Sacrifice may be the least-practiced austerity, and the most important. It is the act of giving up to a greater power a cherished possession (be it money, time, intelligence or a physical object) to manifest a greater good.
There are many ways to teach sacrifice. My satguru taught sacrifice by cooking a great feast for several hundred people, which took all day to prepare. Their mouths were watering. They had not eaten all day, so as to prepare their bodies to receive this prasada from the satguru. The meal was scheduled to be served at high noon.
But Satguru Yogaswami kept delaying, saying, "We have not yet reached the auspicious moment. Let us sing some more bhajanas and Natchintanai. Be patient."
At about 3pm, he said, "Before we can partake of our prasada, I shall ask eleven strong men here to dig a deep, square hole in the ground." They stepped forward and he indicated the spot where they should dig. Shovels were obtained from homes nearby, and the digging commenced. All waited patiently for his will to be fulfilled, the stomachs growling, the mouths watering at the luscious fragrances of the hot curries, the rasam and the freshly-boiled rice, five sweet-smelling curries, mango chutneys, dal, yogurt and delicious sweet payasam. It was a real feast.
Finally, just before dusk, the pit was completed, and the great saint indicated that it was time to serve the food. "Come, children, surround this pit," he said. Two or three hundred people stepped forward and surrounded the ten- by ten-foot hole. Women and children were sitting in the front and the men standing in the back, all wondering what he was going to say and hoping he would not delay any longer with the feast. He said, "Now we shall serve our prasada." He called forward two of the huskiest of the eleven men, the strongest and biggest, and commanded, "Serve the rice. Bring the entire pot." It was a huge brass pot containing nearly 400 pounds of rice.
By this time, many had left, as they had been cooking all morning and singing all afternoon. Only the most devout had remained to see the outcome. When the day began, 1,000 had come. The preparations were for a very big crowd.
Now he said, "Pour the rice in the middle of the pit." Banana leaves had been laid carefully at the bottom of the pit to form a giant serving plate.
The crowd was aghast. "Pour it into the pit?"
"Don’t hesitate," he commanded. Though stunned, the men obeyed Yogaswami without question, dropping the huge mass of steaming rice onto the middle of the banana leaves. He told one man, "Bring the eggplant curry!" To another he said, "Go get the potato curry! We must make this is a full and auspicious offering."
As all the curries were neatly placed around the rice, everyone was wondering, "Are we to all eat together out of the pit? Is this what the guru has in mind?" Then the kulambu sauce was poured over the middle of the rice. Five pounds of salt was added on the side. Sweet mango and ginger chutneys were placed in the proper way.
One by one, each of the luscious preparations was placed in the pit, much to the dismay of those gathered.
~ Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami