Let us understand yajňa by studying the epithets ascribed to it in more than one thousand verses. It is a fundamental mistake to regard yajňa merely as a ritual or rite. Veda describes yajňa as journey, as climbing a hill, as a battle and also as worship or rite. The worship or rite is not that done by a human being. Agni the deva is called upon to perform the rite; Agni is requested to do all the functions associated with the various priests. Agni is called upon to worship on behalf of the rişhi not only the devās but also the human beings who have attained perfection (1.45.1).
According to the Rig Vedic mystics, a human being performs an action only because of the assistance s/he gets from the devās RV (5.4.10). As a matter of fact, the contribution of the human to each action is nominal. Even great poets like the Vedic poets obtained inspiration from superior planes and their main contribution is in transcribing the revealed verses in appropriate metres. Yajňa is any activity which recognises the collaboration between the deva and the human. Yajňa is not a mere rite or ritual. A rişhi is conscious of the Divine’s Hand in the performance of all activities. The later scripture Bhagavad Gīta specifically mentions the different yajňās by name like yajňa of obtaining material objects, yajňa of obtaining knowledge, yajňa involving self-study and so on. The sages are also conscious of the role of the deva, especially of Agni, so that they request him to perform the yajňa (or the activity) on their behalf.
Let us discuss the various epithets assigned to yajňa beginning with adhvara, journey. Adhvara is derived from adhva path and ra to move. Ritualists regard this word as a synonym for rite since one of the principal priests in the rite is called adhvaryu. The function of the priest is to direct the rite and this function is in tune with the meaning assigned to adhvara. What is this journey? Every action in our life is a step in our journey towards realising the goal, namely bliss, an all-sided perfection of not only the physical body, but the vital and mental bodies, not only an individual perfection but perfection of the entire society. Veda uses the imagery of voyage for yajňa. Just as merchants go in their boats to distant countries and bring valuable treasures from these countries, a person who does yajňa reaches different states of consciousness, gets priceless experiences and brings them back to the ordinary living conditions and thus makes the human life Divine.
The yajňa is also climbing from one peak to another, from one degree of perfection to another, (1.10.2). It is explicitly stated that we are not consciously aware of the entire journey. We can know only of what can be done at that stage. Whenever help is needed in this climb, the devās again manifest and help us along.
Yajňa is also a battle. We have mentioned only helpful powers of the nature, the devās. There are also the powers that hinder our journey towards perfection. These powers are called dasyus, the thieves or destroyers, Vŗtra and Vāla being prominent among them. These dasyus impede our progress. They are called ayajvānaĥ, people who do not recognise the principle of collaboration or yajňa. They foster in human beings, who come under their influence, qualities like jealousy, greed etc. The human collaborators call upon the devās to battle these adversaries. Hence yajňa is also a battle.
Yajňa is a rite or ritual too, which is a symbolic physical representation of the various steps involved in collaboration. The ritual begins with the invocation of Agni by lighting the physical fire. The dry fuel samit is fed to the fire as representing all the qualities which are not necessary or not appropriate. The fire is nourished by the ghee which symbolises mental clarity. The Soma herb which stands for the bliss released in all actions is also offered to Agni as well as rice and grains. These are some of the steps in the famous Soma rite.
Every rite has four priests namely hotŗ, adhvaryu, udgātŗ and brahma, whose names indicate their functions. Hotŗ is the deva who calls all the other devās to come and participate in the divine activity yajňa. Adhvaryu lays down the various steps in the successful performance of the yajňa. Udgātŗ is the deva who chants the prescribed mantrās in the appropriate metres at requisite times. In RV there is no mention of the four faced creator-god of that name, Brahma. In the Veda brahma always stands for the mantra, the potent Word. Brahma is the priest who presides over the entire yajňa and makes sure that everything is performed in the correct manner. In the RV, it is the deva Agni who performs all these functions in the psychological yajňa, the collaborative and co-creative actions of the devās and the humans.
The goal of the inner yajňa is perfection of all our faculties, those of the physical body, those connected with our life energy such as passions, emotions, attitudes, ideals, etc, and those connected with the mental domain such as intelligence, analytical ability, intuition, discrimination between Truth and Falsehood, etc.
Yajňa is a collaborative effort between the Gods, the cosmic powers and human being. Each God is associated with a particular psychological faculty, Agni with the power of Divine Will, Indra with the Divine Mind and actions, Soma with Delight, Uşha with the initial Dawn of spiritual ideas, etc.
Gods are eager to extend their help to aspiring human beings. If we invoke a particular deity with faith with an appropriate hymn of Rig Veda fully knowing its deeper meaning then that deity is sure to respond to the call. If the aspirant’s body is able to bear the power, the deity will plant a seed of his power and this seed will grow continuously. Sometimes the aspirant feels no effect. For instance, a student who has no mental aptitude will not feel any effect if he recites with faith the famous gāyatrī mantra invoking intelligence from Savitŗ. In this case the body of the aspirant, physical or mental, is not able to bear the power that Savitŗ wants to give, and hence Savitŗ will keep quiet.
The preparation and maturing of the body can be done by an inner yajňa. The Taittirīya Samhitā has several inner yajňas like darshapūrņamāsau, agnişhţoma etc., which are in the first kāņda. Once one of these yajnās is done the body can bear the power which the deity can pour down. These inner yajňas involve the use of the ŗk mantrās, yajus mantrās or sāma mantrās.
Another type of yajňa is the harmonisation of all the faculties. We will give some details of each of these two type of Yajnās from the Taittirīya Samhitā.
In the inner yajňa, all the actions are done in the subtle body of the yajamāna, i.e., the yajamāna is not the outward-acting human being, but the soul. There is no need for any external or material offerings mentioned above. Recall the brāhmaņa passage, “yajňo vai vişhņu”, i.e., yajňa is Vişhņu, or, yajňa pervades everything. Also yajňa is done by yajňa,
“yajnena yajňam ayajanta”,
[TS (3.5.11), RV (10.90.16)]
The subtle body of the yajamāna has the fire-altar vedi along with the fire. Yajamāna himself is also the pashu.
Aitareya Brāhmaņa (11.11) emphasises that yajňa is essentially a mental act; all the chants and physical acts that are involved must really be transformed into thoughts and resolves, for all speech and action are founded on thought. “manasā vai yajňas tāyate manasā kriyate”; tāyatemana means to extend the range of mind (vistāryate) according to Sāyaņa.
TS itself gives details about how the inner yajňa should be conducted. The different prapāţhakās of TS give different ways of performing the inner yajňa. I will choose the darshapūrņamāsau yajňa in the first prapāţhaka of the first kāņda, TS (1.1). It has fourteen anuvākās. It is done on every full moon and new moon day.