We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.
9. Aside from action for the purpose of sacrifice,
This world is bound by action.
Perform action for the purpose of sacrifice, Arjuna,
Free from attachment.
10. Having created mankind along with sacrifice,
Prajapati, (The Lord of Creatures) anciently said,
“By this (i.e. sacrifice), may you bring forth;
May this be your wishfulfilling cow.”
11. “By this (i.e. sacrifice) may you nourish the gods
and may the gods nourish you;
by nourishing each other, you shall attain the highest welfare.”
12. “The gods, nourished by the sacrifice,
Will indeed give you desired enjoyments;
He who enjoys these gifts while not
offering to them in return
Is a thief.”
Notes on the Sanskrit
“may you nourish the gods” from verse 11, Sargeant notes that the word “nourish” here, which is often translated as cherish, foster, or prosper is actually a form of the word “to be/exist” and literally means “may you cause.”
He describes this as “man causes the gods to be and in return the gods cause man to be” which is certainly a very fascinating idea!
The word “sacrifice” is yajna in the Sanskrit, which is the same word used to mean sacrifices within ritual worship also.
Commentaries of Gurus (all of these are Vaishnava perspectives)
Everyone in the world is locked and bound to the material existence by actions. The renunciates state that: since all actions lead to bondage they should not be performed. But refuting this Lord Krishna states yagna-artaht that sacrifices done for the Supreme Lord without expectation of reward are exempt from bondage. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
Here Lord Krishna reveals the words of Prajapati or Brahma the creator of the forms and categories of material beings and the arranger of the material manifestation. Here it states that one desiring liberation should perform selfless actions with the thought of appeasement and propitiation to the Supreme Lord. Now Lord Krishna is infering that he teaches this knowledge of propitiatiopn to His devotees only. This is because Brahma has given facilty for beings other than the devotees to worship in appeasement lesser gods such as the demi-gods. Thus after Brahma created mankind he instructed the three twice born classes of brahmins, ksatriyas and vaisyas to perform selfless actions in the spirit of worship of the Supreme Lord and this will be for you sacrifice. Sacrifing the desires for reward and attachment to the results and in this way mankind will flourish and prosper. –Kesava Kasmiri’s CommentaryHow does the sacrifice yield desired enjoyments? Lord Krishna answers this here. By yagna or worship and appeasement one pleases the devas or demi- gods, who in turn please the offerer with prosperity and abundance. Thus mutually gratifying each other both humans and the devas will be happy and attained the highest good. –Sridhara Swami’s Commentary
Evaluating the previous verse Lord Krishna points out the offense in not performing yagna or worship and first offering of the fruits of yagna before enjoying them. Kesava Kasmiri’s Commentary
I have kind of a negative feeling about the word “sacrifice” but I think this word really speaks to “offering” something up; releasing control over it; dedicating it to the Gods.
The commentary and Sargeant have slightly different ideas about who is being appeased by these sacrifices. The commentators say these verses refer to demi-Gods or Devas, not God. It is true that the word in the Sanskrit is deva and there is sometimes disagreement about whether that word means Gods or means demi-Gods. Branches of Hinduism like mine say that the devas are aspects and manifestations of one God and we are also a different kind of manifestation of this God.
The translation that the commenators use for verse 12 says this:
The demigods being satisfied by the performance of sacrifice unto the Ultimate Personality will grant unto you all the desired necessities of life; therefore he who enjoys these given necessities without offering them first unto the Supreme Lord, that person is certainly a thief.
However, looking at the Sanskrit, there is no “Ultimate Personality” or “Supreme Lord” mentioned in this verse. Only the word “Deva.”
I do like this image of the thief who steals from the Gods simply by not having gratitude for what he is given. When I was a kid we were always instructed to dedicate all actions and all results to God. We “surrender” them. I think that’s what’s being instructed here.