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The Ancient Wisdom

By A Besant

The Law Of Sacrifice

The study of the Law of Sacrifice follows naturally on the study of the Law of Karma, and the understanding of the former, it was once remarked by a Master, is as necessary for the world as the understanding of the latter. By an act of Self-sacrifice the LOGOS became manifest for the emanation of the universe, by sacrifice the universe is maintained, and by sacrifice man reaches perfection. (The Hindu will remember the opening words of the Brihadaranyakopanishad, that the dawn is in sacrifice; the Zoroastrian will recall how Ahura Mazda came forth from an act of sacrifice; the Christian will think of the Lamb – the symbol of the LOGOS – slain from the foundation of the world.) Hence every religion that springs from Ancient Wisdom has sacrifice as a central teaching, and some of the profoundest truths of occultism are rooted in the law of sacrifice.

An attempt to grasp, however feebly, the nature of the sacrifice of the LOGOS may prevent us from falling into the very general mistake that sacrifice is an essentially painful thing; whereas the very essence of sacrifice is a voluntary and glad pouring forth of life that others may share in it; and pain (Page 276) only arises when there is discord in the nature of the sacrificer, between the higher whose joy is in giving and the lower whose satisfaction lies in grasping and holding.It is that discord alone that introduces the element of pain, and in the supreme Perfection, in the LOGOS, no discord could arise; the One is the perfect chord of Being, of infinite melodious concords, all tuned to a single note, in which Life and Wisdom and Bliss are blended into one keynote of Existence.

The sacrifice of the LOGOS lay in His voluntarily circumscribing His infinite life in order that He might manifest. Symbolically, in the infinite ocean of light, with centre everywhere and with circumference nowhere, there arises a full-orbed sphere of living light, a LOGOS, and the surface of that sphere is His will to limit Himself that He may become manifest, His veil ( This is the Self-limiting power of the LOGOS, His Maya, the limiting principle by which all forms are brought forth. His Life appears as “Spirit,” His Maya as “Matter,” and these are never disjoined during manifestation.)in which He incloses Himself that within it a universe may take form.

That for which the sacrifice is made is not yet in existence; its future being lies in the “thought” of the LOGOS alone; to him it owes its conception and will own its manifold life. Diversity could not arise in the “partless Brahman” save for this voluntary sacrifice of Deity taking on Himself form in order to emanate myriad forms, each dowered with a spark of His life and therefore with the power evolving into His image. (Page 277) “The primal sacrifice that causes the birth of beings is named action (karma),” it is said (Bhagavad G?t?, viii,3.), and this coming forth into activity from the bliss of perfect repose of selfexistence has ever been recognised as the sacrifice of the LOGOS.

That sacrifice continues throughout the term of the universe, for the life of the LOGOS is the sole support of every separated “ life “ and He limits His life in each of the myriad forms to which He gives birth, bearing all the restraints and limitations implied in each form. From any one of these He could burst forth at any moment, the infinite Lord, filling the universe with His glory; but only by sublime patience and slow and gradual expansion can each form be led upward until it becomes a self-dependent centre of boundless power like Himself.

Therefore does He cabin Himself in forms, and bear all imperfection till perfection is attained, and His creature is like unto Himself and one with Him, but with its own thread of memory. Thus this pouring out of His life into forms is part of the original sacrifice, and has in it the bliss of the eternal Father sending forth His offspring as separated lives, that each may evolve an identity that shall never perish, and yield its own note blended with all others to swell the eternal song of bliss, intelligence and life. 

This marks the essential nature of sacrifice. Whatever other elements may become mixed with the central idea; it is the voluntary pouring out of life that others may partake of it, to bring others into life and to (Page 278) sustain them in it till they become self-dependent, and this is but one expression of divine joy. There is always joy in the exercise of activity which is the expression of the power of the actor; the bird takes joy in the outpouring of song, and quivers with the mere rapture of singing; the painter rejoices in the creation of his genius, in the putting into form of his idea; the essential activity of the divine life must lie in giving, for there is nothing higher than itself from which it can receive; if it is to be active at all – and manifested life is active motion – it must pour itself out.

Hence the sign of the spirit is giving, for spirit is the active divine life in every form.

But the essential activity of matter, on the other hand, lies in receiving; by receiving life-impulses it is organised into forms; by receiving them these are maintained; on their withdrawal they fall to pieces. All its activity is of this nature of receiving, and only by receiving can it endure as a form. Therefore it is always grasping, clinging, seeking to hold for its own; the persistence of the form depends on its grasping and retentive power, and it will therefore seek to draw into itself all it can, and will grudge every fraction with which it parts. Its joy will be in seizing and holding; to it giving is like courting death. 

It is very easy from this standpoint, to see how the notion arose that sacrifice was suffering. While the divine life found its delight in exercising its activity of giving, and even when embodied in form cared not if the form perished by the giving, (Page 279) knowing it to be only its passing expression and the means of its separated growth; the form which felt its life-forces pouring away from it cried out in anguish, and sought to exercise its activity in holding, thus resisting the outward flow. The sacrifice diminished the lifeenergies the form claimed as its own; or even entirely drained them away, leaving the form to perish. 

In the lower world of form this was the only aspect of sacrifice cognisable, and the form found itself driven to slaughter, and cried out in fear and agony. What wonder that men, blinded by form, identified sacrifice with the agonising form instead of with the free life that gave itself, crying gladly :”Lo! I come to do thy will, O God; I am content to do it.” What wonder that men – conscious of a higher and a lower nature, and oft identifying their self-consciousness more with the lower than with the higher – felt the struggle of the lower nature, the form, as their own struggles, and felt that they were accepting suffering in resignation to a higher will, and regarded sacrifice as that devout and resigned acceptance of pain.

Not until man identifies himself with the life instead of with the form can the element of pain in sacrifice be gotten rid of. In a perfectly harmonised entity, pain cannot be, for the form is then the perfect vehicle of the life, receiving or surrendering with ready accord. With the ceasing of struggle comes the ceasing of pain. For suffering arises from jar, from friction, from antagonistic movements, and where the whole nature works in perfect harmony (Page 280) the conditions that give rise to suffering are not present.

The law of sacrifice being thus the law of life - evolution in the universe, we find every step in the ladder is accomplished by sacrifice – the life pouring itself out to take birth in a higher form, while the form that contained it perishes. Those who look only at the perishing forms see Nature as a vast charnel house; while those who see the deathless soul escaping to take new and higher form hear ever the joyous song of birth from the upward springing life.

The Monad in the mineral kingdom evolves by the breaking up of its forms for the production and support of plants. Minerals are disintegrated that plant-forms may be built out of their materials; the plant draws from the soil its nutritive constituents, breaks them up, and incorporates them into its own substance. The mineral forms perish that the plant forms may grow, and this law of sacrifice stamped on the mineral kingdom is the law of evolution of life and form. The life passes onward and the Monad evolves to produce the vegetable kingdom, the perishing of the lower form being the condition for the appearing and the support of the higher.

The story is repeated in the vegetable kingdom, for its forms in turn are sacrificed in order that animal forms may be produced and may grow; on every side grasses, grains, trees perish for the sustenance of animal bodies; their tissues are disintegrated that the materials comprising them may be assimilated by (Page 281) the animal and build up its body. Again the law of sacrifice is stamped on the world, this time on the vegetable kingdom; its life evolves while its forms perish; the Monad evolves to produce the animal kingdom, and the vegetable is offered up that the animal forms may be brought forth and maintained. 

So far the idea of pain has scarcely connected itself with that of sacrifice, for, as we have seen in the course of our studies, the astral bodies of plants are not sufficiently organised to give rise to any acute sensations either of pleasure or of pain. But as we consider the law of sacrifice in its working in the animal kingdom, we cannot avoid the recognition of the pain there involved in the breaking up of forms. It is true that the amount of pain caused by the preying of one animal upon another in “the state of nature “ is comparatively trivial in each case, but still some pain occurs. 

It is also true that man, in the part he has played in helping to evolve animals, has much aggravated the amount of pain, and has strengthened instead of diminishing the predatory instincts of carnivorous animals; still, he did not implant those instincts, though he took advantage of them for his own purposes, and innumerable varieties of animals, with the evolution of which man has had directly nothing to do, prey upon each other, the forms being sacrificed to the support of other forms, as in the mineral and vegetable kingdoms.

The struggle for existence went on long before man appeared on the scene, and accelerated the evolution alike of life and of forms, while the pains (Page 282) accompanying the destruction of forms began the long task of impressing on the evolving Monad the transitory nature of all forms, and the difference between the forms that perished and the life that persisted.
The lower nature of man was evolved under the same law of sacrifice as ruled in the lower kingdoms. But the outpouring of divine Life which gave the human Monad came a change in the way in which the law of sacrifice worked as the law of life. In man was to be developed the will, the self-moving, self-initiated energy, and the compulsion which forced the lower kingdoms along the path of evolution could not therefore be employed in his case, without paralysing the growth of this new and essential power.

No mineral, no plant, no animal was asked to accept the law of sacrifice as a voluntarily chosen law of life. It was imposed upon them from without, and it forced their growth by a necessity from which they could not escape. Man was to have the freedom of choice necessary for the growth of a discriminative and self-conscious intelligence, and the question arose : “How can this creature be left free to choose, and yet learn to choose to follow the law of sacrifice, while yet he is a sensitive organism, shrinking from pain, and pain is inevitable in the breaking up of sentient forms?” 

Doubtless eons of experience, studied by a creature becoming ever more intelligent, might have finally led man to discover that the law of sacrifice is the fundamental law of life; but in this, as in so much else, he was not left to his own unassisted efforts. (Page 283) Divine Teachers were there at the side of man in his infancy, and they authoritatively proclaimed the law of sacrifice, and incorporated it in a most elementary form in the religions by which They trained the dawning intelligence of man.

It would have been useless to have suddenly demanded from these child-souls that they should surrender without return what seemed to them to be the most desirable objects, the objects on the possession of which their life in form depended. They must be led along a path which would lead gradually to the heights of voluntary self-sacrifice. To this end they were first taught that they were not isolated units, but were parts of a larger whole, and that their lives were linked to other lives both above and below them.

Their physical lives were supported by lower lives, by the earth; by plants, they consumed these, and in thus doing they contracted a debt which they were bound to pay, Living on the sacrificed lives of others, they must sacrifice in turn something which should support other lives, they must nourish even as they were nourished, taking the fruits produced by the activity of the astral entities that guide physical Nature, they must recruit the expended forces by suitable offerings.

Hence have arisen all the sacrifices to these forces – as science calls them – to these intelligences guiding physical order, as religions have always taught. As fire quickly disintegrated the dense physical, it quickly restored the etheric particles of the burnt offerings to the ethers; thus the astral particles were easily (Page 284) set free to be assimilated by the astral entities concerned with the fertility of the earth and the growth of plants. Thus the wheel of production was kept turning, and man learned that he was constantly incurring debts to Nature which he must as constantly discharge.

Thus the sense of obligation was implanted and nurtured in his mind, and the duty that he owed to the whole, to the nourishing mother Nature, became impressed on his thought. It is true that this sense of obligation was closely connected with the idea that its discharge was necessary for his own welfare, and that the wish to continue to prosper moved him to the payment of his debt. He was but a child-soul, learning his first lessons, and this lesson of the interdependence of lives, of the life of each depending on the sacrifice of others, was of vital importance to his growth. Not yet could he feel the divine joy of giving; the reluctance of the form to surrender aught that nourished it had first to be overcome, and sacrifice became identified with this surrender of something valued, a surrender made from a sense of obligation and the desire to continue prosperous.

The next lesson removed the reward of sacrifice to a region beyond the physical world. First, by a sacrifice of material goods, material welfare was to be secured. Then the sacrifice of material goods was to bring enjoyment in heaven, on the other side of death. The reward of the sacrificer was of a higher kind, and he learned that the relatively permanent might be secured by the sacrifice of the (Page 285) relatively transient – a lesson that was important as leading to discriminative knowledge.The clinging of the form to physical objects was exchanged for a clinging to heavenly joys. In all exoteric religions we find this educative process resorted to by the Wise Ones – too wise to expect child-souls the virtue of unrewarded heroism, and content, with a sublime patience, to coax their wayward charges slowly along a pathway that was a thorny and a stony one to the lower nature. 

Gradually men were induced to subjugate the body, to overcome its sloth by the regular daily performance of religious rites, often burdensome in their nature, and to regulate its activities by directing them into useful channels; they were trained to conquer the form and to hold it in subjection to the life, and to accustom the body to yield itself to works of goodness and charity in obedience to the demands of the mind, even while that mind was chiefly stimulated by a desire to enjoy reward in heaven.

We can see among the Hindus, the Persians, the Chinese, how men were taught to recognise their manifold obligations; to make the body yield dutiful sacrifice of obedience and reverence to ancestors, to parents, to elders; to bestow charity with courtesy; and to show kindness to all. Slowly men were helped to evolve both heroism and self-sacrifice to a high degree, as witness the martyrs who joyfully flung their bodies to torture and death rather than deny their faith or be false to their creed. They looked indeed for a “crown of glory” in heaven as a recompense for the (Page 286) sacrifice of the physical form, but it was much to have overcome the clinging to the physical form, and to have made the invisible world so real that it outweighed the visible.

The next step was achieved when the sense of duty was definitely established; when the sacrifice of the lower to the higher was seen to be “right,” apart from all question of a reward to be received in another world; when the obligation owed by the part to the whole was recognised, and the yielding of service by the form that existed by the service of others was felt to be justly due without any claim to wages being established thereby.

Then man began to perceive the law of sacrifice as the law of life, and voluntarily to associate himself with it; and he began to learn to disjoin himself in idea from the form he dwelt in and to identify himself with the evolving life. This gradually led him to feel a certain indifference to all the activities of form, save as they consisted in “duties that ought to be done,” and to regard all of them as mere channels for the life-activities that were due to the world, and not as activities performed by him with any desire for their results. Thus he reached the point already noted, when karma attracting him to the three worlds ceased to be generated, and he turned the wheel of existence because it ought to be turned, and not because its revolution brought any desirable object to himself.

The full recognition of the law of sacrifice, however, lifts man beyond the mental plane – (Page 287) whereon duty is recognised as duty, as “what ought to be done because it is owed” – to that higher plane of Buddhi where all selves are felt as one, and where all activities are poured out for the use of all, and not for the gain of a separated self. Only on that plane is the law of sacrifice felt as a joyful privilege, instead of only recognised intellectually as true and just. 

On the buddhic plane man clearly sees that life is one, that it streams out perpetually as the free outpouring of the love of the LOGOS, that life holding itself separate is a poor and a mean thing at best, and an ungrateful one to boot. There the whole heart rushes upwards to the LOGOS in one strong surge of love and worship, and gives itself in joyfullest self-surrender to be a channel of His life and love to the world. To be a carrier of His light, a messenger of His compassion, a worker in His realm – that appears as the only life worth living; to hasten evolution, to serve the Good Law, to lift part of the heavy burden of the world – that seems to be the very gladness of the Lord Himself.

From this plane only can a man act as one of the Saviours of the world, because on it he is one with the selves of all. Identified with humanity where it is one, his strength, his love, his life can flow downwards into any or into every separated self. 

He has become a spiritual force, and the available spiritual energy of the world-system is increased by pouring into it of his life. The forces he used to expend on the physical , astral, and mental planes, seeking things for his separated self, are now all gathered (Page 288) up in one act of sacrifice, and, transmuted thereby into spiritual energy, they pour down upon the world as spiritual life.

This transmutation is wrought by the motive which determines the plane on which the energy is set free. If a man’s motive be the gain of physical objects, the energy liberated works only on the physical plane; if he desire astral objects, he liberates energy on the astral plane; if he seek mental joys, his energy functions on the mental plane; but if he sacrifice himself to be a channel of the LOGOS, he liberates energy on the spiritual plane, and it works everywhere with the potency and keenness of a spiritual force. For such a man, action and inaction are the same; for he does everything while doing nothing, he does nothing while doing everything.

For him, high and low, great and small are the same; he fills any place that needs filling, and the LOGOS is alike in every place and in every action. He can flow into any form, he can work along any line, he knows not any longer choice or difference; his life by sacrifice has been made one with the life of the LOGOS – he sees God in everything and everything in God. How then can place or form make to him any difference? He no longer identifies himself with form, but is self-conscious Life. “Having nothing, he possesseth all things “ asking for nothing, everything flows into him. His life is bliss, for he is one with his Lord, who is Beatitude; and, using form for service without attachment to it, “he has put and end to pain.” 

Those who grasp something of the wonderful (Page 289) possibilities which open out before us as we voluntarily associate ourselves with the law of sacrifice will wish to begin that voluntary association long ere they can rise to the heights just dimly sketched. Like other deep spiritual truths, it is eminently practical in its application to daily life, and none who feel its beauty need to hesitate to begin to work with it. When a man resolves to begin the practice of sacrifice, he will train himself to open every day with an act of sacrifice, the offering of himself, ere the day’s work begins, to Him to whom he gives his life; his first waking thought will be this dedication of all his power to his Lord. 

Then each thought, each word, each action in daily life will be done as a sacrifice – not for its fruit, not even as duty, but as the way in which, at the moment, his Lord can be served. All that comes will be accepted as the expression of His will; joys, troubles, anxieties, successes, failures, all to him are welcome as marking out his path of service; he will take each happily as it comes and offer it as a sacrifice; he will loose each happily as it goes, since its going shows that his Lord has no longer need for it

Any powers he has he gladly uses for service; when they fail him, he takes their failure with happy equanimity; since they are no longer available he cannot give them. Even suffering that springs from past causes not yet exhausted can be changed into a voluntary sacrifice by welcoming it; taking possession of it by willing it, a man may offer it as a gift, changing it by this motive into a spiritual force. Every human life (Page 290) offers countless opportunities for this practice of the law of sacrifice, and every human life becomes a power as these opportunities are seized and utilised. 

Without any expansion of his waking consciousness, a man may thus become a worker on the spiritual planes, liberating energy there which pours down into the lower worlds. His self-surrender here in the lower consciousness, imprisoned as it is in the body, calls out responsive thrills of life from the buddhic aspect of the Monad which is his true Self, and hastens the time when that Monad shall become the spiritual Ego, self-moved and ruling all his vehicles, using each of them at will as needed for the work that is to be done.

In no way can progress be made so rapidly, and the manifestation of all the powers latent in the Monad be brought about so quickly, as by the understanding and the practice of the law of sacrifice. Therefore it was called by a Master, “The Law of evolution for man.” It has indeed profounder and more mystic aspects than any touched on here, but these will unveil themselves without words to the patient and loving heart whose life is all a sacrificial offering. There are things that are heard only in the stillness; there are teachings that can be uttered only by “The Voice of the Silence.” Among these are the deeper truths rooted in the law of sacrifice. (Page 291)



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