In the ordinary course of life, man does many actions, which, wittingly or unwittingly, cause harm to other beings. To atone such actions, five yajnas – propitiatory rites – have been prescribed by the Shastras. These are Deva Yajna, Pitru Yajna, Bhoota Yajna, Manushya Yajna and Rishi or Brahma Yajna. The inner significance of each of these yajnas should be clearly understood by everyone.
Deva Yajna. In numerous daily activities like walking, breathing, and others, unconsciously people cause the death of many creatures like ants, insects and microorganisms. To atone for these sins committed unknowingly, Deva Yajnas, to propitiate various deities, have been prescribed. Moreover, in our body, in every organ and limb, the presiding deities are present in the form of Rasa (a subtle fluid). Hence these deities are called Angirasas (the presiding deities of the Angas or limbs).
Because these deities in the subtle form protect the organs concerned, gratitude has to be expressed to them in the form of Deva Yajnas. During the states like sleep, these deities take care of the body. As the body has been given to man for the performance of his duties man should be grateful to the deities who protect it. “The body is essential for the fulfillment of Dharma”. To meditate on the Anga Devas, to worship them and express gratitude to them is man’s first duty.
Pitru Yajna. When a branch is broken, a flower is plucked or a tree is cut down, many small creatures may be losing their lives. Recognizing one’s responsibility for this loss of lives, one should perform Pitru Yajna (sacrifice to the manes) by way of atonement.
In addition, one should remember that he owes his body and all that it contains, as well as the food that has nourished him in childhood, to his parents. As long as they are alive, it is one’s duty to serve them and keep them happy. The obsequies and ceremonies that are performed after their death are laid down to honor their memory. By performing Pitru Yajna, the ancestors are propitiated.
Bhoota Yajnya. When we take a bath, or wash our clothes, or sweep the house, many living creatures may be losing their lives. To atone for the death of such creatures, Bhoota Yajna or offerings to Bhootas have to be made. This practice has come down from the times of ancient sages. The rishis used to maintain deer, cows and other animals in their ashrams and look after them with loving care as an expression of their love for all beings. Following their example, other people used to scatter sugar or flour near anthills for feeding the ants.
To offer remains of one’s food after a meal to cows or dogs or other creatures is also a form of Bhoota Yajna. Even today many people keep dogs, parrots or other pets at home. By showing love towards living things in this way, some atonement is made for the unconscious harm done to various creatures in daily life.
Manava or Manushya Yajna. These yajnas or rituals are done to atone for many offences committed against various beings in the course of daily life, in actions done during work or play.
Rishi or Brahma Yajna, Considering human birth as a precious gift, the ancient sages provided through the scriptures, the Upanishads, the Dharma Shastras a body of principles guiding man’s life so that he may strive to attain the true goal of life – namely Self-Realization. They laid down the four Purusharthas- Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha– as guidelines for humanity.
These regulations, which are not applicable to animals or birds, have been prescribed for man alone because he alone is endowed with powers of enquiry and discrimination to choose between right and wrong. All laws and Shastras are intended for man. Sins, Laws and Curses (Shapam) are designed only for man. The Rishis laid down the royal road of righteous life, for all humanity. It is our duty to show our gratitude to them by meditating on them and offering worship to them through Rishi Yajnas.
These five types of yajnas have to be performed everyday to atone for the sins committed in the course of daily activities. There is no need to have elaborate arrangements for performing these yajnas. If you carry out the behests of your parents, meditate on deities, offer food to the animals in the house or outside or at least give alms to a beggar, you can propitiate the divine and redeem your life.
You would do well to remember that there is no greater gift than the gift of food to the hungry, there are no greater gods than one’s parents there is no higher Dharma [than] compassion, no more profitable acquisition that the company of the good, no worse enemy than anger, no worse disease than debt, no worse death than infamy, no higher merit than remembering the Lord.
It is futile to expect that merely by reciting a few mantras one can atone for one’s sins. Only through right action can expiation take place. Without a clean heart, all worship is useless. Without spiritual purity, religious observances are valueless. How can you have pure food if the cooking utensils are unclean? People indulge in high-sounding talk about spiritual matters. But without application in practice, such talk has no meaning.
(Excerpt from Dasara Sandesh discourse “The Five Yajnas” by Bhagavan Baba in Poornachandra Auditorium on 07-10-1986 Sanatana Sarathi OCTOBER 1986)