Pancha Maha Yajnam
It is our duty to reduce karma in this lifetime. One important way of doing this is working to pay off our Rinam (debts). The shastras tell us of a five-fold debt all living people incur and recommend the regular practice of Pancha Maha Yajnams - five offerings designed to help us pay these debts.
These five are:
These five are:
1) Deva Yajnam - Offerings to the Gods.
This is designed to mitigate the debt to God and Devas (angelic beings) guiding and guarding us from the inner realms. Such offerings help them to manifest blessings in the world. We offer ghee or oil lamps, incense, flowers, and foods as we conduct our daily pujas or yajna ceremonies.
2) Brahma Yajnam or Rishi Yajnam - Offerings to the Sages
We owe a great deal to the masters who have realized the Supreme who have come before us and illuminated the path to realization. This offering is traditionally completed daily through the ritual recitation of the Vedas which is customarily performed after the midday sandhya vandanam and gayatri mantra repetition. Those who have not been initiated to recite the Vedas can complete the offering more simply by reciting whatever mantras they know, all of which were revealed by one Sage or another. Those beginning their spiritual practice could also read the teachings of the Saints and Sages, though when intellectual understanding has been attained, this should be replaced by the practice of chanting which brings higher awareness beyond the intellectual knowledge.
3) Pitri Yajnam - Offerings to the Ancestors.
We owe a great debt to our ancestors. This life would not be possible if not for them. We take on a lot of family karma due to rinam to the ancestors. We pay off this debt by offering daily and monthly pitri tarpanam (water offerings) and annual shradha at the time of the pitri paksha around September each year. We should see to it that living relatives are cared for and kept happy as possible and attend to funeral ceremonies for deceased relatives also.
4) Bhuta Yajnam - Offerings to Creatures / Beings.
All living beings are included here: plants and animals and also spiritual beings in other realms. This offering is traditionally made by regularly offering food to animals / which is also intended to satiate spiritual beings. We owe a great debt to mother nature and all beings for supporting our life. Working to promote humane treatment of animals and protection of the environment also helps to fulfill this offering.
5) Manushya Yajnam - Offering to Humanity.
We owe a great debt to society and could not live without the support of countless people. Our food is grown by a farmer and transported by someone else and sold at a market to us by yet another person. This is one example of the many ways we depend upon society to live. We have a duty to give back. We must give clothing and food to the needy and comfort the distressed. We should remain occupied doing some dharmic work which gives back to society in some way. We need not manage a free clinic for the sick. It is fine to serve coffee in a cafe or to sell hammers in a hardware store. We should be contributing to society in some way however to pay of the debt to society.