The other day I was asked why we cannot come up with a single word that could replace the word “sacrifice” without the baggage that word carries, particularly in the West. The answer was that we have such a word, and the word is “love”. As with any term, the word “love” also comes with its fixed associations. Love, in its human form, is an attempt by the ego-personality to expand beyond its limited boundaries, to give itself to someone or something “other than” itself, and thereby to recognise the law of interchange and oneness.
Sri Aurobindo discusses the concepts of unity and interchange that constitute the underlying essence of the law of sacrifice: “But it is only a divine love and unity that can possess in the light what the human forms of these things seek for in the darkness. For the true unity is not merely an association and agglomeration like that of physical cells joined by a life of common interests; it is not even an emotional understanding, sympathy, solidarity or close drawing together. Only then are we really unified with those separated from us by the divisions of Nature, when we annul the division and find ourselves in that which seem to us not ourselves.”
He discusses the increasing forms of unity: “Association is a vital and physical unity; its sacrifice is that of mutual aid and concessions. Nearness, sympathy, solidarity create a mental, moral and emotional unity; theirs is a sacrifice of mutual support and mutual gratifications. But the true unity is spiritual; its sacrifice is a mutual self-giving, an interfusion of our inner substance. The law of sacrifice travels in Nature towards its culmination in this complete and unreserved self-giving; it awakens the consciousness of one common self in the giver and the object of the sacrifice. This culmination of sacrifice is the height even of human love and devotion when it tries to become divine; for there too the highest peak of love points into a heaven of complete mutual self-giving, its summit is the rapturous fusing of two souls into one.”
Human love is clearly a weak and imperfect form, limited as to its object and the force of the energy involved, but it has its role as the human individual begins to learn the law of sacrifice–unity, interchange and self-giving for the greater whole. It may begin from the lower nature and the action of the force of desire, but as it is purified and refined, and redirects the focus towards ever larger and purer forms, it can approach the ideal of divine love. Devotion can bring us closer, but as long as we still perceive a difference between ourselves and the rest of the creation, we have not yet shifted to the divine standpoint and thus, cannot yet entirely speak of divine love. When we recognize the complete inter-connectedness of the entire manifestation, and that there is only that ONE being and existence, of which we are a part, then our self-giving to that manifested reality is transformed into the deepest forms of divine love, without the tarnishing effect of any self-reference or grasping being involved.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 4, The Sacrifice, The Triune Path and the Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 99-100