Whatever you do, make it an offering to me — the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering.
Krishna in Bhagavad Gita
The earliest Vedic writings contain many references to sacrifice and instructions on how, when and to what sacrifice should be performed. The idea of sacrifice is most clearly embodied in the image of pouring ghee into the fire. Ghee is the epitome of value in the ancient world. In order to have ghee (clarified butter), we must begin with a large amount of butter. In order to have butter, we must begin with a large quantity of milk. In order to have this much milk we must have a large herd of cattle. In order to support this many cattle, we must have much land. This much land can be acquired only via wealth, it must be worked and tilled, its pastures irrigated, its fences built and maintained. Not to mention the milking of the cows, the separating of the cream, the churning of the butter, the clarifying of the butter into ghee.
The ancients took their ghee seriously.
Now we take this golden liquid, something that we value highly, that we would love to keep, and we pour it into the sacrificial fire. We give up something we love in order to show, both to ourselves and to nature, our willingness to follow something other than our own will. Our willingness to have what nature would give to us, rather than what our small self would have. We sacrifice the small for the great, the outward for the inner, relative world things for the Truth of our deepest Self.
The root of the word sacrifice is the same as the root for the word sacred. “To make holy.” Fire, in the Veda, always represents consciousness. We surrender our wants into the fire of consciousness in order that we will be open to what nature would want for us. When we see our choices as sacrifices, we can cease warring with ourselves over the facts of our life. We start to see what we have, rather than what we are giving up. We can stop seeing ourselves as victims of circumstance.
Through this process of sacrifice, all of life can be made sacred.
Why would we want a sacred life? Because it feels right. To return to the words themselves, the word holy means “to be made whole.” This is one way to see our adventure here on earth: as a passage from the piecemeal and broken to wholeness. And the more we move in the direction of wholeness, the better we feel.
We simply surrender: our ideas of comfort, our ideas of self, our ideas of the world. We sacrifice our ideas of what we think we are, and in return we are given access to the Truth of what we are.
Today I will ask what is my purpose in life, and I will listen to something other than my thinking for an answer. And then I will offer my work of the day to that something other as well, asking as I enter each new circumstance, ‘please show me how to be of service.’
Aarti Priest Assistant, Ganga Aarti, Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi, India