Habit of Self-sacrifice


Self-sacrifice is what we often talk about but do not understand its real meaning. Though it is obvious that we according to our limited wisdom portray it accordingly, yet according to Swāmi, sacrifice is the salt of life! How many of us want to eat the food without salt and no wonder that we also won’t like to miss the salt of our life!

Self-sacrifice includes the state of surrender where a person does not think about oneself and goes on to bear anything and everything. The ups and downs of life are not troubling or frustrating—they are accepted with a calm demeanor and without any grumble.

The sense of this surrender would lead us to the seventh habit that we would be talking later in this book. Self-sacrifice is a sort of active surrender while in the coming time, we would be talking about a habit that would be termed as a passive surrender.

The basic feature of this habit is a sense of deep-thinking where you mark out maximum possibilities of doing good to others and side-keeping your own joys for the sake of others’ joys. Suppose you are nursing a patient side-keeping your sleep or just missing watching your favorite television-show or missing your food at a restaurant. The thought of side-keeping your own interest and actively providing relief to other is a direct example of self-sacrifice. While on spiritual matters, this sacrifice would meant a lot and would certainly demand a lot of courage. It is pertinent to mention here that the rewards would also be great.

We would be taking up a verse from Annapoornā Stotra written by Ādī Śankrāchārya:

अन्नपूर्णे सदापूर्णे शङ्करप्राणवल्लभे।

ज्ञानवैराग्यसिद्धयर्थं भिक्षां देहि च पार्वति।।

(Annapῡrṇé sadāpῡrṇé śankarprāṇvallabhé, Gyānvairāgyasidhiarthaṃ Bhikśāṃ déhī c pārvatī)

( O food-providing and always-providing, O beloved of Lord Śankra; O Mother Pārvati, give me the alms of fulfillment of wisdom and renunciation.)

This verse drives the point home—what we can or should ask form God: the fulfillment of renunciation where we are left of nobody, for nobody, but of God only and for God only.

Saint Éknāth

Saint EknathWe would take a story that would provide a good sample for knowing how side-keeping your self-interest could give you the road to the highest goal.

There lived a saint named Éknāth in Mahārāṣtra in the 14th century. His name is very popular in that part of Southern India, though people revere him throughout India.

We will need to consider some scenarios here that were prevalent at those times, and especially in India. There were not so much sources of traveling and transportation during those times, and people traveled on horses, or on feet. The times during the life of this saint was highly spiritual in India, or so to say–it must be understood that Brāhmins of that time were highly respected across the country. The ritual-aspects of the country were highly respected among all the people and people deemed it very pious to go to pilgrimages, and attain salvation through the company of good people.

Okay, here are we, in our own world visualizing those times. It happened that Saint Éknāth was traveling with some of his friends or co-seekers to Kāśī–a highly sacred place in North-East India. Kāśī lies in the state of West Bengāl of present India. As it has been already said that people used their feet to travel long distance, so did Saint Éknāth. Moreover, being saints, they all preferred to and had to walk on feet. Though the geographical distance of the place from where Saint Éknāth started to Kāśī is not known here; however, it can be easily believed that nobody in the present times undertakes such daring traveling activity on feet–it is far, far away by any means.

The pilgrimage to Kāśī holds a special reason, as people of those times believed that it is doubly sacred to bring the waters of sacred Gangā from there and to pour that water on the Śivaliñga that is placed by Lord Rāma on the sea shore while he had to cross the ocean to bring back Mother Sītā. The place is called Rāméśwaram and lies in the extreme south in the state of Kéralā. Pouring of Gangā water on Śivlinga is highly sacred ritual Indians of those times, and it was special to pour Kāśī Gangā water on Rāméśvaraṃ Linga. West Bengāl lies in the East part of the country, and Rāméśvaraṃ lies in the southernmost part of India in Kéralā–so, we can easily visualize that the journey was undertaken like a penance that promised great fruits for the undertaker. It was a very popular ritual at those times, and many ardent devotees take similar foot-journeys even now (!), though not of that length. However, we can’t deny the fact that somebody may try that one also and venture into a journey like this. But in those times, it was believed almost necessary for people to undertake such kind of journeys, and especially for saints, it was a general practice. (A few years ago, a group of devotees from Panjāb used to travel on pilgrimage to Puṭṭapartī!)

Saint EknathIt so happened that when Saint Éknāth was returning from Kāśī, he saw a donkey struggling for its life. Saint Éknāth moved closer to him and noticed that the donkey was breathing almost its last because of its thirst–his tongue had lolled out from his mouth, which is a clear sign that it was thirsty. For bathing the Linga at Rāméśvaraṃ, Saint Éknāth was holding the sacred Gangā water with him. Without any second thought, the saint poured out the sacred Gangā water into donkey’s mouth. The donkey revived and was saved from its certain death.

When he was about to pour the sacred water, his co-seekers dissuaded him that it was not right for him to waste that sacred water for a mere donkey–the water which was meant to bathe the sacred Linga of Rāméśvaraṃ. It was almost a virtual shock for them that someone could so easily pour that water in a donkey’s mouth, when they had undertaken so much pain to bring that water on shoulders to bathe the Lord at Rāméśvaraṃ. It’s clear that nobody among them joined or supported Saint Éknāth in his attempt to save the donkey, but they all was very much eager to get him out of this almost blasphemous act as per their own thinking.

The story takes many directions here, as some believe that Lord Śiva appeared in His beloved form to reveal that it was indeed He who drank that water in the form of a donkey. All the merits of bathing the Liñga was bestowed on Saint Éknāth at that spot, namely, the vision of God. We do not intend here to justify any of the claims that whether he received the vision, as some proclaim that he knew that it was like the ritual of bathing the Linga itself when he poured out the water for that donkey.

It turns almost symbolic here that he was right in his move, and he was amply rewarded by the Lord for his act. We are not to ascertain here that whether he was given a glimpse of God’s form, or whether he received all the merits that he was supposed to get if he would have bathed the Linga at Rāméshwaram with the sacred Gangā waters. We only mean to say that it was accepted by the Lord that Saint Èknāth was right in his action, and others who dissuaded him were wrong.

Swāmi’s words on self-sacrifice

Sacrifice is the salt of life; it is the secret of peace and joy. All the senses are self-centered, egoistic. They should be controlled so that they may not stand in the way of sacrifice. They must be educated to be “inward-directed”, towards the Ātmā which is the Universal Self. That experience is gained by entrusting the senses to the Lord. Everyone must pass through good deeds into the realm of expanding Love, and from Love, one learns the lessons of sacrifice, dedication, and of surrender to the Lord.

– Satya Sāi Speaks, Vol 5, Ch 18, 27-Mar-65

OK, we move out of the story and analyze it in the present context.

The test was to check the intensity of Saint Éknāth while adopting the habit of self-sacrifice vindicating his non-dual vision. He was given a real tough one. First, donkey is one of those animals that does not invoke any sense of delight, compassion, or love in the minds of general people. It is highly unlikely that many people will rush forward to help a donkey. Instead, if there were a rabbit or a deer, many people might have done the same thing. God tested the wisdom of Saint Éknāth in a really tough way; but it can be justified, as the reward of this test was also the highest, namely, the vision of the God! However, it is also believed that whom God tests, He also gives the power to pass it. It is a general practice to downgrade someone if he or she is not good for anything–”you are like a donkey”, is one of the commonest phrase that people use while criticizing someone. It seems being a donkey is a real pity in the beautiful world of our dear Lord, where there are some many other beautiful forms. It seems trivial in this story, but deeply analyzed, it can be clearly noticed that the first difficulty of the test started with the choice of the animal that Lord made. However, Saint Éknāth passed the test of apparent appearance. He was not much concerned about the appearance or the form, and justified his non-dual vision through his practicality.

Next comes the question of pouring out water that was meant for a sacred ritual meant to bathe God. However, Saint Éknāth acted in the most unselfish way. He decided that by pouring that water on Liñga, it is he who is going to be benefited. However, if he gives the water to the thirsty donkey, he might be able to save its life. He decided what a truly spiritual seeker should do–sacrifice his or her benefits for the benefit of others.

One point remains here. In those times on India, it was almost blasphemous to go against the social norms or to act in a manner, which would be considered against the scripture (or apparently so, for, no scripture says that we should not save a dying animal). But Saint Èknāth thought otherwise: for him, God, who resides in everything, comes first. He had to heed the calling of that Being, which is present in all, and later to the callings of social norms.

Another point that rises here that he could have searched for water elsewhere–there is no mention in the story that water was not available there. And this is exactly where the teachings of our beloved Swāmi take forefront–intensity!

Like Draupadī, Saint Éknāth also acted with utmost urgency while doing good to others. He did not wait for someone to fetch the water or go himself in search of it. It is never mentioned in the story that was water not available nearby, and that Gangā water was the only water available? He did not know whether the donkey suffered from some other ailment apart from the fact that he was thirsty. Saint Éknāth knew the gravity of the present situation–the donkey was thirsty, and it was necessary to provide him some potable water. And what water can excel the sacred Gangā water–water that does not get spoiled even after containing it for many years! He acted as best as he could in his present capacity; and this showed his intensity.

At the last, come his companions or his co-seekers, who had gone with him to the pilgrimage, and like him, was carrying the sacred water to bathe the Linga. They dissuaded him to waste the water for that unworthy animal, because they believed that such opportunity should not be wasted thus–they had traveled miles to get that sacred water, and they were almost nearing the destination of their return–Rāmèshwaram. They were so near the fruits that they might acquire from that ritual-bathing of the Lord. However, they took that process as a mere ritual, and were not very much practical in their thinking. No wonder that Saint Èknāth was rewarded for his non-dual vision, which exemplified the theory of scriptures through his selfless practical work. It is here when highly spiritual people or truly evolved people get differentiated from others–their actions speak for their wisdom. They do not need to prattle about their knowledge or intellectual power–they are simple in their behavior, for, they do what they believe or preach.

There are thousands of such examples of similar devotees of Lord, and we can easily gauge the vision that they had–for them God came first and everything else, later. God, whom they believed resides in everything and permeates the whole universe, should be practically seen in everything and everywhere. This is what the non-dualistic philosophy propagates. The first sign of a spiritual person lies in the fact that they know to whom the first place should be given–God!

Our Swāmi always stresses on this point: we should not see the outer form; we should not be attached or averse to any form; for, all forms are of God. We should have a vision that can transcend that form and see the inner divinity. Otherwise, we would get some trinkets as the fruits of those studies and rituals that we perform, unlike the ripened fruit of liberation achieved through the practicality of our wisdom–we must act selflessly and give God His due place in our lives–we will be spiritually elevated to gain closeness to God and ultimately will be allowed the Merger. It is clear that if we practice this one habit of those highly spiritual people, we would be able to bring a good conglomeration of Swāmi’s teaching being automatically followed. For, when we would see God in His first place, we would not be able to work against Him in any manner, and would not be able to degrade ourselves from our chosen path–the path that will lead us to Him.

How Swāmi exemplified this habit:

Swāmi has always been a role-model for self-sacrifice, as whatever He does, He does it for others. Though He often reminds us that He sees everybody as Himself and there is no distinction for me as Me or others.

Giving an example of self-sacrifice from the life of Swāmi would mean just picking up a grain of wheat from a bagful. You can just pick any grain and it would be suffused with selfless love and with a marked sign of self-sacrifice.

We go back to childhood of Swāmi. It is commonly known that even during childhood, Swāmi had a soft-heart for others who are in pain. It is said that nobody was turned empty-handed from His house. Beggars and seekers were provided whatever could be given to them.

It so turned out that the family members were agitated seeing that Swāmi was giving whatever little the family had. When Swāmi did not stop from giving, they imposed upon Him a condition that if He would give food to the beggars, He would have to go empty-stomach Himself making a compensation for the given food.  Swāmi gladly agreed to this kept His practice of providing food to the beggars that sought His house. Right from the childhood, Swāmi practiced the habit of self-sacrifice.

The magnanimity of this example is that food is the most fundamental necessity of people on earth. Swāmi often says that our bodies are food-dependent. Moreover, children often have a marked habit of possessiveness and especially for food items. So it was quite striking for the family members to notice that Swāmi relished the sight of others relishing His own food and He went empty-stomach.

2 thoughts on “Habit of Self-sacrifice”

  1. thanks for sharing these enlightening words!
    I have just a little technical comment to offer: I believe there’s a mistake in the sanskrit, reading सिद्धियर्थं instead of सिद्ध्यर्थं (ddhiy vs. ddhy)
    I’m no sanskrit scholar, but a google search for the latter gave many results, whereas a search for the former gave none.

    1. Dear David,

      I am happy that you liked it. I have checked it and you are right. It is a spelling mistake. I have corrected it now. Thanks once again.

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