Narach Philosophy

THE CHARACTER OF SACRIFICE: THE METHOD OF INTERPRETATION


Sacrifice is an intelligent action, but begins initially with desire; and this is true of all action deliberately performed. It may be said that Japa or silent repetition of a name has no connection with the intellect; yet it is an act of sacrifice. Homa is an intelligent action, and is also associated with desire; but both Japa and Homa are like an oblation offered to the deceased ancestors.

Certain actions are not performed at the bidding of the intellect; but an action performed without expectation of result is an act of pure sacrifice. The upanaya ceremony of initiating a boy into knowledge is also of this kind, for action systematically performed gives rise to knowledge.

A proper performance of action as a sacrifice requires the co-operation of both husband and wife. We can refrain from action only at the end of our life, when all our tasks are done; and this is in accordance with the law of life.

A sacrifice is action meant for the benefit of all; and in such a case a person should not seek any special benefit even for his son. But the birth of a son symbolizes the fulfillment of desire, and so one should have a son; and a person should pray to his deceased ancestors for the birth of a son. If a person desires to become great, he must exercise his intellect, for the desire itself is inseparable from his intelligence.

Things associated with the gods are described in the sacred books in certain special ways,- e.g. the first half of the year, a day in the bright fortnight of the lunar month, or an auspicious day, for we can remember them best in that form; but the entire action should be completed on that day; and other days should be associated with the deceased ancestors.

Certain words have certain specified meanings; for instance, "begging" or "buying" implies deficiency. Certain other words like eating, calling, etc. have also a fixed meaning. In the case of animals, however, there is no fixity of meaning, because we cannot assign any fixed attributes to them; and so the meaning of a word like chhaga (goat, etc.) has to be understood from its use in the text. Nor can the meaning of such words be derived from their roots or basic forms. The general rule, however, is that the same word should have the same meaning throughout: the word chhaga may accordingly mean "action".

A fundamental word cannot be obtained from some other word; and when its form is changed, it becomes an entirely different word, with no connection with its original form. This change has no connection with the attributes of an animal, the idea of which should be obtained by means of its character and the meaning of the principal word used in the text.

Nature of sacrifice: Homa is a pure intelligent action, which begins originally with desire, and becomes free from desire in the end; and even though the act be quite new or incomplete, it is still an intelligent act (or an act of sacrifice). All actions begin with desire; and it is an imperfect action in which the four Hotr priests are found to take part; and the teaching in regard to an act of sacrifice does not refer to action as it is in its earliest state.

Homa is an act of making oblations to the gods by casting clarified butter into the fire. We have explained that fire or Agni refers to intelligence, and clarified butter to goodness of desire. Homa is accordingly a good and intelligent action, or an act of sacrifice. The word for "intelligence" in the text is Agni which, as the Mimansa has told us, refers to the intellect.

A sacrifice, as the Mimansa will tell us presently, is an act meant for the benefit of all, including the doer of the deed himself, but no more than the rest; and no one can derive any special advantage out of it. But we find that human actions are imperfect, because they are characterized by desire, aiming to obtain a particular result; and in such actions the mind plays a most important part; and the mind, as has already been explained, is represented by the Hotr priest.

We have seen that there are four Ritvij priests, one of whom is the Hotr; and each of them is assisted by three more, who again refer to the three remaining faculties of man: the idea being that, though a particular faculty may have the most important role in an action, the remaining three have also their place. The three assistants of the Hotr priest are accordingly the intellect, ahankara and the senses; and this Sutra tells us that the action in which they take part is an imperfect one, because it is dominated by desire, the special attribute of the mind.

An intelligent action is not an act of sacrifice at its commencement. It is only when, like Homa, it becomes free from desire, that it can be regarded as an act of sacrifice. This is true of all actions without distinction; and an action without desire cannot be regarded as a deliberate act, performed at the bidding of the intellect. (It can only be a reflex or accidental action), whereas we are dealing with a description of what is not accidental. But Japa (or silent repetition of a sacred name) is without any connection with the intellect and yet it is an act of sacrifice. No intelligence is required in merely repeating a sacred name; and so Japa is not characterized by intelligence: even so it is not characterized by desire, which awakens when the intellect functions and is transformed into the mind by means of desire. Hence Japa is a pure act of sacrifice from the very beginning.

So far as Homa is concerned, it is an action which is associated with desire; and that which , at its commencement, is not connected with the intellect, refers to something else, and not Homa. Japa is not like Homa, which is characterized by desire at the beginning, and becomes free from it in the end; and so it is only at the end that it can be like Japa.

But the idea of both Japa and Homa is like an oblation offered to the deceased ancestors and are acts of sacrifice free from desire as it stands to reason that, we cannot expect any return. Hence an offering made to a deceased ancestor is an act of pure sacrifice, free from desire for fruit.

But there is a special mention of certain actions which are not affected by the intellect, because they have not been commenced at its bidding; and so far as acts of oblation made to deceased ancestors are concerned, they are pure acts of sacrifice as has already been stated; as we cannot expect any result from it. The upanaya ceremony if initiating a boy in spiritual knowledge is of the kind of a Homa sacrifice in so far that it begins with a particular desire, but becomes free from it in the end. To give knowledge is a form of desire; but when it is given, there is an end to it; and so to give knowledge is an act of sacrifice like Homa, and should be brought about; for knowledge arises systematically from the performance of action (the Bhagavad Gita tells us that all action is made more complete in knowledge); and it built up life like an architect, to use a popular form of speech. But in order that an act of sacrifice should be properly performed, it is necessary that the husband should associate himself with his wife.

Cessation of action: The cessation of action comes at a later stage, after the family fire has been lighted (and all tasks are done); for the intimate life of the family continues by means of action. Indeed, the cessation of action means the breaking up of all that we do or hold, and so it should come at a later time. The Sutra does not occur in certain texts: it only clarifies the idea of the preceding one. A person can renounce all action only at the end of his life, when he has done all his life's work. It does not require any degree of faith to believe this, for all this is in accordance with the law of life, and anything else would be contrary to the teaching of the sruti.

Sacrifice and a son: When a thing is meant to be for the benefit of all, a person should not contrive to secure any special advantage out of it even for his son. But when desire is satisfied (the expression in the text is "drinking Soma"; and, as Soma refers to the mind or its attribute, desire, "drinking Soma" means satisfying one's desire, even as one may do by drinking wine, which is another meaning of the word), a son is born; and so one should have a son. The birth of a son is accordingly symbolic of the satisfaction of desire; and this is how we should understand its idea in the sacred books. Indeed, the desire to have a son can often be very great, perhaps the greatest of all, as it symbolizes the idea of the preservation of the race; and so the birth of a son can appropriately represent the idea of satisfaction of desire. Hence, if a man understand the law of life, he should pray to his deceased ancestors and make an offering to them before the union of the sexes. The offering made to the deceased ancestors represents the idea of pure sacrifice; and the desire to have a son should be of the same kind, a pure sacrifice, and the son born should live and do his work for the benefit of all.

Intelligence and desire for greatness: If a person desires to become great, he should exercise his intelligence, as is necessary in the case of a great sacrifice, and his desire would be fulfilled because he has the intention. This desire would, in common parlance, be spoken of as part of intelligence, as it cannot be separated from it; and a person who controls his vital energy, because the proper time for union has not arrived, is like that (is intelligent).

Description of what belongs to the Gods: Things belonging to the gods are associated with the first half of the year,- from winter to summer, during the progress of the sun in the northern path, a day in the bright fortnight of the lunar month, and an auspicious day; and that is so because we can understand and remember them best in this form, and also because it conveys some other meaning (the gods refer to the great powers of Nature which sustain life; and the first half of the year are symbolic of this idea. That is to say, the gods are associated with bright, beautiful, and beneficent things in Nature). But the entire action should be completed on that day; while on other days action associated with the deceased ancestors should be done (the deceased ones are said to abide in the region of the Moon, from where they are said to return to be reborn on earth after some time. They are those who depart from the earth during the progress of the sun in the other half of the year; and so the latter refers to them, as the Bhagavad Gita tells us).

Words with fixed meanings: When there is reference to "begging" (an entreaty) and "buying" in the sacred books, they should be understood to imply some deficiency, something that is not present, just as we say in common speech; and this should also be so, because that is the meaning of these words. In the same manner there are other words, eating, calling, covering (or concealing) making an oblation after slaying a sacrificial animal, and enmity, which have a fixed meaning; for a meaning that is not constant is of little use. It is not possible to explain the meanings of these words without reference to the context.

Action of animals: (All this has a bearing on the actions of men, who are governed by reason). In regard to the impelling force of animals, there can be no fixed rule, because we cannot assign any such fixity to them (animals, other than human beings, are not governed by reason; and so the meanings of words referring to them are not fixed. Fixity is a mark of reason or the intellect); and so the meaning of the word chhaga has to be obtained from the description of the Mantra or the hymn (the word chhaga may mean a goat or a sign of the zodiac (Aries), or something else according to the context. It may also have to be divided into parts to be understood), even though this may appear to be contrary to rules. Nor can we say that words relating to animals should be such as can be derived from their basic or uninflected forms, like the word arshya (from Rishi, meaning "a sage"), for that too would be contrary to rules. It would be contrary to rules to have fixity of ideas in connection with what are called lower animals, because their own behaviour is not fixed or governed by known rules.

A general rule: The general rule, however, is that the same word should have the same meaning throughout; for if a single name is given a number of meanings, it means that its very idea has been modified. But it may be argued that there is no such rule; and that the meaning of a word is different, because the thing itself is different; and so when a word has two different meanings, we have really to distinguish between two different things, the idea of which is best expressed by two different words. But this is not necessary, because we can get the correct meaning of a word from its intimate connection with the context; and this can be proved from the form of the words used in the text. This would tell us that the meaning of the word chhaga is "action"; and it can be understood from the form of the word and the evidence at our disposal.

Character of change of form of a word: A fundamental word cannot be obtained from another or a different form of the same word; and the change of form of a word has nothing to do with its original idea. This change is made in accordance with a definite cause, but is not effected by a consideration of the attributes of an animal, the idea of which should be obtained by means of its true character, described by means of the principal word and its meaning. When we change the form of a word, what we do is to divide it into parts, which are, as a rule, letters. This cannot give us a fundamental word. This method of interpretation requires that each letter should be treated like a word itself; and so the word in its changed form has nothing in common with the original word.