Mystic Mantra: Sweet, sacred sacrifice

You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it,” says Lionel Messi, who has mesmerised millions with his dribbling and scoring skills during football matches, worldwide. Many miss Messi magic during this final stage of FIFA World Cup football. Messi’s phenomenal success has been fruit of innumerable sacrifices.

Ritual sacrifices are prescribed by many religious traditions: Vedic Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity and the tribal religions. The Sanskrit word for ritual sacrifice is yagna, from the root yaj, meaning, to worship or offer. Yagna consists in offering God gifts of the plant and animal worlds or products of human labour like butter, ghee and soma. The aim is to unite with God or seek victory in war (or in cricket), bountiful harvest, healthy children, productive cattle and so on.

The English “sacrifice” derives from two Latin words; sacer, meaning, “sacred” and facere, “to make”. This has echoes in the Greek hagnos (sacred) and hagios (holy and pure). These root-words imply that sacrifice is a process of sanctification — consecrating or “setting aside” something for God, but also fructifying in the welfare of those who sacrifice.

Although sacrifices supposedly lead to temporary success or partial satisfaction, the ultimate aim of sacrifice is to achieve eternal bliss or svarga, the symbol-word implying the heavenly reward. Thus, it’s said: svargakamo yajeta, “If you want heaven, sacrifice!” Sacrifice interlinks the three realms — divine, human, cosmic — ensuring that the whole cosmic order functions harmoniously.

Besides ritual sacrifice — involving fire, grain, oil, vegetable and animals — there is a deepening of the understanding of sacrifice to refer to interiority, detachment and self-surrender. Our mothers who nurture us with selfless service and love, and our soldiers at the firing-frontiers who brave bullets to protect us all are finest examples of so-called tyag.  

In common English usage, we see sacrifice as something negative since it brings to mind images of sickness, blood, immolation and death. Here, sacrifice is equated with “giving up” or “giving away” which is diametrically opposed to what we treasure, today, i.e., grabbing, receiving or “taking up”. But, in cultures from Ancient Israel and Greece to modern Africa, sacrifice simply means “to give” and stresses the relationship between God and the one who offers sacrifice.

Professional footballers, musicians and scientists have sacrificed much to perfect their skills. Thus, football fields, auditoriums and laboratories become altars where human toil, tears and trials bear fruit and make our world sacred.

Are you ready for self-sacrifice? No, I don’t mean shedding your blood; but making everything sacred by little deeds of selfless service. The Bible says: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  

May our daily sacrifices make life a heaven-on-earth.  


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