We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages.
13. The good, who eat the remainder of the sacrifice,
Are released from all evils,
But the wicked, who cook only for their own sake,
Eat their own impurity.
14. Beings exist from food,
Food is brought into being by the rain God,
The rain God is cherished through sacrifice,
Sacrifice is brought into being by action.
15. Know that (ritual) action originates in Brahman (the Vedas)
Brahman arises from the Imperishable;
Therefore all-pervading Brahman
Is eternally established in sacrifice.
These are some very challenging verses that we’re beginning to get into. Luckily I’m visiting my parents and my mother has a stack of Advaita-based interpretations to study! This concept of sacrifice was brought up in the last verses. There I mentioned that this seems to be speaking about offerings, and in particular, offerings of gratitude to the Gods.
When we make food, we set a portion of it in front of our altars and offer it to the Gods. This ritual is a very literal way of giving back and saying thank you for our sustenance. When we eat prasadam after a ritual we are doing as verse 13 instructs. When we prepare food for our health and ability to live, we are not cooking only for our own sake, but supporting the soul as well. And as verse 14 explains we have food and the ability to live because of the way the world runs. We cannot eat without the knowledge that we have food thanks to the rain and other systems of the world.
Notes on the Sanskrit
In verse 14, “Sacrifice is brought into being by action” the word “action” is “karma.” Sargeant notes that the word karma gets used in multiple ways throughout the Gita, sometimes referring to ritual action and sometimes to actions in the war and sometimes to the sum of past actions that are carried forward.
In verse 13 the “sinful” or “wicked” are “paapaas” which is the reverse of “punya.” Punya is the merit we get from good actions and paapaas is the results of bad actions.
Commentaries of Gurus
This section is still about action and why performing action in the world is still necessary even if this life is not the ultimate reality. Sri Adi Shankara says that verse 14 illustrates how ” work is what operates the wheel of the universe.” He continues, saying “‘sacrifice’ means the unique power engendered by the activity of the priests and the sacrificer.” –Bhagavad Gita Bhasya of Sri Shankaracharya
Sri Shantananda Saraswati (a recently passed-away Shankaracharya) speaks of this cycle as one of balance in which the Gods nourish us and we nourish them in return. Thus the wheel of action continues to turn and the universe continues to operate.
He also says that sacrifice (the word being yajna, the ritual sacrifices spoke of in the Vedas) has three aspects to it: the act of honoring (done with puja), the company of good people who uplift you, and the renunciation of your resources to benefit all.
Verse 15 is still a bit of a mystery to me, so I’m hoping the verses following it will help illuminate its wisdom.