“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Vishnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things.’” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.10)
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and original spiritual master of the universe, reveals in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God, that at the beginning of the creation, the Lord of all creatures instituted the system of sacrifice, wherein rituals and functions are to be performed for the satisfaction of higher entities, managers of the material world. Those following these prescribed sacrifices would be rewarded with plentiful rain, which in turn would give life to the crops, which would be used to sustain life. Even for carnivores there is a reliance on grains, which cannot survive without rainfall. In this way sacrificing to higher authority figures is a way of repaying debts, showing gratitude to those who provide sustenance, allowing us to seek pleasure. The soul is by nature blissful, so in order for the pursuit of happiness to commence, the spiritual spark must have a viable form, a field on which to act. Yet with the current makeup of the environment and the seemingly strong influence that people have over their direct actions, it appears that maybe there is no longer a need for sacrifice. If this initial method of religious practice can be so easily invalidated, then maybe God Himself doesn’t exist? From studying a few simple examples from everyday life, however, the purpose behind sacrifice and the glaring need for it can be realized.
“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
Just because people who aren’t religious are able to amass wealth doesn’t indicate that the divine presence is made up or irrelevant. On the contrary, every reaction that we see is caused by some previous action. Karma is fruitive activity, though in the vernacular the term is associated with good or bad reactions coming from specific actions undertaken. “I get good karma when I act charitably and when I am nice to people. I get bad karma when I steal and when I lie.” But karma doesn’t operate just on grand and visible actions; every deed is taken into consideration. Whatever we see before us is the result of a previous action. The result may not manifest immediately, nor may it even be noticed, but it will nevertheless arrive.
For those who become wealthy through no dedication to sacrifice or religion whatsoever, it is to be understood that their past karma brought them to their current position. The soul is the essence of individuality; it does not die when the body is discarded, nor does it take birth when the body emerges from the womb. The soul never changes in properties, but it can travel through different forms. The types of body accepted are the fruits of previous desires and work performed. As an example, if we take to a strict exercise and diet regimen, pretty soon we’re awarded a new body, one that is more fit and lean than the previous one. Similarly, based on the desires at the forefront of consciousness at the time of death, a specific form is created for the soul’s next encounter with the material creation. The cycle thus continues perpetually until desires are purified to the point that association with matter is no longer preferred.
While it may be difficult to believe that a wealthy person is today reaping the rewards of past activities, we know from the existence of “trust fund babies” and children born of well to do parents that not everyone has the same starting point in life. The son who gains a large inheritance suddenly becomes wealthy. What if he were to say, “Look, I did nothing and I’m rich. Why can’t everyone else do this?” Obviously the source of his wealth was the hard work and endeavor of previous generations of family members. It would be silly to think that the wealth just came on its own.
In actuality, every reaction we see is influenced by more powerful entities. Even with the simplest of examples like the entering of a keystroke on a keyboard and seeing the inputted value on the computer screen, there are so many outside influences that are not within the control of the worker. If I depress a certain letter on the keyboard and see it pop up on the screen, naturally I will think that I am the sole cause of the result. But what gets overlooked is that the results are not always the same for every person. For instance, some people will get hit by a tornado, earthquake or other natural disaster and thus not be able to type on their keyboard. Another person may have a debilitating disease that prohibits the movement of their hands and legs. Another person may be violently attacked by another living entity, thus losing their chance at acting out their desires. Another person can perform the exact same action, i.e. press the letter on the keyboard, and not have anything result because of a defect in the hardware or an error in the keyboard’s construction.
Just because one person can type on a keyboard and have the intended result appear on the screen doesn’t mean that they are solely responsible for what results. So many other things didn’t happen in the same time that it took to depress the specific key. Through this small example we see that we have very little control over anything. The higher authorities, known as devas, or demigods, in the Vedic tradition, manage the different elements of life, such as earth, water, fire, air and ether. They are also responsible for distributing one of the threefold miseries of life, adhidaivika, which are those pains inflicted by nature. Karma always delivers the results that are due a person, but in order for the results to manifest, a spiritual injection, instigation from a superior entity, is required.
Even when apprised of this information, the tendency may be to overlook the need for worshiping God or His deputies. “I’m already enjoying the results of my karma, so why should I worry about religion? It seems like the results are out of my control anyway, so why should I be concerned over how to secure future rewards? Why can’t I just let everything happen on its own?” This line of thinking seems valid enough, for the higher authorities are much more powerful than we are. Nevertheless, there is a purpose to the human form of life. Simply meeting the basic demands of the body is not enough, for the wealthy are always craving action and looking for new ways to spend their time and money. If accumulating wealth and possessions was the aim of life, the well-off would just sit around and do nothing.
The behavior exhibited by wealthy parents towards their children gives us a glimpse into why the system of sacrifice was instituted by the Supreme Lord at the beginning of creation. Let’s say that we succeed materially and accumulate more wealth than we know what to do with. Our children will inherit this opulence and thus not have to worry about meeting the basic demands of the body as they grow up. With this situation, how will we behave towards our children? Will we just allow them to enjoy playing throughout their life without giving any attention to education or work? On the contrary, as good parents we will try to get them into the best schools so that they can become smart enough to use their talents towards furthering their desires. So even when life’s necessities are met, there is still a reason for going through the perfunctory processes, as there are life lessons to be learned from following a recommended course of action.
With spirituality, the aim of every recommended practice is to bring about a gradual shift in consciousness. While the human being is advised to hold sacrifices to please the demigods, the animals don’t have these concerns; and yet all of their necessities are met. Even the tiger, which lives off killing other animals, is given enough food to survive on at just the right times. The animal community doesn’t have any government panels, taxing schemes, economic forums, or stimulus plans to aid in supplying their basic necessities. Their requirements are provided by nature, which is ultimately under the control of the Supreme Lord.
The human beings are a superior species, and yet they are given the added requirement of sacrifice. Therefore there must be a purpose to religion and its recommendations. Sacrifice is intended solely for the purification of consciousness, as the “I am master” mentality is what keeps the soul away from God. The Supreme Lord is known as Krishna because He is all-attractive. Just one look at the smiling face of Shyamasundara can secure the soul enough transcendental pleasure to last a lifetime. In its constitutional position, the soul is a lover of God. Love manifests in service, activities driven by the attitude which seeks to put a smile on the loveable object’s face.
In the conditioned state, the living entity takes the highest object of pleasure to be any object or entity except God. This attitude is not in line with the constitutional position of the soul; hence the requirement for a separate habitation. The material world that we currently occupy is part of the Lord’s separated energy; His direct presence is not here. The ultimate objective for any soul within any form of life is to choose in favor of spiritual association, as this will lead to the greatest pleasure. Unfortunately, the animals don’t have the ability to even make these distinctions or give the up or down vote indicating their choice in association.
Only in the human form of body can the individual gather the intelligence necessary for choosing in favor of association with God. In order for this choice to be made, the false identification with the body must cease. For this barrier towards spiritual realization to be broken, the “I am God” mentality must be shed. Through sacrifice and the regulative principles of religion, the living entity can slowly but surely take the necessary steps towards understanding that God is superior and that they are meant to voluntarily serve Him. Serving the Lord out of fear is not a first class type of worship, for Krishna has no explicit desire to punish us. Just being separated from the company of the spiritual world and its inhabitants is punishment enough. In a world devoid of God, there will be constant competition for supremacy. Since there can only be one Supreme Controller, despite any gains made this competition will eventually result in defeat.
When sacrifice is avoided, the mentality that keeps one conditioned to material life strengthens. Life’s necessities will always be there, as food, grains, milk and water are readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to other items. If the animals get everything through the mercy of the demigods, why shouldn’t the human beings? The suras, who manage the different elements that make up the necessities of material life, act directly under the order of Krishna. By worshiping them, one works their way up towards the Supreme Lord. Yet since in this age adherence to religious life is virtually absent, there is little time for following every single rule, regulation and recommended sacrifice. Rather, the only recommended sacrifice for this age is the sankirtana-yajna, chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
As altering consciousness is the aim of human life, the more we can remain in contact with Krishna, the better off we will be. He is the object of sacrifice anyway, as one of His names is Yajneshvara. Sacrifice to the demigods is meant to serve as an indirect way of worshiping the Supreme Lord, who sanctions the rewards distributed by the devas. The wise, however, seek not the temporary benefits of a material existence. They go straight for the sublime association of the most attractive person, the entity whom all the world is seeking. Through His holy name, He can be found within a second. Whether or not we put forth an effort at securing temporary pains and pleasures will not make a difference, as these will arrive in due course. Karma always bears fruit, either immediately or some time into the future. The soul is full of potential for action, and this is by design. Our original form is that of servant of Krishna, so by following activities that maintain the connection with the Lord in a stream of purified consciousness, our efforts exerted in the valuable human form of life can bring about the best fruit, ascension to the imperishable spiritual sky.