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In ancient times, there had been animal sacrifices at various Yagyas and rituals were performed by Brahmins for kings, while on the other hand they also used to advocate non-violence and preferred a vegetarian diet. How did these contradicting things coexist?

  • Rituals like ashwamedha yagya required sacrifice of horses and some even required human sacrifices like a story from puran in which Varun Dev asked King Harishchandra (son of Trishanku) to sacrifice his son in a yagya – user3870 Oct 7 '15 at 18:49
  • Purushamedha isn't human sacrifice. There are mention of Sarvamedha. Does that mean sacrificing everyone? – Vineet Menon Dec 14 '15 at 12:37
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    @VineetMenon The Sarva in Sarvamedha doesn't mean everyone, it means everything, i.e. everything you known. In any case, the purusha in Purushamedha does mean human, but it was only a mock human sacrifice. You would tie the humans up, and then there would be a voice that would tell you not to go though with it. In a way it's similar to the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 15 '16 at 20:32
  • I think in Ashwamedha Yagna , the horse is realesd into wild to rome freely, and only called Yagna or sacrifice. – SwiftPushkar Jun 22 '16 at 11:40
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Animal sacrifice, when performed properly according to Vedas, is an exception to the general rule about not harming living beings. Here is what Adi Shankaracharya says 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.

Ramanujacharya, in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras here, goes further and argues that animal sacrifice is not even contrary to the principle of Ahimsa, because the animal experiences rewards in the afterlife which far outweigh the momentary suffering it experiences:

For Scripture declares that the killing of sacrificial animals makes them to go up to the heavenly world, and therefore is not of the nature of harm. This is declared in the text, 'The animal killed at the sacrifice having assumed a divine body goes to the heavenly world'; 'with a golden body it ascends to the heavenly world.' An action which is the means of supreme exaltation is not of the nature of harm, even if it involves some little pain; it rather is of beneficial nature.--With this the mantra also agrees: 'Thou dost not die, thou goest to the gods on easy paths; where virtuous men go, not evil-doers, there the divine Savitri may lead thee.' An act which has a healing tendency, although it may cause a transitory pain, men of insight declare to be preservative and beneficial.

So it would be like taking your kid to the dentist; they may temporarily suffer some pain, but in the long-run it's beneficial.

As I discuss in this question, Madhvacharya and Baladeva Vidyubhushana, the Dvaita and Gaudiya Vaishnava commentators on the Brahma Sutras, say much the same thing. In any case, this is largely a moot point, because almost no one performs the animal sacrifices described in the Vedas anymore. (This is due to a variety of factors like the rise of Buddhism and Jainism and the substitution of corn-flour animals by Madhvacharya.) Pretty much the only animal sacrifices performed in India nowadays are to goddesses like Kali, but I don't know of any statements in the Vedas that grant a similar exception to the principle of Ahimsa in that case.

  • Alright its good for the animals that are being sacrificed but what about the Karma that gets associated with it? What about the law of cause and effect? If we have done something then we must get something in return, good deed good reward, bad deed bad reward. – Chinmay Sarupria Oct 8 '15 at 12:26
  • @ChinmaySarupria The whole point of those quotes by Adi Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya is that animal sacrifice is Dharmic, not Adharmic, when performed properly according to the Vedas. It's a good deed and thus will lead to good consequences. – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 8 '15 at 14:28
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    @VineetMenon Well, I don't think the sorts of interpretations that Aurobindo's gives are correct, and I vehemently reject the interpretations given by Dayananda Saraswati and the other members of Arya Samaj; I think they completely distort the meaning of the text. I think Sayana generally does a good job, although he's certainly not infallible. In any case, we don't need to rely on Sayana's commentary - I certainly didn't in my answer. The Brahma Sutras say that Vedic animal sacrifice is a justified exception to Ahimsa, and all the commentators on the Brahma Sutras agree on this point. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 14 '15 at 9:40
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    @VineetMenon Also, Yagnas are profoundly important, in at least two ways. First of all, they're important to the running of the cosmos - as the Vishnu Purana says, "havisham parino'yam yat eyed akhilam jagat" - the whole world is a transformation of the Yagna oblation. – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 14 '15 at 14:28
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    @VineetMenon At a more personal level, Yagnas involve giving up the material for the spiritual. It is an important stage in the path to Moksha. First you have a person who pursues material ends through material means - he has a job to make money, for instance. Then he reads the Vedas and realizes that by giving up the material for the sake of the spiritual, he can, through the operation of karma, ultimately experience even more material prosperity, and experience prosperity in future births as well. Then he realizes that material goals are ultimately futile, and thus Athato Brahma Jijnasa! – Keshav Srinivasan Dec 14 '15 at 14:33
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Let me add the quote from the Vachanamrut (lessons given by Bhagavan Swaminarayan)

A similar type of question has been asked to Bhagavan Swaminarayan by the Saints and Munis, while Maharaj (Bhagavan Swaminarayan) was answering question about the Dharma and then the discussion goes on and after that Saints have asked this question:

“Mahãrãj, we would like to put the same question to you. Violence (hinsã) performed on animals, as part of a sacrifice or some other ritual, is considered to be dharma. But, non-violence (ahinsã) is also considered to be dharma. Please clarify this.”

Then Bhagavan Swaminarayan answered:

Violence:

Shreeji Mahãrãj then explained, “Dharma involving violence is for the attainment of dharma, arth, and kãm. Moreover, the dharma which permits violence is for the purpose of limiting violence.

Non Violence:

Non- violence, on the other hand, is for the attainment of Moxa...

moreover:

Dharma involving violence is for only fulfilling worldly desires, but it is not for the attainment of kalyãn(Moxa), whereas non-violence is solely for the purpose of attaining kalyãn(Moxa).

To conclude he told:

Therefore, for both grahasthas and tyãgis only Dharma with non-violence has been cited for the attainment of kalyãn. For example, Uparichar-Vasu Rãjã ruled over a kingdom and still followed a non-violent lifestyle....

Talk goes on.

Everything I have mentioned here is quoted from Vachanamrut (Gadhada Pratham - 69)

  • this one's so sensibly translated.. – Arnav Das Apr 22 '17 at 7:49

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