The Meaning of Sacrifice

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Continuing with our discussion of mahamritunjaya mantra or Healing Mantra…

Om tryambakam yajamahai

We have discussed the meaning of tryambak and now can look at yaj—sacrifice. “We sacrifice to the three-eyed Lord.” What does it mean to sacrifice to the Three-eyed Lord? This can be understood according to the four levels of interpretation.

On the literal level, mahamritunjaya is a mantra designed to be used in homa or fire ceremonies. Here at Alandi Ashram we do healing copper pyramid fires using this mantra for world peace and healing. According to the Vedas, the earth is the abode of the sacrificial fire, humanity is the sacrificial priest, and through such rituals we renew the earth and our own souls. Fire is the messenger of the gods and carries our prayers to them. Fire is the mouth of the gods, devouring the oblations of food grains and ghee and leaping high in response to our offerings.  “From rain comes food, from sacrifice comes rain.” (Bh. Gita 3, 14). Our offerings into fire restore the natural order and balance the climate. Once my friend Sita Sharan was made to stop during a fire ceremony by the fire department. “No rain, no fire,” they told her. She responded, “That’s funny. We say ‘no fire, no rain.”

On the next level of interpretation, the moral level, sacrificing to the three-eyed Lord means letting go of negative qualities such as greed and selfishness, and developing positive qualities reflective of the nature of Shiva. We offer our negativity into the fire of the Divine, allowing that fire to burn away the dross and let the pure gold of our true nature manifest. We can do this through various forms of tapas (austerity) such as asana and pranayama, which generate a literal fire or heat within us, purifying our subtle body. We can also do this in a very simple way by setting aside some of our time to serve others instead of pursuing our own pleasure and by giving some of our income to help those in need. “One who does not follow on earth the turning wheel of sacrifice is a thief and living a useless life.” (Bh. Gita 3, 16).

On the third or symbolic level of interpretation we look at the big picture of sacrifice within each of the four Ages of history. In the Age of Taurus (approximately 6,000-4,000 years ago) we offered human sacrifice. In the Age of Aries (4,000-2,000 years ago) we offered animal sacrifice, beginning from the moment Abraham went up on the mountain to sacrifice his firstborn son and instead sacrificed a ram, the symbol of Aries. In the Age of Pisces we offer the sacrifice of words through prayer and recitation of mantras. And in the dawning Age of Aquarius—although we still need to continue prayer and chanting as a direct means of purifying the heart—we sacrifice our individualism into altruism.

Finally on the spiritual level of interpretation, we sacrifice our limited identity into the boundless truth, realizing our true nature. To sacrifice ahamkar, or the “I am the body consciousness” seems to us to be very difficult, and yet it is really the sacrifice of nothing. As Anandamayi Ma, a great saint of India, said, “You are all supreme renunciants because you have renounced the Supreme.” This ultimate level cannot be spoken in words, especially in prose. And for the bhaktas (those on the path of devotion) such as myself, there is no end to the sweet play of lover and beloved. “Those who worship Me with devotion, I am in them and they are also in me.”  (Bh. Gita 9, 29). This is the sacrifice of love and devotion which transcends even the sacrifice of knowledge

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This page contains a single entry by Alakananda Ma published on June 19, 2009 9:03 PM.

Lord Shiva's Three Eyes was the previous entry in this blog.

A Dream Posted in Memory of my Father, on his Birthday is the next entry in this blog.

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