- Is sacrificial killing in Vedic Yajnas justified? Is it not a sin?"
Sri Kanchi MaaMunivar was camping in Mylapore Sanskrit College, Chennai, in the year 1957, along with his disciple Sri Jayendra Saraswathi SwamigaL. A Vegetarian Conference held at that time in the Adyar Theosophical Society was attended by representatives from all over the world. Resolutions were passed in the conference to the effect that it was a great sin to harm the animals for whatever reason; so flesh eating should be avoided and only vegetarian food should be taken. They had also devised ways to popularise the message of ahimsa and vegetarianism among the general public.
When the conference was over, its president and the chairman of the Theosophical Society Sri Sankara Menan brought a group of people from the western countries for darshan and blessings of Sri Kanchi Acharya MahaSwamigaL, after taking his prior permission. The delegates were keen on meeting the sage.
Their president (Sri Menan) introduced everyone to SwamigaL, telling him the name and country. After this introduction, when he started telling them about the sage, SwamigaL interrupted him and said, "You need not tell much about me. The extent they know about me is enough."
Some of the delegates wanted to ask questions to Swamiji. When he said yes, the very first question that came was "Is sacrificial killing in Vedic Yajnas justified? Is it not a sin?"
SwamigaL said, "Yes, it can be done, it is not a sin!"
At this reply, they all suddenly laughed. Menan was angry that they had insulted the sage. He told them, "I brought you to this sage to seek his blessings. Had I known you would behave with such indecency, I would not have ventured at this task."
SwamigaL pacified Menan. "Don't be angy with them! They have come with a premeditated resolution. They have concluded that jIva himsa is a sin and it should not be done for any reason. Since my reply was contrary to their conclusion, they had this laugh. They never had any thought of insulting me. We should reply to them in the proper manner."
As Menan's anger subsided, SwamigaL continued: "A rowdy kills a man. A law court inquires the incident and a judge gives him a sentence of death. The rowdy committed the sin of killing, say in a fit of passion, with no idea of sin and spiritual rewards. Then isn't it a jIva himsa to give him a death sentence? Do we blame the judge for this action?"
These words from SwamigaL sent them into thinking. After all, they were learned people. Sensing some interesting exposition of truths, they waited eagerly for the next words from Swamiji.
SwamigaL continued: "In a junction of four roads, an ambulance comes first. Since the vehicle is for saving a life, we stop all other vehicles and permit it to pass first. On another occasion, an ambulance and a fire engine come on the road. We let the fire engine pass at the cost of saving one life, because the fire engine is rushing to save many lives. On a third occasion, a fire engine and a military van in an emergency come up. What do we do now? We let the military van go first since the life of a country assumes more importance than the lives of a few people. At such a time, we don't think of voluntarily sacrificing the lives of a few people in the city for the sake of the country.
"A king is conducting a battle to save his country. He kills thousands of people in the battle. If a man who kills another gets a death sentence, how large a sentence should the king be given? But then we garland him for his victory. In all such cases, we justify and accept jIva himsa. We develop our own rules and regulations to guide us in such matters. In the same way, we don't consider the sacrificial killing as sin. The Vedas say that if they are done for the welfare of the world, they are admissible and won't be construed as sin.
"Veda is beginningless. It is like the air that Bhagavan breathes. So both Vedas and the Bhagavan are both eternal. shastraya ca sukhaya ca. Vedas and shastra teach only good things. Bhagavan Sri Krishna also says the same thing in his Bhagavat Gita:
"'devAn bhAvayatAnena te devA bhAvayantu vaH | parasparaM bhAvayantaH shreyaH param avapsyatha ||'
"If we do the yajnas and satisfy the devas they give us rains and good life. So the killing done in sacrifices won't be construed as sin.
"Not only that. Hindu religion also teaches that to do yajna is himsa, so it should not be done. But then we should look at who are those people who should not do yajnas.
"An incident in Bhagavatam written by Vyasa Bhagavan. There was a king named PrAcIna Barhis. He had great faith in spiritual rites and disciplines. So he conducted yajnas frequently for the welfare of the world. Later, he was enlightened with tatva jnAnA. In that state of sannyAsA he was barred from conducting any yajna. Still he conducted them, due to his customary acquaintance with them. To imbibe him bhuddhi, Narada Maharshi appeared in person and created a mayavic scene. He told the king, 'You are doing the sacrifices even in your state of renouncement! Look at the sky.' The king saw a herd of sheep wearing golden caps on their horns charging towards him. At this sight, the king realized his mistake and decided to stop anymore yajnas as jIva himsa since he had renounced the world.
"The tapas-begotten son of Tamilnadu is Thayumanavar. He used to go the garden, pluck the flowers and do his pujas with them every morning. One day he saw that a number of flowers had fallen to the ground. He could not take them for puja as they all appeared in brahma svarUpam to him! So he thought whether it was proper to take an object of deity and drop it on another. And he started singing:
"'paNNen unakkAna pUsai Or uruvile (I shall not worship you in a form.) pArkkinRa malar ellAm nIye irutti (You are in all the flowers that I see.) pnimalar eDukka manam naNNale...' (So my mind does not wish to take them...)
"From that time, he gave up even prostrating to God. He says, 'If I prostrate to you from one direction, how can it amount to worshipping you who is also in the opposite direction? All that I would do would be half prostrations!'
"Therefore, 'what is himsa, what is ahimsa, who can do what and who should not do what'--only the Vedas that decidedly speak about such things are the Guide for us.
"Today everyone knows that even plants have life. A plant appears from a seed and spawns many seeds. This means that to eat the fruits that give seeds is also himsa. Even to eat vegetables and spinach are himsa. That is the reason ascetics don't take even vegetables. Shastras say vatambu-parnasana*, that is, the jnAnis would subsist on dry leaves, water and air.
"Therefore, what do you understand from all this? No one except the ascetics and rishis can observe total ahimsa. People can observe ahimsa only according to the rights sanctioned to them. Vedas say that the doing yajnas for the welfare of the world by householders will not amount to himsa. Only Vedas are the pramANam (standard) for us. Precepts that cannot be violated."
A delegate from London proudly told Swamiji about a book titled No End to the Truth that he had authored.
SwamigaL asked him, "What was the end you gave your book?" When the man hesitated he said, "The no end you have given is the end to it." Everyone laughed heartily.
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