The essence of the fire-sacrifice is not lighting a fire without but lighting the fire within

Fire-sacrifices seem quaint or queer to many: “What’s the point of lighting a fire and putting ghee, grain and fruits in it?”

The point is to light the fire of selflessness within. In principle, fire-sacrifice centers on giving up for a higher purpose the things enjoyable for oneself. That selfless spirit when directed towards the divine burns away the impurities in the sacrificers’ hearts.

In principle, fire-sacrifice centers on giving up for a higher purpose the things enjoyable for oneself.

Such a principle-centered understanding of sacrifice explains why the Gita (04.2529) deems as forms of sacrifice various activities that have no fire literally in them. These activities range from worship of the gods to impersonal meditation, from regulated householder life to renounced life, and from scriptural study to social charity. In fact, the Gita repeatedly gives a metaphorical reading of sacrifice by conceiving, say, the impersonal absolute as the sacrificial fire and the soul as the oblation (04.25) or the senses as the sacrificial fire and the sense objects as the oblations (04.26).  By thus infusing various spiritually dovetailable activities with the imagery of sacrifice, the Gita extends the sanctity of sacrifice beyond the fire to the world.

Taking this sanctity into the inner world of consciousness, the Gita (10.25) exalts mantra meditation as the sacrifice that specially manifests Krishna. In mantra meditation, practitioners sacrifice their most intimate possession, their consciousness, to offer prayerful attention to their beloved Lord instead of letting it wander to any of the myriad enjoyable worldly objects. Krishna reciprocates with their devotion by manifesting his all-attractiveness as the holy name. The resulting experience of Krishna is so enriching that it causes the flame of longing for him to blaze into a conflagration that burns to ashes all selfish desires and rouses fully the sacrificer’s dormant devotion, ultimately elevating them to the world of endless love.

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