To eradicate starvation, throw food into the fire

This makes me wonder about the possible connections between throwing clarified butter and other edible items into a fire and the probability of a space shuttle re-entering earth without getting burnt up. The brilliant thing about it of course is that if a desired state of affairs is achieved, the Yagna will be declared a success and the presiding priests could go on to found an ashram (named Dera Sunita Sauda perhaps). If it doesn’t, the malefic influences of a misaligned Mars or the satanic skewing of subtle Saturn can be conveniently blamed.

Success breeds more superstition. Failure breeds more faith.

Damn. I should have gotten into this religion business. Then I could conduct Yagnas to eradicate starvation in India.

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  1. Definitely the process of putting food into fire will not make a ‘space flight’ any safer.
    But it is the matter of ‘faith’. If some people show their feelings by praying in solitude, some perform the religious things. All have the right to follow their distinct ways of showing their concern.
    In a materialistic way, throwing food into fire is a big ‘waste’. This goes for not only the yagnas, but even for the hi-fi parties where they prepeare loads of food and then throw it to the drainage. But all the things are not materialistic.

  2. @Astroshiva,
    I understand the point about the right to perform religious rituals, but I did not get the distinction you make between materialism and non-materialism.
    Materialistic or not, throwing food into the fire seems to me a fairly insensitive activity. It sounds like the classic case of misinterpretation of religious texts.
    A lot of cogent commentators point out, for instance, that the Ashvamedha yagna is symbolic in nature. It refers to the conquest of one’s ego through the metaphysical sacrifice of the white horse.
    Apparently, it does not refer to the actual, physical slaughter of a real horse. I wonder if throwing food into the fire is something similar. I dont know, but I wonder.

  3. We see the examples of ‘offerings’ in every religions including islam and christianity. The yagna is basically a thanks giving ritual to remember the courtesy of nature. In the olden days they used to put sacred materials into fire in order to ‘please the god’. Once the offerings are made the leftover would be consumed by the yagna- prohiths and the bhakthas. ( it is not wasted) Putting things into fire is mere symbolic and only a minute quantity of food is put into fire and the rest is consumed in the name of prasadam. In olden days they had prosperous kingdoms to provide food, animals and other things for the yagnas. Today, yagnas are only symbolic and only little amount of things are offered.
    I read in some books that in the days of Ashwamedha yagnas, they used to eat the meat after the yagna. Similarly, they used to slaughter ox and bullocks for the same purpose. As long as they consume the things they offered tto yagna, there is no question of wasting food.

  4. Your point is taken, but it all adds up. At a function at my house a while back, at least 1 kg of ghee was used. And lets not forget the temples that pour thousands of litres of milk on stone idols every day

  5. Throwing food into fire may look insensitive activity to you or to any aesthetic person. That is because of our perception that food is an essential thing hence should not be wasted (which is very much true also). Our knowledge about the poverty and low nutrition in the world also has helped in deriving this perception. Every religious act has many meanings to it. Offerings things to yagna has got different meanings at different levels. The meaning of conquoring ego is certainly true and it is one interpretation of ashwamedha. Religion is not a mathematics where you have a clear cut RIGHT and WRONGS. So we cant actually say the other meaning as misinterpretation.

  6. @astroshiva
    ” Religion is not a mathematics where you have a clear cut RIGHT and WRONGS”
    The biggest problem with any religion today is in the interpretation of its scripture. Ambiguity leads people to interpret it the way they want to which is pretty much the cause of the problems in the world today.
    The biggest problem here is trying to interpret a a document written thousands of years ago and trying to apply in the modern context. The people who came up with these things did not have the knowledge we have right now about a lot of things. Its like trying to fit the observations of the universe we have today with the geocentric model of the universe.

  7. I agree. Religion has shades of meanings and cannot be dealt as black and white. But the sideeffects of any interpretation do tend have very real black and white implications in the real world. Which is why I talk about the real world effects of throwing food into the fire. There’s nothing stopping us from symbolically altering that actual act of throwing real food into something like a simple wave of the hand. We can do that, but we dont, because we tend to be conformists

  8. 1) The point that you put forward was ‘wasting food material by pouring it into fire.’ I replied in the begining as follows – ‘In a materialistic way, throwing food into fire is a big ‘waste’. Why I said materialistic way – because we are talking only about materialistic world, where food is meant for consumption and fire is meant for destruction.(generally)
    The other other reason for my words ‘materialistic’ is, since we are discussing a religious matter, I wanted to keep other considerations like theosophy, philosophy or spiritual reasons out of that statement.

    The above point was made considering only materialistic way keeping all the modern values in mind.

  9. You make a valid point about the necessity to not ignore non-materialistic aspects of religious rituals. I agree. I am completely ignorant of those and I tend to argue from a purely limited, material point of view.

    But as karthik points out, it is very hard to make correct interpretations of religious scripture because of the very fact that they were written so long ago.

    All the same, I think its been a good debate, and im looking forward to more 🙂

  10. Your ‘purely materialistic point of view’ – as you put it – is justified in my comment (1) above.

    2 ) My second point was about your idea of ‘insensitivty’

    {Your comment: Throwing food into the fire seems to me a fairly insensitive activity.}
    Again, on materalistic way I have no issues. But this one talks about the ‘interpretation’ of yagna.

    The logic behind that inference of your’s is ‘food is being destroyed by fire or yagna’. Because we think by our common knowledge that food is a ‘material’ and fire destroys anything it takes.
    In comment no (1) I didnt find any need of considering other factors. But here I should take other things into consideration as ‘sensitiveness’ cannot be explained in purely materialistic way.

    Those who perform yagna consider fire as a devine thing. Because of its destructive power, it has been considered as a bridge between human and heaven. We may have other wordly definition to fire. But, those who perform yaaga consider fire ‘devine’, hence the whole process of yagna gets a devine interpretation. Otherwise it remains as an insensitive act if we consider fire as only a source of destruction.

  11. @karthik
    Many relegious scriptures get misinterpreted. Yes I do agree to this point. This has misled people number of times to take wrong and inhuman paths – which is very tragic.
    Coming to interpreting the holy scriptures, (especially the ancient ones) I feel religious scriptures are one of the ancient attempts of man to understand ‘life and beyond it’. The other aspects like basic sciences, social system, healthcare and philosophy (as we know today) were once part of this ‘religious scriptures’ and gradually moved out of it to grow into fully developed (or independent) subjects. Now a man with scientific temper will definitely look into the ancient sciences like astronomy, (which was more or less like astrology), material sciences (about elements and things) and yogasanas rather than a spiritual stuff. His area of interest being science, he will explain everything according to his scientific knowledge.
    Same with a spiritually inclined person, his expectations from holy scripts are purely at a theosophical level. Perhaps getting salvation is his goal and for him the scientific interpretations do not matter. So what to agee on or what to discard? Our judgement on the rights and wrongs of these interpretation only shows where we prefer to stand.
    Generally speaking, interpreting thousands of years old manuscripts will definitely lead to ambiguity considering the drastic change in the value sysytems. But there are certain values unaltered by time and which should guide us in avoiding such misinterpretations.

  12. @karthik
    I must apologise here that I am commenting ‘too much’

    Well this comment is for the bottom line of your comment.
    {Your comment was: The people who came up with these things did not have the knowledge we have right now about a lot of things. Its like trying to fit the observations of the universe we have today with the geocentric model of the universe.}
    Let me comment on this one in a scientific way (as astronomy – cosmology is my favourite subject) though I am afraid it may go irrelevant with our topic of yagnas.
    First of all, I am not sure about whether ‘we know more about this universe than our ancesters’. You must have said it based on the amount of knowledge we gathered using the logical tool of ‘science’. Can Science (as defined in modern terms) explain everything? What is its stand on spirituality, para-psychological experiences or beyond the event horizon phenomenons. (black hole boundary) Well science has different theories. Our quest of single truth is not satisfied here. There might have been some other way of understanding the universe known to our ancestors, which was more ‘logical’ than the ‘science’ we know today. Probabilities..
    Coming to geocentric and heliocentric systems. Why is the second one more rational compared to the first one? The geocentric idea was derived keeping earth as the ‘frame of reference’ and the movement of sun and heavenly bodies around earth helped in developing this concept. Even today by keeping this model you can explain many astronomical phenomenons. This model failed in explaining things beyond earth. So our frame of reference was shifted to the more convenient point – the sun. In this way we could explain our sky more correctly. But interestingly, both these models are dependent on our observations.

    There is no need to fit ancient things into the established science or the vice versa. But we can not rule out the importance of comparisons.

  13. But why interpret or use them at all ? Sure they were useful in the ancient time when people were still trying to understand the world we live in. But now, when we understand so much about this world why follow something which has not changed over the last 1000 years.

    Our morals and values have changed so much over all these years of human existance. One example is sati which was considered a norm 200 years(approx) back but is now abhored. Our morals and values shift and change over time but these scriptures do not. So why use them at all?
    I would rather trust a person who is good because he wants to be good and not because an old document tells him to be good.

    I agree that science, philosophy etc. were once part of these scriptures and have now developed into separate subjects. They have evolved over the years and have undergone drastic changes and developement over time. My question again here is if these offer better explanations of life and the cosmos, why do we still need that old ancient outdated document ?

    What exactly do you mean by a spirtual explanation ? Pure speculation? Which is what most of the religions do.

  14. Why to Interpret these things?
    1) From scientific point of view, we should not neglect these documents as these are the origins of our quest. We should brush up our knowledge on our ancestor’s methodology (or atleast find more about it) in order to use them in future for the development of our existing methodology if the need arises. (I am talking about methodology here, not the facts and findings).

    Newton is a modern scientist, but his findings are outdated when compared to Max Planc or Einstein’s discoveries (especially the study of ‘light’) Newton’s findings still hold good in certain cases. But Newtonian physics is stagnant. Whatever had to be discovered has been discovered by Newton and his contemperors. Do you suggest we should stick only to Einstein or Planc or Stephen Hawking for that matter and neglect Newton’s findings since they are as stagnant as the age old documents?

    2) In spiritual point of view: I cannot explain this point in any materialistic or the logical way. As most of the things explained here are beyond the conciousness which the science will not accept always. The theories of Sigmund Freud itself is in the borderline of science and speculation, then how can I expalin the concepts like aatma, paramaatma and nirvana in scientific terms

    About the example of Sathi, this is what I meant in my first comment to you where i used the word ‘inhuman ways.’ This goes for issues like untouchability etc.

    You said why cant we discard the ancient scriptures? (the comment was with concern about social sysytem I suppose)
    I say, as one has the right to follow a scripture, the other has the equal right to oppose and reject it. No issues at all. Forcing a person to believe a religious thing is a wrong thing. At the same time forcing a believer to discard his holyscripts is also wrong. As I said there are different levels of understanding the book, if one feels that science is the perfect method he should not be stopped.
    Following a religious book ‘religeousely’??? Hmmm.. our modern day constitutions serve as the censor board in practising them. So, as long as our faith doesnt hurt others, there is nothing to worry.

    Spiritual explanation is part speculation and part experience as far as my knowledge goes. Since I have not experienced anything major I cant just say anything about it.
    Speculation has got its own importance in science aswell. We often use ‘Let the value be x’ kind of stuffs in every scientific explanation. Or in astronomy we always say this planet might have formed due to this phenomeon. This star might have took birth due to novae some billion years back. Who knows? But they are considered logical. In relativity theory we always use absurd explanations which are based on speculations and probabilities.

  15. 1. I do not think the comparision with Newton and Einstein is valid. We still continue to use Newtons laws because it still holds as long as the speed is less than the speed of light. There is evidence that it does work. A more valid comparision would be with the geocentric model of the universe of ptolemy.

    I am all for studying ancient scriptures as archeology but not as a book of morals and values.

    2. The examples you quote as speculation are not actually speculations. To speculate is to come up with a theory without evidence. When a scientist says so and so star forms from a novae what hes doing is working with the evidence he has and he will modify his theory as more evidence comes to light which is something that religion does not.

  16. 1) The reason for that comparison was to say that even after finding new things the old discoveries have to be appreciated. According to me science (or any study) is the process of explaining the phenomenons using the terms and concepts accepted by it. As we discover new concepts it becomes part of science giving new dimension to the existing models. Until Planc and Einstein dual nature of light was an unheard concept. I sometimes wonder Is that the light which has dual nature or is that how we have understood it in order to satisfy both sets of laws?

    There is a possibility of complete new theory which can explain light without falling into any of these sets. In other words I wanted to say that science and its methodology is undoubtedly the most rational and modern, but why should one rule out the possibility of some other ‘study’ or ‘descipline’ (or an alternate science if I can say so) which uses a complete different path to understand nature or perhaps beyond it. If not for that reason, how could our ancient books carry some of the scietifically proven things which are otherwise impossible for someone to imagine in that point of time? (This excludes the narrative explanations made in epics and puranas)

    2) This is also the reason why I think ancient scriptures should be studied beyond the arheological boundaries.

    3) I completely agree to your point that speculations are literally baseless. But the most rational and modern procedure of science ( which even I believe in) also sometimes gives theories first and search for the evidences later. There are hundreds of hypothetical cases in science still waiting for its maiden evidence.

    4) I have a problem if anyone calls the ancient wisdom as science unless and untill it is scientifically acceptible. But just because it is not a science, it should not be abandoned as I still feel science and its methodology – which completely depends on human senses – is not perfect. Because science depends on what man feels (like what he hears, tastes, sees and touches) and our experiments are made only by enhancing our previousely known senses (like telescopes which enhances visibility) what about the possibility of other sensing powers which may be more powerfull than the known ones. In this point our ancient wisdom may help.

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