From Bhagavad Gita Decoded - page 322
4.26 Some sacrifice the hearing process and other senses in the fire of equanimity. And others offer as sacrifice the objects of the senses, such as sound, in the fire of the sacrifice.
4.27 One who is interested in knowledge offers all the actions due to the senses, including the action of taking in the life breath into the fire of Yoga, and is engaged in the yoga of equanimity of the mind.
4.28 There is the sacrifice of material wealth, sacrifice through penance, sacrifice through yoga and other sacrifices, while there is sacrifice through self-study and through strict vows.
4.29 There are others who sacrifice the life energy in the form of incoming breath and outgoing breath, thus checking the movement of the incoming and outgoing breaths and controlling the breath.
4.30 There are others who sacrifice through controlled eating and offering the outgoing breath, life energy. All these people know the meaning of sacrifice and are purified of sin or karma.
4.31 Having tasted the nectar of the results of such sacrifices, they go to the supreme eternal consciousness. This world is not for those who have not sacrificed. How can the other be, Arjuna?
4.32 Thus, there are many kinds of sacrifices born of work mentioned in the Vedas. Knowing these, one will be liberated
In all these verses, Kṛṣṇa talks about various types of sacrifices. ‘Sacrifice’, it is not just the act of giving, but the attitude of giving. Otherwise, you may do everything, following all rituals according to the scriptures, but you will miss out on the real intent for which the act had to be done.
A beautiful story from the Bhāgavatam, the ancient Hindu epic:
Once, Kṛṣṇa was playing with his friends. After playing, his friends were tired and they asked Kṛṣṇa for food. Kṛṣṇa replied, ‘Go to the nearby hall where the learned brāhmaṇas (priests) are performing a great ritual to attain heaven. Tell them that you have been sent by Me and request them to give you some cooked rice.’ Kṛṣṇa’s friends went as directed and asked the brāhmaṇas, ‘Kṛṣṇa sent us here. We are hungry and Kṛṣṇa asked us to seek food from you.’ The brāhmaṇas were all caught up in the rituals and sacrifices, not knowing the intent of the sacrifice. The very divine energy for which the sacrifice was being made was asking for an offering, but the brāhmaṇas could not realise that and did not give the boys any food. Kṛṣṇa’s friends returned disappointed. Kṛṣṇa, on hearing about the foolish brāhmaṇas, just laughed and said, ‘Now, go to the innocent wives of these brāhmaṇas and ask them the same thing.’ The friends now went to the wives told them, ‘O ladies, we have been sent here by Kṛṣṇa who was playing with us nearby. We are hungry and have come to you for food.’ The ladies, on hearing that they had been given such a wonderful opportunity to enrich by serving, gathered all the food from their houses and rushed to feed Kṛṣṇa and his friends. Listen. The very act of enriching, the welcoming attitude is what is important.
Listen. The very act of enriching, the welcoming attitude is what is important. A beautiful verse in the Mahābharat that says, ‘A guest comes with all the gods. If the guest is honored, so are the gods; if he goes away disappointed, the gods are disappointed too.’ That is why in Saṃskṛit, we say, ‘atithi devo bhava’, the guest is God. ‘Tithi’ means date and prefix ‘a’ negates it. Therefore, one who arrives unexpectedly without a prior appointment is atithi or guest. When somebody comes unexpectedly also, serving him is the real welcoming attitude. The word used for ritual giving in Saṃskṛit is ‘dāna’, which means sharing, imparting.
The true meaning of sacrifice lies in the meaning with which it is done. Look at the trees. They live for the welfare of others, themselves facing the winds, heat and snow, all the while protecting us from them. All their parts, leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, bark, etc. are useful to enrich others.
When you give away something you cannot afford to give, it is a true enriching sacrifice. When you give away something you can afford to give, then it is not a true enriching sacrifice. A wealthy man giving away alms is not sacrificing anything. He may be doing a good deed but not more than that.
Kṛṣṇa mentions many forms of sacrifice here. He talks of sacrifices of material wealth, yoga and penance—a combination of material, physical, mental and spiritual sacrifices. When a person does these at some cost and pain to himself, they would be genuine sacrifices. Otherwise they would merely be meaningless rituals. However, even that which is given away by someone who can afford what he is giving, if done with good intentions of enriching, would result in gains to that person. His very intention to enrich will alter his mindset and liberate him. A person who does not believe in sharing his wealth will not only suffer in future births as a result of his mental makeup, but he will also be unable to enjoy his own wealth in his present birth.
When one sacrifices whatever is dear and whatever is difficult to give away, he enters a completely different plane of sacrifice, one that liberates the person. Such a person enters a plane of true non-attachment, leading to liberation.