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Sri Aurobindo

Letters of Sri Aurobindo

Volume 1. 1935

Letter ID: 1446

Sri Aurobindo — Nirodbaran Talukdar

October 17, 1935

One or two points on your second letter to Somnath. First about sacrifice; you know plenty of young lads have sacrificed their lives for the country by going to jail, being interned, but also by terrorism. They believe in the sacredness of their cause and so have sacrificed themselves by adopting means which they think would best serve their cause. Would you call their sacrifice a “misguided” one and send them to perdition for it? I believe you wouldn’t.

Self-sacrifice for the country’s sake has certainly a moral value. The “terrorism” brings in another element and assimilates it to the act of a fighter, less sattwic and more rajasic in its nature. I am not sure that I would be willing to call that a sacrifice in the moral or sattwic sense. In Bhishma’s case the element of sacrifice came in not in fighting and killing for the sake of Dhritarashtra but in his knowing that he must die and accepting it for his ideal of loyalty. Of course, you may say that every man who risks his life does an act of sacrifice, but then we come back to very primitive values. I took the word in Somnath’s letter in a less outward sense; otherwise my answer might have been different.

You also know how an ignorant Muslim fanatic killed a Hindu whom he took to be irreverent to his Teacher. He was in turn killed by the Court. He made a sacrifice of his life for the noble cause of his Prophet!

It seems to me that he made the sacrifice of another’s life and not his own. In that way a murderer can also be said to make a sacrifice of his life to his desires or his passions, for he risks the gallows. Note that the fanatic tried to escape the gallows. Even taking it that he gave his life, it was for a reward, Paradise. His act is therefore at best equivalent to that of a soldier killing and getting killed. It cannot be called sacrifice, except in the old sense of the word, when you killed a cow or a goat on an altar to get religious merit. For the essence of this kind of act of fanaticism is, admittedly, the killing of the unbeliever and not the giving of your own life. Would you call it self-sacrifice if you offered a goat at Kalighat? it would be for the goat if it assented to the affair, but for yourself? Of course there is the price of the goat – you might pride yourself on that sacrifice. There is nothing noble besides, in fanaticism – there is no nobility of motive, though there may be a fierce enthusiasm of motive. Religious fanaticism is something psychologically lowborn and ignorant – and usually in its action fierce, cruel and base. Religious ardour like that of the martyr who sacrifices himself only is a different thing.

It seems difficult to understand when the Mother says that spiritual sacrifice is joyful.

She was speaking of the true spiritual sacrifice of self-giving, not the bringing of an unwilling heart to the altar.

But for those who have tasted the joys of life, plunged into its passions, desires, etc., the sacrifice can hardly be joyful to begin with. Pain, struggle, may not be the essential character of the sacrifice, but there is a lot of it in the offering – especially in this Kali Yuga, I should say.

It simply means that your sacrifice is still mental and has not yet become spiritual in its character. When your vital being consents to give up its desires and enjoyments, when it offers itself to the Divine, then the yajna will have begun. What I meant was that the European sense of the word is not the sense of the word “yajna” or the sense of “sacrifice” in such phrases as “the sacrifice of works”. It does not mean that you give up all works for the sake of the Divine – for then there would be no sacrifice of works at all. Similarly the sacrifice of knowledge does not mean that you painfully and resolutely make yourself a fool for the sake of the Lord. Sacrifice means an inner offering to the Divine and the real spiritual sacrifice is a very joyful thing. Otherwise, one is only trying to make oneself fit and has not yet begun the real yajna. It is because your mind is struggling with your vital, the unwilling animal, and asking it to allow itself to be immolated that there is the pain and struggle. If the spiritual will (or psychic) were more in the front then you would not be lamenting over the loss of the ghee and butter and curds thrown into the Fire or trying to have a last lick at it before casting it. The only difficulty would be about bringing down the gods fully enough (a progressive labour), not about lamentations over the ghee. [By the way, do you think that the Mother or myself or others who have taken up the spiritual life had not enjoyed life and that it is therefore that the Mother was able to speak of a joyous sacrifice to the Divine as the true spirit of spiritual sacrifice? Or do you think we spent the preliminary stages in longings for the lost fleshpots of Egypt and that it was only later on we felt the joy of the spiritual sacrifice? Of course we did not; we and many others had no difficulty on the score of giving up anything we thought necessary to give up and no hankerings afterwards. Your rule is as usual a stiff rule that does not at all apply generally.]1


1 The brackets were put by Sri Aurobindo.