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The Way of Yajna

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

There is an ancient Vedic principle that teaches that we, as spiritual beings, ought to recognize the sacred grounds of existence and use our daily actions to honor that Divinity that constantly surrounds us. This idea is called yajna, which literally means “a sacrifice, sacrificial rite; any offering or oblation; an act of worship, any pious or devotional act.” Most commonly, yajna is known as a fire ritual, but it goes far beyond that. Yajna is about ritualizing our lives, and honoring the Divine within each person, creature, and moment.

As we begin to see all of life as sacred, we then start to realize that we have a duty to uphold our link in the web of life. In fact, yajna suggest that our life’s work should be based upon serving, offering and sacrifice. If we all gave, there would be total abundance and everyone would have enough; if we all take, scarcity wins out. Ancient Vedic texts say that every householder ought to perform five particular devotional acts each day. These five great karmic duties are collectively known as the pancha mahayajna. They are actions we take to honor the sacred and to pay back our karmic debts. They are:

  1. Bhūta yajna – the duty we have to preserve and protect all animals and the Earth as a whole

  2. Atithi yajna – our duty to people and society as a whole and the recognition that each one of us holds a Divine presence

  3. Pitri yajna – our duty to our relatives and ancestors; to take proper care of our elders and to honor the legacy of our ancestors

  4. Deva yajna – our duty to honor the Divine in any form we wish, but also the Divine that resides within ourself

  5. Brahma yajna – the duty to the higher knowledge, including studying sacred texts as well as honoring our teachers and gurus

The more I understand this principle of yajna, the more it resonates with me. I have been ritualizing my life as much as possible over the last several years, and it has really helped me to stay connected to a sense of being part of the One. That doesn’t mean I don’t get caught up in my own dramas and wishful thinking…of course I do, but I’m also able to step back and detach from it all in a way that I wasn’t able to do in the past. Whether through my sādhana or Āyurvedic living, as a student and as a teacher, I am ever looking towards seeing the Divine in the here and now and finding ways to honor its presence. Some days I’m better at it than others, but I try. It is my duty. It is yours, too.


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