I had always assumed that the Advaitin philosopher Adi Shankaracharya opposed animal sacrifice in Vedic Yagnas (fire-rituals). Here is what this blog post says, for instance:

In the 7th century A.D. the great philosopher Adi Shankara stopped animal sacrifice wherever he went – from Pashupatinath in Nepal to Kanchi Kamakshi in the south (he walked all over India).

But now I've found reason to believe otherwise. As a proponent of Advaita, Adi Shankaracharya was part of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy. And as I discuss in this question, the defining text of the Vedanta school is the Brahma Sutras, a work by the sage Vyasa which summarizes and systematizes the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. You can read the Brahma Sutras here. In any case, Vyasa discusses the issue of animal sacrifice in Adhyaya 3 Pada 1 of the Brahma Sutras:

  1. If it be argued that rites (invoking killing of animals) are unholy, we say, no, since they are sanctioned by scriptures.

And here is what Adi Shankaracharya says about this Sutra in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras:

We proceed to refute the remark made by the pûrvapakshin that sacrificial works are unholy because involving harm done to animals ... Now from scripture we derive the certain knowledge that the gyotishtoma-sacrifice, which involves harm done to animals (i.e. the animal sacrifice), &c., is an act of duty; how then can it be called unholy?--But does not the scriptural precept, 'Do not harm any creature,' intimate that to do harm to any being is an act contrary to duty?--True, but that is a general rule, while the precept, 'Let him offer an animal to Agnîshomau,' embodies an exception; and general rule and exception have different spheres of application.

So does that mean that Adi Shankarcharya was actually in favor of animal sacrifice? Is the claim that he went around stopping animal sacrifice incorrect? Or was he in favor of animal sacrifice at one point in his life and against it at another?

  • Adi Sankaracharya was never in favor of animal sacrifice. In fact, it is he who changed the practice and sanctioned the substitution of animals made from dough (like animal crackers) for live animals in yagna/yagas.
    – user1195
    Dec 29, 2014 at 16:33
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    @moonstar2001 Then how would you interpret his statements in the Brahma Sutra Bhashya? Dec 29, 2014 at 16:40
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    @moonstar - It was Madhvacharya (The propagator of Dvaita philosophy) who introduced the practice of substitution of animals made from dough and not Shankaracharya. Though this doesn't mean shankaracharya supported animal sacrifices.
    – user808
    Dec 30, 2014 at 10:17
  • @Krishna Are you sure? I remember it differently, but okay...
    – user1195
    Dec 30, 2014 at 12:34
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    @moonstar2001 - Yes it was madhvacharya and not shankaracharya. Please read the bramha sutra bhasya of Madhvacharya for more information. Also, please refer to the following link books.google.co.in/…
    – user808
    Dec 30, 2014 at 13:45

1 Answer 1


He was not saying he was in favor. What he is saying is "knowledge of virtue and vice is derived from the scriptures. The scriptures alone are the source for knowing that such an act is virtuous, and another not virtuous; for merit and demerit are super-sensuous realities and they are not invariable for all space, time, and environment. Any deed that is performed as virtuous in relation to certain time, place and circumstances, becomes non-virtuous in relation to other places, times, and circumstances...and it is ascertained from the scriptures that the Jyotistoma sacrifice, involving injury, favour, etc., is virtuous.. So how can it be declared to be impure?"

The scriptures outline what sacrifices can be done to attain certain ends. If you want that end attained by the Jyotistoma sacrifice, it can be yours. They are not saying to do it, they are merely outlining what is to do to attain a certain desired end result. Be careful what you ask for because it can be the rat hole of endless rebirth......

Shankar is saying that in this one particular instance animal sacrifice is permitted. It is not a general rule for any or all times, places, or circumstances.

In the Brihdaranyaka Upanishad it also tells of the horse sacrifice. It also, however, tells how to do the sacrifice through symbolic meditation.

  • Also in his Sri Bhasya Ramanuja comments that this sutra merely means that no bad karma is generated from the killing of an animal in sacrifices sanctioned by scripture. He neither condones nor condemns it. Dec 30, 2014 at 10:41
  • Agreed that like Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya also says that, animal sacrifice is not unholy because the scriptures say so. The Shruti says that the sacrificed animal assumes a golden form and ascends to the blissful heavens-"HiraNya sharIra oordhva: Svargam lOkam Eti". Sri Ramanuja negates the idea(of animal sacrifice being sinful) in the Sri Bhashya too (in the commentary to the Brahma Sutra-"ashuddham it chEt na, shabdAt").
    – user808
    Dec 30, 2014 at 13:47
  • Now, in Gita Bhasya, Sri Ramanujacharya says -""SarvEshu cha VEdEshu brAhmaNasya vijAnata: vaidikasya mumukshO: yadEva mOksha sAdhanam, tadEva upAdEyam, nAnyat". According to this definition, Yagas and Yagnas mostly being performed with some specific prayer other than salvation in mind (KAmya karmAs), do not come under the vaidika karmas, which are a must-do for PrapannAs (mumukshu). Even if engaged in as a form of worshipping the Lord, there are indeed many number of ways to please and serve the Lord, other than sacrificing innocent lives.
    – user808
    Dec 30, 2014 at 13:47
  • though sacrificing an animal as part of Yagya involves no sin to yagnakarta, and in fact, confers upon the sacrificed animal the distinction of ascent to higher worlds, it is not incumbent upon us to perform each and every such karma prescribed by the Vedas. Our principal aim and prayer being moksha, for which purpose such kamya karmas are of absolutely no assistance and should be completely abandoned. Sri Nammazhwar too perhaps hints at this when he chides people making offerings of flesh and blood of animals to demi-gods, for attaining various objectives-"kaLLum iraicchiyum toovEnmin".
    – user808
    Dec 30, 2014 at 13:50
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    @SwamiVishwananda Tell me this: did Adi Shankaracharya think that Vedic Yagnas both with and without animal sacrifice would only lead to rebirth rather than Moksha? Or did he see some moral or spiritual difference between the two types of carrying out Yagnas? Jan 5, 2015 at 6:16

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