Some sacrifice to the divine beings, while others
Offer their Self to the fire of their own Self. 4.25
Some sacrifice hearing and other senses to restraint
Others sacrifice sound and sense objects to senses 4.26
Some sacrifice all actions borne of senses and breath
To self control, out of knowledge 4.27
Some sacrifice wealth, through austerity and yoga
Others vow to sacrifice through sacred studies and knowledge 4.28
Some sacrifice the inhalation to exhalation and exhalation to inhalation
Controlling the life energy of the flow of breath 4.29
Some sacrifice food others breath into breath
Knowing the power of sacrifice, they redeem themselves 4.30
Having tasted the fruits of sacrifice, they progress to Brahman
If in this life no bliss results without sacrifice, what of the beyond? 4.31
The scriptures detail these sacrifices and all arise from action
Know this to be true and be liberated 4.32
Contrary to opinions of many, fire sacrifices were part of the Christian and Islamic legacy, dating back to ancient Judaic religion. Whether these rites are pagan, and religions that descended from such religions and rites are also pagan is open to debate. Unlike modern-day Judaic practices and religions, Hinduism is not ambivalent about its fire sacrifices.
Even today, fire sacrifices are integral to most Hindu rites, including birth, death and marriage rites, though the earlier day emphasis on animal sacrifices, as with Jewish customs, is no longer in vogue.
The concept of a sacrifice was to give up something of one’s own in order for some one else to gain. Fire sacrifices were a means to an end. By sacrificing flesh, meat, sometimes of living beings, grain, food, minerals, clothing and many other offerings, our ancients sought to achieve two objectives. One was giving away reducing one’s own possessions, so that one’s desire to own, possess and safeguard reduced. This was an act of renunciation.
The other was to please what our ancients believed elemental powers of nature and universe, so that they in turn blessed the living. What better way to gain something for the living by offering the living, willingly, one self for the sake of others. Today, we call them martyrs. Unfortunately, willing martyrs in several cultures were hard to come by and conveniently replaced by the weak and disadvantaged.
Whether we agree with live sacrifices is not the issue. I consider them abhorrent, willing or unwilling. Many concepts that religions, which billions follow today, believed and acted upon even a few hundred years ago, were cruel and barbaric by today’s norms. Many such practices such as getting rid of people who do no believe your own religion are honored by many today. Crusades and other religious conflicts killed more people in the name of God than World Wars.
Sacrifices that do not involve living beings, which are also looked upon by even Hindus now, had a sound reason, a sound positive reason, when compared to several other religious rites still in practice.
If we look at sacrifice as giving, giving unconditionally, giving without expectation, Krishna makes tremendous sense. Krishna says that even the intake and giving out of breath can be turned into sacrifice. Every single thing that we do can be a sacrifice when we do with no expectation.
The great Indian saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used to say that all of Gita was about Tyag, sacrifice in Sanskrit. he would say that if one repeated the word ‘tyag’ continuously it would sound the same as Gita.
Renunciation of oneself into one’s Self is the message of Gita. These verses reflect that. This renunciation leads one away from the I to We. It makes us more socially and environmentally conscious.