Yajna and Giving

Rikhia 2001

Once upon a time there was a thunderous sound in the firmament. The sound was ‘da’ repeated three times. The sages and seers who were assembled heard the uproar and asked what the sound indicated. One said it meant three things: be restrained, be compassionate and learn to give.

Someone asked for an explanation of the significance of these three words. Devas are pleasure seekers and should restrain their passions. Demons should be kind and show mercy to others as they are very cruel and devilish by nature. Human beings should share their earnings and give to others because they are inherently tight-fisted and miserly. So, the devas need to exercise restraint, the demons need to be kind and compassionate to all, and human beings need to share their earnings with those who are deprived and less fortunate.

Duty of sannyasins

To give, to donate, to share our bread with our less fortunate brothers and sisters is the loftiest ideal of life. The worst type of meanness and pettiness is to sit tight on our possessions. The most despicable part of the human character is to crave everything and not share one’s wealth with others. Try and learn to give to others.

Sannyasins have the uppermost duty to share what they have. A sannyasin cannot be a symbol of enjoyment. A sannyasin is not a consumer, he can only be a trustee. Our resources do not belong to us. Whatever we get we keep in trust for society, and nobody has the right to breach that trust.

Swami Sivananda used to say that most sannyasins and sadhus were wasting their time in India because they were in pursuit of their own salvation. When the majority of people were dying of hunger, these sadhus ate good food and prayed for their own salvation. When the yajna is being performed, I pray only for the wealth, long life, good health, success and prosperity of everyone. Let everyone be kind and caring and may no one ever experience any distress in life. May all receive the auspicious blessings of God.

Yajnas are conducted to appeal to Devi to grant us wealth, long life, success, good health and smooth sailing in the disturbed oceans of life. The purpose of a yajna is to remove people’s pain and to rectify life. There is distress, sorrow and disaster, poverty, disease, fear of death and death. This distress can be remedied by divine grace, which is the purpose of this yajna.

Tradition of giving during yajna

Yajna has three essential components. The first is worship of the deity. The second includes the ritualistic installation and the chanting of mantras. The third is giving and receiving. The poor, the impoverished and the affluent all have to participate in the yajna. The yajna cannot be complete without daan or giving. This was the tradition when Sri Rama ruled the earth. The tradition was followed during the Dwapara period and the same tradition should also be followed during the present age, Kali Yuga.

In ancient times King Harshavardhana gave away all his personal property at the conclusion of performing the Rajasooya Yajna. It is an historical fact, not a myth. He had attended the Maha Kumbha at Prayag. There he gifted away all his personal possessions and thereafter ate his meals from leaf plates, drank water from an earthen pot and slept on the bare ground. Think of it, the Emperor of Hindustan gave away everything that he possessed and slept on the ground! He did that because offering is one of the three components of yajna.

The meaning of offering is taken very lightly these days. People learn to take in their mother’s womb. Yajnas teach us about offering. Offering does not only denote giving. If you take something out of your pocket and hand it over to someone, that cannot truly be an offering. The feeling of offering all that you have, including your life, is really an offering in the truest sense.

Prasad

Prasad means pleasure, happiness. It is the reverse of pain and sorrow. Prasad does not mean presents or gifts – prasad means happiness. That which causes elation in your heart, which makes you very happy, is called prasad.

By and large people are very tight-fisted and you know that miserliness is the weakest point in man’s character. Therefore, children should learn early in life how to share their pleasure with their fellow beings. They should imitate the habit of giving. Giving good samskaras in the formative years will bring about changes in their attitude to life. To give prasad is a meritorious act and to offer prasad is a person’s first duty.

Creating a balance in society

Money has three destinations: daan, offering; bhoga, enjoyment; and nasha, destruction. All property has these three destinations only. You may enjoy it or you may offer it, otherwise it will be lost or destroyed. You should think about how much you need for your own enjoyment. To collect and keep things is not enjoyment; to store things is also not enjoyment. Enjoyment is utilizing things for oneself. You have many things that you do not need and such things you must offer to the needy. If you offer a job or service to the needy, or if you make a firm arrangement for the livelihood of a needy person, you will be doing yeoman service to that family.

The society that only knows the culture of receiving and not giving promotes social exploitation. To strike a balance in society we should teach children to follow the culture of give and take. If we don’t receive from others, how can we give? Unless social balance is achieved, the gap between affluence and poverty cannot be bridged. Therefore, provision is made in the yajna for the giving of prasad.

Load bearers

The general populace are the foundation of the nation. The village children and their parents are the load bearers of our society. The masses provide the base, the solid ground, the direction and destination for a nation to move forward. This section of society must be looked after properly, otherwise there will be rape, looting, extremism. If the larger section of the country is not looked after, society cannot be given security. Sixty to seventy percent of the world’s population is neglected.

This is a message to each and everyone. If you bake four loaves of bread, one loaf is for society. You have to share your joy, your booty, your money. You have to share your happiness with everyone. Everyone should ponder over the plight of that section of society that has been kept deprived for so long. If you don’t give to others, how will you get anything back?

For a human being, the most difficult vow is to forsake, to renounce, to let go. Everyone knows how to collect, how to add up. To renounce means to make a sacrifice. Sacrifice is made for the sake of others, just as a mother makes sacrifices and abstains from many comforts for the sake of her child’s well being.

A time should come when people cultivate the habit of giving. You should give to everyone, even the affluent, not only to the poor and the destitute. God does not discriminate between rich and poor. He gives to all. He gives to the poorest of the poor and the wealthiest of the wealthy too. This is the way of God and we should learn it.

Their happiness is my happiness

We who have enough of everything should develop the philosophy of atmabhava, feeling of unity with all, in our lives. That is the philosophy of Vedanta: you and I are the same. All of us, living or dead, are part of the universal soul which resides within all of us. The feeling of oneness comes when you can feel that all those who live around you have the same soul or are part of the same soul that is within you and that their sorrow and pleasure are your own sorrow and pleasure.

One person cannot wipe out the pain of everyone in the world. But there should be the feeling that if your child is sick, I should feel the same pain that you feel for your child, or for that matter the pain of your friends, wife, daughters and neighbours, in the same way as I would for my own kith and kin. This is very important. The sayings of the Upanishads will not be true until one practises that. You should feel that everyone is yourself, then you will feel their problems.

My philosophy is very simple. The entire panchayat is my ashram. Every house here is my house. Their pains and pleasures are my own. Their poverty is my poverty and their happiness is my happiness. If anyone is sick, it is my ashram inmate who is sick. That is not a social philosophy, it is Vedantic philosophy. You have to see yourself in everyone and you have to see everyone within your own self.

—YOGA, Year 4, Issue 8, August 2005