Meaning of Yajna
Yajna means an act directed to the welfare of others, done without desiring any return for it, whether of a temporal or spiritual nature. 'Act' here must be taken in its widest sense, and includes thought and word, as well as deed. 'Others" embraces not only humanity, but all life....
Again, a primary sacrifice must be an act which conduces the most to the welfare of the greatest number in the widest area, and which can be performed by the largest number of men and women with the least trouble. It will not, therefore, be a yajna, much less a mahayajna, to wish or to do ill to anyone else, even in the order to serve a so-called higher interest. And the Gita teaches and experience testifies that all action that cannot come under the category of yajna promotes bondage.
The world cannot subsist for a single moment without yajna in this sense, and therefore, the Gita, after having dealt with true wisdom in the second chapter, takes up in the third the means of attaining it, and declares in so many words that yajna came with the Creation itself. This body, therefore, has been given us only in order that we may serve all Creation with it. And therefore, says the Gita, he who eats without offering yajna eats stolen food. Every single act of one who would lead a life of purity should be in the nature of yajna.
Yajna having come to us with our birth, we are debtors all our lives, and thus for ever bound to serve the universe. And even as a bond slave receives food, clothing and so on from the master whom he serves, so should we gratefully accept such gifts as may be assigned to us by the Lord of the universe. What we receive must be called a gift; for as debtors we are entitled to no consideration for the discharge of our obligations. Therefore, we may not blame the Master, if we fail to get it. Our body is His to be cherished or cast away according to His will.
This is not a matter for complaint or even pity; on the contrary, it is a natural and even a pleasant and desirable state if only we realize our proper place in God's scheme. We do, indeed, need strong faith if we would experience this supreme bliss. "Do not worry in the least about yourself, leave all worry to God,"- this appears to be the commandment in all religions.
This need not frighten anyone. He who devotes himself to service with a clear conscience will day by day grasp the necessity for it in greater measure, and will continually grow richer in faith. The path of service can hardly be trodden by one who is not prepared to renounce self-interest, and to recognize the conditions of his birth. Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large. (FYM, pp. 53-56)
Yajna in Practice
Yajna is duty to be performed, or service to be rendered, all the twenty-four hours of the day....To serve without desire is to favour not others, but ourselves, even as in discharging a debt we serve only ourselves, lighten our burden and fulfill our duty. Again, not only the good, but all of us are bound to place our resources at the disposal of humanity. And if such is the law, as evidently it is, indulgence cease to hold a place in life and gives way to renunciation. The duty of renunciation differentiates mankind from the beast....
But renunciation here does not means abandoning the world and retiring into the forest. The spirit of renunciation should rule all the activities of life. A householder does not cease to be one if he regards life as a dirty rather than as an indulgence. A merchant, who operates in the sacrificial spirit, will have cores passing through his hands, but he will, if he follows the law, use his abilities for service. He will, therefore, not cheat or speculate, will lead a simple life, will not injure a living soul and will lose millions rather than harm anybody.
Let no one run away with the idea that this type of merchant exists only in my imagination. Fortunately for the world, it does exist in the West as well as in the East. It is true such merchants may be counted on one's finger's ends, but the type cease to be imaginary as soon as even one living specimen can be found to answer to it....And if we go deeply into the matter, we shall come across men in every walk of life who lead dedicated lives. No doubt these sacrifices obtain their livelihood by their work. But livelihood is not their objective, but only a by-product of their vocation....
A life of sacrifice is the pinnacle of art, and is full of true joy. Yajna is not yajna if one feels is to be burdensome or annoying. Self-indulgence leads to destruction, and renunciation to immortality. Joy has no independent existence. It depends upon our attitude of life. One man will enjoy theatrical scenery, another the ever-new scenes which unfold themselves in the sky. Joy, therefore, is a matter of individual and national education. We shall delight in things which we have been taught to delight in as children. And illustrations can be easily cited of different national tastes....
One who would serve will not waste a thought upon his own comforts, which he leaves to be attended to or neglected by his Master on high. He will not, therefore, encumber himself with everything that comes his way; he will take only what he strictly needs and leave the rest. He will be calm, free from anger and unruffled in mind even if he finds himself inconvenienced. His service, like virtue, is its own reward, and he will rest content with it.
Again, one dare not be negligent in service, or be behindhand with it. He who thinks that he must be diligent only in his personal business, and unpaid public business may be done in any way and at any time he chooses, has still to learn the very rudiments of the science of sacrifice. Voluntary service of others demands the best of which one is capable, and must take precedence over service of self. In fact, the pure devotee consecrates himself to the service of humanity without any reservation whatever. (ibid, pp. 57-60)