics of self-restraint and rigid vows offer study of the scriptures and knowledge as sacrifice."

Austerity is yajna, charity is yajna. Giving money to other people or helping someone is yajna. Practicing yoga is yajna. When you do swadhyaya or study the scriptures, that is yajna. Teaching others about good living or spiritual values is also yajna.

The Bhagavad Gita (4:29-4:30) also compares yajna to the offering of an oblation into the fire. The fire is going up and your oblation is going down. They meet at one point and the fire consumes the oblation. In the same way you offer your prana into apana, or you offer your apana into prana, or you offer prana into prana. "Others offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming, and the incoming in the outgoing, restraining the courses of the outgoing and the incoming breaths, solely absorbed in the restraint of the breath. Others who regulate their diet offer life-breaths in life-breaths; all these are knowers of sacrifice, whose sins are all destroyed by sacrifice."

The Bhagavad Gita says that this is yajna because by the oblation a fire is generated, and this fire is the awakener of kundalini, of knowledge and buddhi. This is yoga yajna, in which one part of your energy is consumed by another part and then converted into higher energy.

Ganga Darshan, Munger, 20 October 1982

Karma and akarma

In the last two or three thousand years our civilization has followed a gradual process of degeneration. The disciples or successors of Mahavir and Buddha were not experienced and did not have a wide concept of reality. They could not understand that the concept of reality included the totality of life.

Renunciation is not the only quality that a person has to develop. Renunciation is one of the most important qualities, but besides renunciation there is another quality called accomplishment and fulfillment These days we do not know how to renounce and we do not know how to accomplish.

The theory of karma, involvement and fulfillment as I call it, and the theory of akarma, renunciation, are both important. They are inseparable and part of the whole. That is what the disciples of Buddha and Mahavir did not know. Karma has its own place in life. Karma is not only for enjoyment; karma is for fulfillment, and enjoyment is one of the areas of fulfillment Involvement or sensory enjoyment is a one of the forms of fulfillment but not the totality of fulfillment

Artha, wealth, kama, love, dharma, duty, and moksha, liberation, are the four types of actions or goals which one has to fulfil in life. The influence of Buddhist thought could be seen as harmful because it was implied that by not working no karma is created and therefore liberation results. However, the Bhagavad Gita says that it does not matter whether you do karma or do not do karma, but it is what you think that is important. That is the philosophy - you can work through your body, your mind and through your senses, but never be tempted by the sin, papa, of the karma. Karma does not involve a single bondage. It is the vasanas or desires, and asakti or attachment which create the bondage.


In chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita Sri Krishna explains renunciation to Arjuna in verses 5-6. He says, "Some people say you renounce actions, and others say you don't renounce actions but you renounce the fruit of the actions. But in my opinion do not renounce anything that is good." Then he makes it clear. First of all what you give to others in help and subsistence and what you produce is for the good and fulfillment of others, and this is what you do for the purification of your mind and body. Yajna, daan and tapa are the three words used by Krishna. His actual words are: "Acts of sacrifice, giving and austerity should not be abandoned, but should be performed. Sacrifice, giving and austerity are the purifiers of the wise. However, even these actions should be performed leaving aside attachment and the desire for rewards, O Arjuna! This is My certain and best conviction."

Indian philosophy has a clear definition of good and bad.Yajna means to produce, to create. Daan means to help others, to give. Tapameans to purify oneself. These three things are shubha karma. Shubha means auspicious. It is auspicious karma because it yields positive results all the time. Anything that yields positive results all the time is good. Good and bad have an absolute definition.

One should renounce only those actions which are not conducive to spiritual illumination, which do not purify the mind, but create bondage, tension and agony. Only those actions have to be renounced.

Bombay, India, 21 February 1980


Yajna, sacrifice, daan, giving, and tapa, austerity, should not be renounced even by a sannyasin. The idea of sannyasa does not come all of a sudden. It is a culmination of a process of thinking which continues for a long time in the subconscious mind of every individual.

In the life of a sannyasin, guru is the most important factor. If the sannyasin does not rely on or follow the guru, then the sannyasa cannot succeed. Sannyasa means total dedication to the guru. Therefore, the most important preparation before taking sannyasa is a willingness to dedicate oneself, to surrender to guru.

If the ego is very fat and there is arrogance within the personality, surely it is not possible to think about a guru. A disciple may be intelligent, have the highest of faculties or be wealthy, but remember that he is a disciple after all. He can see things intellectually, but his spiritual or inner eyes are not yet open. The inner eyes of most people are closed due to the veil of maya or illusion, avidya or ignorance. It is important that a disciple places himself on the shoulders of the guru. The more responsibility is given to the guru, the more responsible he becomes. In as much as the guru transforms the life pattern of the disciple, the disciple also transforms the life pattern of the guru. I am telling you this from my experience of the last forty or forty-five years. A sincere disciple can transform an insincere guru, and a sincere guru can transform an insincere disciple.

After one has taken sannyasa, one should only renounce the inauspicious things in life. What are inauspicious actions? They are actions which destroy health, mental equilibrium and emotional balance, which disturb the peaceful surroundings of the family and society, and which produce a tradition of evil influences.

However, a sannyasin should not renounce auspicious actions. Auspicious actions purify the mind and body, they make him strong. That is austerity. He should not renounce actions by which other people are helped. He should not renounce those actions which generate and create very good things for the society and nation. The Bhagavad Gita has used three terms for this. Krishna instructs Arjuna: "Do not renounce auspicious actions. Three types of actions are auspicious. The first is yajna, actions which generate and create. The second is daan, which means giving, helping, contributing. The third is tapa, austerity and purification. Therefore, a sannyasin should not renounce these auspicious actions.

If he is a teacher, an engineer, a scientist or doctor, let him continue to be a teacher, an engineer, a scientist or a doctor. Sannyasins must aim at giving positive direction to humanity. If everybody were to renounce all actions, there would be chaos in society. Karma does not generate karma. Karma does not generate rebirth. It is the inauspicious attachment with karma that generates karma.

Chamarande, France, 1981