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The noble act of sacrifice

As I sit here and write this piece on sacrifice, someone somewhere has skipped their meal to feed their hungry child; someone has given up their career to spend more time with their family; someone has forgone their sleep to take care of an ailing family member. Such selfless acts happen all around us all the time and yet, they are anything but trivial. It takes a lot of courage and integrity to sacrifice one’s needs for the benefit of another individual.

This reminds me of a story on sacrifice that stayed with me long after I heard it. It is excerpted from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Here is how it goes. There once lived a poor family–comprising a man, his wife, their son and daughter-in-law–in a village. They didn’t earn much and on most days, they ended up starving. During such a terrible time, a famine struck their village, leaving them more helpless than ever. When he could no longer see his loved ones suffer, the father went in search of food and finally brought home some. As the family was about to eat, they heard a knock on the door.

Outside was a poor traveller who was famished after his journey. The old man invited him in and offered him his portion of the food. When it did not satiate the traveller’s hunger, his wife gave him her food. When that wasn’t enough either, his son offered him his share. Yet, the weary traveller was not full. Then the daughter-in-law too fed him her share. Finally full, the traveller thanked them and left. A moment later, a brilliant light shone on the house. Turns out, it was god who had come to test the family in the disguise of a traveller, and their generosity was rewarded with wealth and happiness.

In the times we live in, most sacrifices are made with the hope of a bigger payback. 


The moral of the story is true sacrifice is that which is made out of sheer goodness of the heart even in the face of abject poverty. Another such great sacrifice that comes to mind is that of Jesus Christ. He sacrificed his life for the sins of mankind. Closer home, countless men and women sacrificed their lives so we could enjoy the fruits of independence. Human history is adorned with countless such examples.

One may wonder if such sacrifices are as common in today’s modern world. In the times we live in, most sacrifices are made with the hope of a bigger payback. For instance, some of us might sacrifice our social lives and work day and night to grow professionally. But the drive to do so for a cause that has little to do with our own lives may not come to us so easily. 

In a society driven by individualism, sacrifice is indeed harder. The reason for this, one may feel, is a drastic decline in the degree of selflessness in today’s world. Life coach at International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Chaitanya Das concurs. Says he, “As the world gets plagued more and more with an individualistic desire of wanting to be at the top–by pushing other people down in the face of cut throat competition–it becomes increasingly difficult for us to see many examples of sacrifice.”

Perhaps, people are more self-involved these days. But the spirit of sacrifice is not totally lost. The daily sacrifices made by the men at the borders of the world help the rest of us sleep in peace. They protect the borders round-the-clock from enemies, in hostile environmental conditions, away from their families, day after day, year after year.

It takes a lot to consciously put aside your comfort for the benefit of another individual, even if it that individual is your child. 


And let us not forget the sacrifices made by parents for their children. They put their comfort and convenience aside to create better lives for their children. From small sacrifices like forgoing an official meeting to attend a dance recital to life-altering sacrifices like quitting one’s career to spend time at home, parents do a lot for their little ones. Management professional and mother of a teenager Savitha Shivakumar agrees. She says, “When the children are young, the sacrifices we need to make are many more. Some sacrifices are hard to make. But at the end of the day, when your child turns out happy and healthy, it is all worth it.”

There is no denying that all parents make sacrifices on a daily basis. But that doesn’t make it any easier. It takes a lot to consciously put aside your comfort for the benefit of another individual, even if it that individual is your child. Savitha, for instance, chose to take a long break to raise her child. Even though it set her back several years and made getting back to work twice as hard, she feels it was worth it.

Sacrifice is closely connected to the inner satisfaction one derives from the act. Sometimes, the happiness one derives from these acts is immeasurable, no matter how big or small the deed is. No wonder they say sacrifice changes you as a person. It helps you better appreciate the sacrifices of other people. By expressing gratitude for the sacrifices others have made for our happiness and by consciously repaying them with our own kindness and selflessness, we can begin to change the world.

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