We have a natural aversion for things that make us suffer. But this aversion is not universal. When we suffer for a cause greater than the suffering itself, we embrace it and call it sacrifice. And with sacrifice paradoxically, the more we suffer, the greater is our dedication to the larger cause.
Ritual and sacrifice is central to every major religion. Every religious faith draws its strength and credibility from the sacrifices of its followers. Few Hindus feel the fervour of the devotee who rolls on her back in circumambulation around a large temple complex. The story of prophet Mohammed’s ordeal in travelling between Mecca and Medina is felt in greater magnitude by the pilgrims who undertake haj or fast during Ramzan. Sacrifice is felt by the soldier, who is injured in war – the extent of his injuries lends bravery to his act and legitimacy to the war that his nation is fighting. The same bravery and legitimacy is also felt by terrorists and suicide bombers. Every parent sacrifices a bit of their own pleasure and freedom to raise children.
Sacrifice is a powerful force that galvanizes action – both positive and negative. Given it serves as an impetus for forward motion in many a difficult situation, we could use it purposefully. The student who sacrifices parties and football games to work on her project is likely to bring greater focus to her work. The person who works out early in the morning is also likely to avoid junk food and eat healthier.
The focus that we bring to the essential depends on how much of the peripheral we sacrifice. The Buddha said that suffering is inevitable. We might as well channel a part of this suffering to work for us and help us in our most valuable endeavours.
Inspiration: 21 lessons for the 21st century – Yuval Noah Harari