Yajna Mindset – An Ancient Vedic Concept in the Modern World

With lots of love my two and half year old son passed on all his flu virus to me in a jiffy and grounded me to complete rest over the weekend. It was a good time to catch-up on my reading and to complete some of the online courses. Amidst reading Einstein’s biography, Bhagavad Gita, a write up on Political Philosophy and taking an online course on Operations Excellence, I had an epiphany on an ancient vedic concept that can be applied to the problems of the modern world.

The goal of every society, organization and country is to get more utility out of their invested resources. Companies are interested in getting more productivity out of their employees and assets than investments made in them. Societies are interested in getting more from the community members in terms of engagement than facilities provided to them. Countries are interested in getting more contribution to the GDP from its citizens / organizations than the infrastructure provided to them. Even Economics at every level works to maximize accumulation of wealth through exchange of goods and services. In short we survive by exchanging what we have to get what we don’t have / what we need.

Free Rider Problem

When every individual member of the group (i.e. society, organization, country, etc.) contributes meaningfully, the group tend to prosper over time. However there are some people who contribute nothing but get all the benefits from the group. These people are called ‘Free Riders’ or ‘Freeloaders’. Below are some examples of Free Riders –

  • Non tax paying individuals enjoy all the common facilities of road, libraries, street lights, roads, etc.
  • One who sneaks into a concert or gets on a public transportation without paying the admission fees / ticket
  • An employee who contributes little but gets all the credit for a successful project completion
  • An able individual who doesn’t contribute anything and expects everything from others

Free Riders are a drain to the society and this problem was recognized in a two thousand years old Indian literature – Bhagavad Gita. (You can also find my work in progress study notes on Bhagavad Gita here)

“Nature incharge of various necessities of life, will supply all necessities to you. But he who enjoys such gifts without contributing back anything in return is certainly a thief (3.12)”

“He who consumes resources for personal sense enjoyment without offering anything back to those that provided is a crook (3.13)” 

Yajna Mindset

Yajna is a Sanskrit word and translates to sacrifice or offering. Like many translations, it is very difficult to distill the meaning of any foreign word (especially Sanskrit) in an English word. Lets take a more visual approach to understand what is meant by Yajna.

Below is the image of Yajna performed during wedding –

Yajna

As you can see in the image above, there are few things to note –

  • Yajna involves offering things of utility to fire (food, metals, clothes, oils, etc.) to thank forces of nature for bestowing blessings on the Yajna performer.
  • Offering to fire means giving it way fully and completely without any intention of taking them back.
  • Yajna is an act of self. There is no compulsion or force and is done with an attitude to share happiness with family and friends.

Yajna it seems is symbolic of an attitude of selfless utilitarian contribution done by an individual for the benefit of others. It’s a mindset of giving and not taking; It’s a mindset of contribution and not consumption; It’s a mindset of self-motivation and not compulsion.

Here is what Albert Einstein says about individuals with Yajna mindset –

“A man’s value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows.

It can easily be seen that all the valuable achievements, material, spiritual, and moral, which we receive from society have been brought about in the course of countless generations by creative individuals. Someone once discovered the use of fire, someone the cultivation of edible plants, and someone the steam engine. Only the individuals can think, and there by create new values for society, nay, even set up new moral standards to which the life of the community conforms.”

Jeremy Bentham an 18th century Political Philosopher and the founder of Utilitarianism who proposed Governments should ‘maximize the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people” writes in one of this works

“Society is held together only by the sacrifices that men can be induced to make of the gratifications they demand: to obtain these sacrifices is the great difficulty, the great task of government

Going back to the ancient book of Bhagavad Gita, it promotes Yajna mindset and says –

” Those that perform work with the desire/ fruit for self, are bonded by work. Those that perform work for the sake of Yajna enjoy perfection and are liberated (3.9)”

In simple words, if you love what you do and do so with Yajna mindset, society prospers, solves Free Rider problems, progress is made, work is no longer work but a joyful journey towards perfection!

2 thoughts on “Yajna Mindset – An Ancient Vedic Concept in the Modern World

  1. While I am very unfamiliar with the concept of Yanja, I consider this writing to be about intrinsic motivation for utilitarian work. Would that be an accurate reconstruction of your intent?

    Like I have told you before, I am currently working through the complete works of Swami Vivekananda and coincidentally have also been exploring the writings of Abraham Maslow on self-actualization. I notice there to be an overlap between the core message from Vivekananda, Maslow, and yourself, in that you all describe a mindset that people ought to have whereby work is done not out of immediate utility, but because work has intrinsic value. Work is the outward manifestation of the self-actualized individual (using Maslow’s vocabulary), or of a person in the state of Nivritti (if I understand Vivekananda’s writings). What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very well said… yes the idea of Yajna mindset is the intrinsic motivation for utilitarian work. The Pravritti and Nivritti concepts used by Vivekananda are brilliantly visual to comprehend the idea of liberation. Vritti in Sanskrit means circle / circling. Pra is towards and Ni away. ‘Ni + Vritti’ is simply a visual of circling away or liberation from bondages caused by desire. Vivekananda’s works are deeply inspired by Bhagavad Gita (Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga)

      This concept of Yajna is one of the core themes of the book Bhagavad Gita which many consider as the summary book of all of Vedanta. Chapter 3 – The Yoga of Work (or Karma Yoga) makes many references to Yajna. These days I am rereading Bhagavad Gita and capturing all my notes here (https://chakshura.com/books-n-notes/). Feel free to look through my summary notes and you can also join the journey.

      Liked by 1 person

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