In today’s world the word sacrifice conjures negative things in the mind. It’s almost as though we are losing a part of ourselves when we give up something that belongs to us. Sacrifice is equated with loss. This is largely due to today’s modern materialistic culture where we are taught to feel ‘entitled’. We are entitled to happiness, to comfort, to good relationships, to a good job. It is as thought all this is ‘meant to be’ and we almost have an ugly demand for these things. We presume that all these things must happen to us. That we deserve them. This sense of entitlement is somewhat new – at least here in India. This was not how I remember seeing my grandparents. I distinctly remember my grandmother running to the god house in our home whenever a good news came. Did I get my first offer letter? It would be placed in front of God’s statue with a deep sense of gratitude for what had happened. This gratitude stems from not demanding from life. When things happen, we are elated and grateful. Entitlement on the other hand says, “Well, I deserved this job”.
This sense of demand and entitlement has come because of the growth of material prosperity, but to a larger extent, an indoctrination of the western materialistic culture. This culture tells us that we can achieve our dreams. It tells us that we too have infinite potential. While there is certainly some truth to those statements, it hides a fact that many of us are not going to be as successful as portrayed in films, advertisement and social media. Many of us are going to lead ordinary lives without too much wealth, fame or power. Achievement is equated with a high social standing and not on fully realizing one’s potential. And this template that we have been sold, tells us we ought to have all this success because it is normal. Anybody who does not have it is in fact a loser. This way of thinking is extremely dangerous not only to the society but also to ourselves.
What this does is we constantly get into a never ending ‘demand mode’. I expect this from my job, from my partner, from society, from the government. Constant demand as a matter of right. This is a recipe for misery, since life cannot fulfill all our demands. In fact, even when fulfilled, we begin to notice a sense of emptiness. We begin to start looking for the next thing that can bring us joy. This is the what’s next? syndrome. Because we have trained the mind to be in a constant state of demand – what’s next – we can never fully relax and settle down mentally. And therefore we can never be happy.
This is why ancient cultures understood that the way to happiness is never in demands and entitlement but in sharing and giving. They called this sacrifice. In the Gita, Krishna uses the word Yajna (pronounced as Yag-nya similar to the first ‘Gn’ of the word Gnocchi). Sacrifice means giving something in order to get something bigger. At a ritual level this sounds like a business contract. “Oh God, I am offering you one hundred rupees, and therefore you must give me this job”. No! This is no sacrifice. We are sacrificing or giving up the need to want more and more. We just surrender this constant neediness, let go and relax. We give up these petty demands to get something larger – larger happiness, true bliss and peace.
How can we realize this in our daily lives? How many of us pause and ask ourselves, what am I contributing to my relationship? What am I contributing to my job? What am I contributing to my parents and my family? We hardly dwell on this. We are always looking at what life hasn’t given us. This is okay. It is important and natural to notice deficiencies, but it must be balanced by a sense of giving to the other.
In fact, the secret to life is to minimize your needs as much as possible. A need is essentially a demand we place on life. I need this thing to be in a certain manner in order to make me happy. In a sense, we are bringing external joy into our lives to complete us. But when we examine ourselves carefully, we realize that there is nothing to complete, for we are already complete. Nothing can complete us. It has never happened. Even if it did, it was momentary and eventually the feeling of a lack came back. A new car doesn’t add anything to us for long. A promotion doesn’t add anything to our being. Yes it may make life more comfortable and so on, but it does not fundamentally alter the sense of being and peace within us. When we realize that nothing can add or subtract to or from us, we realize that there is only one thing left to do. Express yourself – fully, wholly. And this act of being in tune with ourselves and giving to the people around us becomes our act of sacrifice.
There is a very powerful line in the brilliant book by Viktor E.Frankl Man’s search for meaning. He says:
This is also very similar to what John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural speech as President, “Ask what not your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. To rephrase it to suit our needs we must ask what we can bring to life and not what life brings to us. This is a fundamental shift in the energy direction. We add beauty, color and individuality to life and not the other way around.
As we begin to bring in the attitude of sacrifice to our daily lives, something magical begins to happen. We start realizing that our sorrows are baseless. We begin to understand and realize our fullest, deepest potential as a unique human being. We begin to flower fully. This is the beginning of an awakened life.