Sacrifice, Works and Salvation

The new chapter “The Significance of Sacrifice”, continues and enhances the reconciliation between Vedism and Vedantism by clarifying further and refining the understanding we have of sacrifice. Sri Aurobindo points us to several passages in chapter 3 of the Gita in which this definition is viewed and addressed. While a first read may seem like a validation of the definition of sacrifice constituting ritual action for achievement of worldly results, the Gita quickly dispels this idea: “The next verses create a ground for the reconciliation between the two extremes; the secret is not inaction as soon as one turns towards the higher truth, but desireless action both before and after it is reached. The liberated man has nothing to gain by action, but nothing also to gain by inaction, and it is not at all for any personal object that he has to make his choice. ‘Therefore without attachment perform ever the work that is to be done’ (done for the sake of the world…, as is made clear immediately afterward); for by doing work without attachment man attains to the highest; for it was even by works that Janaka and the rest attained to perfection.’ ”

Sri Aurobindo next defines three kinds of works, depending on how they match up to these principles: “It is true that works and sacrifice are a means of arriving at the highest good…; but there are three kinds of works, that done without sacrifice for personal enjoyment which is entirely selfish and egoistic and misses the true law and aim and utility of life,…that done with desire, but with sacrifice and the enjoyment only as a result of sacrifice and therefore to that extent consecrated and sanctified, and that done without desire or attachment of any kind. It is the last which brings the soul of man to the highest….”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 12, The Significance of Sacrifice, pp. 107-108