Religion makes sacrifice a big thing. Is there a benefit in this work from sacrifice?
Yes, but perhaps not the way it is commonly understood. The original meaning of sacrifice was to slaughter an animal or surrender a possession as an offering to win the support of a supernatural being. I would like to go deeper.
Can we agree that sacrifice is giving up something that you value? Now, why are you doing this? Most often, is it not a kind of trade? I give up smoking so I can have better health. I give up a friendship to keep another friend I value more. I give up meat so I can be more spiritual. Really speaking, these sacrifices are trades. We are bargaining one thing for another. This is true whenever there is a personal benefit, real or imagined, behind our sacrifice. What’s important first of all is to see this.
Please understand that I do not think this kind of sacrifice is wrong…we should be willing to pay for the things we want. There is a psychological benefit to personal sacrifice….we are more able to benefit from the things we want if we feel that we have earned them. Sacrifice also paves the way for attention to hold and nurture the fulfillment we seek. Attention energizes and magnetizes our aim, often helping to attract the assistance of others.
Is there another form of sacrifice? Is it possible to make a sacrifice that has no personal benefit, for a higher aim than the fulfillment of our wants? Perhaps this story will help. A mother took her son to the prophet Mohammed. “He is addicted to dates,” she said, “but he won’t listen to me. Perhaps he will listen to you. Please tell him to stop eating dates,” she asked. “Come back in thirty days.” She came back with her son at the appointed time. “Stop eating dates”, Mohammed said solemnly to the boy. His mother asked: “Why could you not have told him that the first time we came to see you?” “Because I had not yet given up dates,” replied the Prophet.
Impersonal sacrifice opens up a different set of possibilities. You may gain moral authority where moral authority is needed to accomplish a task. You may obtain greater freedom and increased will to perform your work. You may deepen your capacity for inner experience. Your conscience may be sharpened so as to better guide you. You will almost surely recover some of your attention for deployment elsewhere. You may receive a blessing, an infusion of higher energy.
Of course, as soon as the aim becomes personal enhancement, sincerity is lost and you are striking a bargain again. You must know yourself, especially the tricks of the ego. Innocence is a great protection. Even more so is love.
As we mature, we may discover a wish to sacrifice personal wants, including our aims and ambitions. It is enough to be. The less we want, the greater is our capacity to work in this path. Personal needs are an enormous drain on our energy and attention. They sustain identifications and inhibit a deeper experience of life.
If you wish to wake up, reduce your need for anything else.