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Karma and Yajna:
An ordinary Hindu Point of View
|by P C K Prem|
Yajna – an act of charity or sacrifice or gift, in other words, purifies a man in totality. His mind, body, soul and life spread message of humanism around and thus, fulfill the objective of life.
If a man wishes to make a notable contribution to existence and identity, he requires earnest efforts in the direction of leading a virtuous life. Karmas carry inherent ingredients of joys and sufferings where sufferings play a reformatory role, provided a man has the aptitude and eyes to look into the genuineness and truth. Faith, at this stage, enters life. Dharma and qualities born out of the principles and laws of dharma - truth, compassion, tranquility and non-violence necessitate certain acts to purify life so that continuity to lead a righteous life is undisturbed.
Everyone aspires for deliverance and makes solemn efforts but attachment to earthly allurements stays on, and gradually vitiates the path to freedom. In this endeavor, a man contemplates on acts of sacrifice – yajna, so that this life and the life beyond, is free from material attachment and joys that do not give lasting harmony and contentment.
Karmas drive a man to movement whether he is active or passive and thus joys, pleasures or sufferings give troubles, for karmas are the cause and effect of conduct and nature of man that speak of magnitude and scope of three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. A man acquires a sparkling, uncontaminated and higher plane of living in terms of values whereas a man with rajas qualities lives at a lower level as compared to a man of sattvic nature. A man of tamas quality almost lives life at the animal life bereft of human feelings, for he is apathetic, malicious and sadistic.
Karmas whether virtuous or otherwise carry the consequence of high-quality acts so performed. A man cannot run away from the influence of karmas. To run away from obligatory duties otherwise also cause sufferings. In the abandonment of karmas, a man cannot seek happiness and peace but the rejection of the fruit of karmas imparts significance. When a man is engaged in meaningful and socially advantageous acts, and remains unresponsive or casual to reward, he attains lasting peace.
Karmas for the wellbeing of man and society bring inner peace and harmony and provide substance. Karmas if performed like a physician or teacher prove beneficial, and these bring joy and happiness, for the motive is pure and humane. In truth, the purpose behind an act makes it dignified or reprehensible, pious or sinful.
Unfortunately, ostensible transitory excitement, pleasures and passions beat and devastate a modern man. If he extricates from the chaotic lifestyles by adhering to virtuous karmas or considers performance of noble karmas as dharma, he can live a happy life. If he does karma with a motive proving compassionate and munificent in the end, it grants liberation. Nobility of purpose and objective is evident when one engages in acts benefitting man and society irrespective of pains and sufferings these bring in the initial stages. In such good karmas/acts is inherent the spirit of sacrifice.
When a man works with the intent to serve humanity, he serves god and in such a situation, his acts become humanitarian imbued with thought and sanctity of sacrifice. In other words, when a man begins to act in a spirit of sacrifice, his karma turns into yajna – an act of sacrifice. The surrendering or relinquishment of fruit of karma leads to detachment and indifference, which is good for a man on the path to emancipation from the bonds of material world.
A man is slave to prakriti and its three gunas. When an act assumes the form of selflessness or altruism, it becomes yajna. A man can distinguish sacrifice or yajna based on the nature of surrender. Thus, a man in a spirit of abandonment and self-sacrifice diverts energies to yajnas/sacrificial acts in nature, dana – charitable or philanthropic and tapa – intensely meditative, so that greatest advantage accrues to the doer, and to people for whom such acts/karmas are meant to benefit.
All acts of sacrifice, dana and tapa, if performed with a sattvic purpose and intent, bequeath immense satisfaction and peace. Purity and cleanliness of mind and heart are essential in acts of sacrifice, dana and tapa. If one aspires for fruit with an evil mind, it is dangerous and detrimental. If there is repeated emphasis on the three qualities and fundamental principles from Vedic point of view contained in different scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads, epics and Puranas, it is with a positive message to humanity. Ultimately, dharma –a life based on tenets of truth and righteousness emerging out of the sattvic nature of karmas prove a blessing to the entire humankind.
Acts of man should contain sattvic ingredients. Only then, these elevate a man to heights of glory. If a man does everything in a spirit of yajna, dana and tapa and makes them integral to mandatory duties, these shall take him to spiritual pursuits. Karmas of man infused with sattva ennoble, purify man and society irrespective of location, stage and situation. Yajnas, if organized religiously make a man nearly perfect.
The performance of yajna as said earlier depends upon the state of mind. If an act carries with it a spirit of purity, service, cleanliness and devotion, it is termed as yajna. All acts of whatever nature, originate out of obligatory duties towards man. Prayers before the god or goddess are dev yajna. Gods and deities without ever making it obvious, bless a devotee with health, inspiration and prosperity with the will and energy to serve humanity. Such yajnas continue to purify man until he reaches a stage where he begins to establish communion with the Supreme Lord.
The gods –the invisible powers or the Supreme lord, bless a man of prayers and worship living a life of truth, devoutness and bliss. This is a universal phenomenon. The people around the world irrespective of religions pray and worship gods and deities –the invisible forces as they stand before idols of stone, metal, brass or gold with all the possible precious ornamentation of pearls and jewels. Dev yajna has travelled through many ages, it is still effective and forceful the devotees believe.
A man learns many things from people and surroundings as he grows up. Nature and its objects -animate or inanimate, exercise influence on upbringing of man like a mother taking the baby in the lap, or as the child begins walking while holding a finger of mother or a close relation. Each being on earth appears as a teacher. Thus, in the initial years of life, after parents, the teacher or guru becomes a child’s guide, philosopher and benefactor. He learns subtly and at times, obviously to emulate parents and teachers. He learns to worship gurus, for a guru to him appears as an embodiment of wisdom and knowledge.
Guru imparts knowledge of the world and then, teaches him as to what is beyond physical existence. A true guru not only tells about the art of life, living and society but also guides him to the study of religious books with devotion and purity of mind. The wise guru dwells upon the theme of karma, dharma and sacrifice – yajna. Thus, a child surrendering at the feet of a guru gets blessings of happiness, sound health and intellect with the solemn refrain that a man ought to serve man and god.
Many a time, a man may not agree that ancestors play a great role in life owing origin to those who are dead. However, somewhere within, he bows head in reverence before the photographs, statues or graves with garlands and oblations. A man touches the feet of parents or bows his head before them. This practice or holy ritual during shradhas extends to the dead souls – the great ancestors, the manes or pitres. This sacred feeling of prayer or worship before the pitres – manes is called pitre yajna when a man conducts shradhas, remembers birthdays, or the days of death of parents/ancestors gracefully with the help of pundits or purohits while serving people gathered on the holy occasion with food and gifts. A man is blessed with health, happiness and prosperity it is believed. He offers prayers and holds yajnas because he owes origin to the dead. This yajna connects one to the dead with a spirit of love, reverence and devotion, and inspires faith in the cosmic plan of creation while strengthening the belief that no created being is without purpose or meaning.
A man serving man and humanity, in reality, also appears to organize a yajna – an act of sacrifice. Service and dedication to the wellbeing of man with devotion, love, compassion based on sattvic gunas is called Nara yajna. To serve and worship with faith that man is a creation in the image of god is a yajna having cosmic ramifications and it tells man that to love man is also a prayer to god and an act of worship before god. Nara yajna requires faith, devotion and a spirit of charity with detachment and disinterestedness.
In contemporary context, one can see vividly what the modern rulers do. Modern rulers ought to learn that service to the people is their dharma and if they fail, it is treachery. In fact, they should know that if they survive, it is because of the money and power given to them by the people. If they do not use it to benefit people, it is an act of corruption. Could a modern ruler think on these lines and live life infused with sattva gunas? One can only hope perhaps. Nara yajna is a solemn prayer that grants liberation to a devotee of man. One contemplates, heaves a sigh and with a apologetic heart laments at the conduct and attitude of modern rulers who rarely work with a spirit of yajna.
All religions urge that a man should not only love humanity but all the created beings and ought to imbibe warm and humanitarian relationship with living beings. This thought originates from the faith that the entire creation – the Cosmic Life has roots in the Supreme Lord. Here, many religions may disagree, for each has its concept and theory with regard to the birth of created beings. However, none contradicts that there must be some invisible hand or force that has been instrumental in this huge and cosmic creation. To love all creations on earth signifies a great tribute to the Great Lord. The noble function of protecting and loving created beings is also a yajna – called Bhuta yajna, of the highest order.
All animated beings deserve care, attention, love and sympathy, for that is a real homage to Him who created and designed cosmic life. If a man performs his duties – karmas in a spirit of sacrifice, dana and tapa, this would beautify life adding purpose and meaning. Doing one’s duty in a spirit of yajna, abandoning fruit or reward would thus, enlighten a man with the true meaning of karma, dharma and gunas guiding a man to the path of deliverance. Dedicated karma thought as yajna and dharma, suffused with the feelings and objective of welfare and happiness of man and society will not only purify the doer but it would be an immense service to humanity.
The concept of varnas in the society needs some thought here in view of the significance of karma, dharma, gunas, yajnas and sufferings in the life of man. It would be quite pertinent to analyze precisely the classification of society based on the vicious cycle of varna, a system prevalent in Hindu society. One knows that Hindu society is categorized as brahmins, ksatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. The four classes indicate different vocations and status in the society. The categorization also indicates the qualities or gunas of each class depending upon its mental, psychological and intellectual level. It is quite irrational to infer that one caste or class is inferior to another. This is not the intention to degrade or humiliate a particular class based on caste or social status. To make distinction because of class or caste is very erroneous.
With the passage of time, classes turned into castes and then, many castes took birth within a single caste. The functions of learning, protecting the society and the country, to cater to the essential requirements of the society and to look after the comforts and convenience of each class by rendering manual, skilled or unskilled help became the functions of brahmins, ksatriyas, vaishyas and shudras respectively. However, with the change in outlook and intellectual attainment of people with the spread of education, the scenario underwent radical transformation. Social and political system changed as democratic values made in roots in the system.
Castes and classes also delineated the mode and features of prakriti, and thus, instability and inconsistency continued to determine the conduct and behaviour of an individual belonging to a particular class or caste as he developed mental and intellectual faculties. If a shudra devoted time and energy to learning, the progressive attitude inherent in a democratic system permitted him to change functions. Thus, he assumed the role of a brahmin without disturbing contours of caste. The process continued to change the fabric of the society with each caste evincing interest in the nature of work of other classes depending upon the extent of comforts it would grant. Thus, there were far-reaching transformations in respect of functions among the four castes/classes. Each caste/class, in order to enhance its social status, level of lifestyles and economic dependence, preferred to earn more without concern for the nature of job. Even a brahmin began to sell shoes and worked as a domestic help and a shudra solicited the services of a brahmin to serve him and took over the functions of ksastriyas. In the contemporary scenario, man’s is valued and dignity of labor is supreme. Even then, plethora of different castes within a caste is a sickening development that divides the society despite social, religious and political claims to the contrary.
Now, when one visualizes the effect of three gunas on these classes/castes, it becomes apparent that a shudra gets the qualities of sattva when he embraces truth, virtue and morality and preaches the significance of these values as a teacher. A dispassionate analysis reveals that ksatriyas, vaishyas and shudras contain the virtues and insufficiencies of other classes/castes. If a secular and catholic view is taken, it would be better to term castes as classes, for classes seem to convey a sense of honor to each class while caste means humiliation to certain groups. White, brown, red and black colors refer to brahmins, ksatriyas, vaishyas and shudras respectively with a slight variation if one extends interpretation. Mind and intellect of a man reflect on the karmas whether social or obligatory. While examining and scrutinizing the structure of the society, the composition of classes and their characteristics should form the basis of study. If some other view is held valid based on political considerations then one cannot help, for self-interests prove disastrous for the society as a whole.
Castes and classes governing the system breed hatred, jealousies and unprincipled life-styles, and majority continues to suffer injustice and inequality while the cunning, intelligent and corrupt minority in the system claiming to serve people only brings miseries and sufferings to the people without any concern for justice or equality. In the structure of castes or classes, the power of the class or caste is reduced and consequently, it gets concentrated in a few hands. A few become intolerant and inhuman. Elsewhere, the struggle is between the rich and the poor with political philosophies adopting different yardsticks for the wellbeing of the people where self-interests determine the governing thought while class, color, caste, creed and economic criteria dominate the entire system. Emergence of this thought seemingly secular or catholic, in truth, distorts ancient political and social thought, which had its roots in principles of dharma, truth and righteousness.
Politics is an art of the state but now, it is politics of individuals, an art of the family-promotion, dynastic politics, or political beliefs of a particular class of people wanting to perpetuate rule by iniquitous and violently rapacious mechanism. If ancient scriptures advocated a system based on the principles of karma and dharma, it visualized a man caring for man, society and humanity. It believed to categorize men keeping in view the qualities of mind and intellect, and not based on birth or lineage. This requires strong, unforgiving and ruthless corrective measures so that worldly and wide-reaching thought encompassing humanity emerges.
Nature of karmas determines the path of life. Ethical approach creates an atmosphere of goodwill and peace around. Genuine efforts to understand the meaning of karma, dharma, yajna and sufferings are essential if a contemporary man wishes tensions and strains to disappear. A Hindu’s view of an ethically complete, harmonious, prosperous and adequate life means adhering to the principles of dharma, for that would elevate man and society paving the way to unique oneness in contemporary consciousness.
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