World Scripture


Sacrificial love is self-sacrifice with the pure motivation to alleviate the suffering of others. This supreme love is suffering love, love that requires involvement in the knotty problems of the world, love that bears with the failings and weaknesses of others, love that is committed to helping others regardless of the cost. We have the example of Jesus Christ, who offered his life to redeem sinful humanity, and Moses, who risked his life before Pharaoh for the sake of his people. We have the example of the bodhisattva, who vows to devote himself to save all beings and to accept their sufferings as his own. He regards his own happiness as incidental to the happiness of others. He does not claim the merit of his spiritual progress for himself, but offers it for the liberation of others. A Hindu example of this sacrificial attitude and of the practice of "transfer of merit" is found in the story of King Vipascit, who would rather ease the suffering of the denizens of hell than enjoy by himself the bliss of heaven. We conclude with a description of the painful Native American ritual called the Sun Dance, in which the dancer has his chest pierced with wooden pegs tied with ropes to the top of a sacred tree; as he dances the ropes become taut until the pegs rip off from his flesh. The dancer sacrifices his body on behalf of his people, that the people may live.

One who stays in the shade does not know the sun's heat.

1.African Traditional Religions. Igala Proverb (Nigeria)

Igala Proverb: A criticism of those who, enjoying luxuries, forget that others are suffering.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

2.Christianity. John 15.13

The position of love can be established when one sacrifices oneself and gives oneself for others. Thus sacrifice accompanies love.

3.Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 9-11-72

A man should share in the distress of the community, for so we find that Moses, our teacher, shared in the distress of the community.

4.Judaism. Talmud, Taanit 11a

The believer who participates in human life, exposing himself to its torments and suffering, is worth more than the one who distances himself from its suffering.

5.Islam. Hadith of Ibn Majah

It is not always physical bravery that counts. One must have the courage to face life as it is, to go through sorrows and always sacrifice oneself for the sake of others.

6.African Traditional Religions. Kipsigis Saying (Kenya)

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me."

7.Christianity. Romans 15.1-3

Mencius said, "Those who are morally well-adjusted look after those who are not; those who are talented look after those who are not. That is why people are glad to have good fathers and elder brothers. If those who are morally well-adjusted and talented abandon those who are not, then scarcely an inch will separate the good from the depraved."

8.Confucianism. Mencius IV.B.7

John 15.13: Cf. 2 Timothy 2.3-4, p. 886. Sun Myung Moon, 9-11-72: Cf. Sun Myung Moon, 9-11-72, p. 744; 3-30-90, p. 876; 9-30-79, p. 150. Romans 15.1-3: Cf. 2 Corinthians 5.20-6.13, p. 868. Mencius IV.B.7: See Chuang Tzu 33, p. 869; Njak Proverb, p. 244.

A bodhisattva resolves, "I take upon myself the burden of all suffering; I am resolved to do so; I will endure it. I do not turn or run away, do not tremble, am not terrified, nor afraid, do not turn back or despond.

"And why? At all costs I must bear the burdens of all beings. In that, I do not follow my own inclinations. I have made the vow to save all beings. All beings I must set free. The whole world of living beings I must rescue from the terrors of birth, of old age, of sickness, of death and rebirth, of all kinds of moral offense, of all states of woe.... My endeavors do not merely aim at my own deliverance. For with the help of the boat of the thought of all-knowledge, I must rescue all these beings from the stream of Samsara, which is so difficult to cross.... I myself must grapple with the whole mass of suffering of all beings. To the limit of my endurance I will experience in all the states of woe, found in any world system, all the abodes of suffering. And I must not cheat all beings out of my store of merit. I am resolved to abide in each single state of woe for numberless aeons; and so I will help all beings to freedom, in all states of woe that may be found in any world system whatsoever.

"And why? Because it is surely better that I alone should be in pain than that all these beings should fall into the states of woe. Therefore I must give myself away as a pawn through which the whole world is redeemed from the terrors of hells, of animal birth, of the world of Death, and with this my own body I must experience, for the sake of all beings, the whole mass of painful feelings. And on behalf of all beings I give surety for all beings, and in doing so I speak truthfully, am trustworthy, do not go back on my word. I must not abandon all beings."

9.Buddhism. Sikshasamuccaya 280-81, Vajradhvaja Sutra

"I should be a hostel for all sentient beings, to let them escape from all painful things. I should be a protector for all sentient beings, to let them all be liberated from all afflictions. I should be a refuge for all sentient beings, to free them from all fears....

"I should accept all sufferings for the sake of sentient beings, and enable them to escape from the abyss of immeasurable woes of birth and death. I should accept all suffering for the sake of all sentient beings in all worlds, in all states of misery, for ever and ever, and still always cultivate foundations of goodness for the sake of all beings. Why? I would rather take all this suffering on myself than to allow sentient beings to fall into hell. I should be a hostage to those perilous places- -hells, animal realms, the nether world--as a ransom to rescue all sentient beings in states of woe and enable them to gain liberation.

"I vow to protect all sentient beings and never abandon them. What I say is sincerely true, without falsehood. Why? Because I have set my mind on enlightenment in order to liberate all sentient beings; I do not seek the unexcelled Way for my own sake."

10.Buddhism. Garland Sutra 23

Sikshasamuccaya 280-81: This is a version of the Bodhisattva Vow. It includes the practice of dedicating one's merits, won through years of effort at spiritual discipline and selfless deeds, for the benefit of others. To regard one's own suffering in solidarity with the suffering of others empties one's suffering of self-hood. Hence the pride of suffering and pride in one's own spiritual accomplishment is overcome. See Mahaparinirvana Sutra 15.20b, pp. 211f.; Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra 9.1-5, pp. 449f.; Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 321-22, p. 829; 403-03, p. 869; Lankavatara Sutra 80, p. 207; Bodhipathapradipa, p. 467. Garland Sutra 23: See previous note.

"Ho! servant of Yama! Say, what sin have I committed, for which I have incurred this deepest hell, frightful for its torments? Known as King Vipascit, I protected the earth with uprightness; I let no fighting rage; no guest departed with averted countenance; nor did I offend the spirits of the ancestors, the gods, ascetics, or my servants; nor did I covet other men's wives, or wealth, or aught else belonging to them. How, then, have I incurred this very terrible hell?"

Yama's officer: "Come then, we go elsewhere. You have now seen everything, for you have seen hell. Come then, let us go elsewhere."

Thereupon the king prepared to follow him; but a cry went up from all the men that abode in torment: "Be gracious, O king! stay but a moment, for the air that clings to thy body gladdens our mind and entirely dispels the burning and the sufferings and pains from our bodies, O tigerlike man! Be gracious, O king!"

Vipascit: "Neither in heaven nor in Brahma's world do men experience such joy as arises from conferring bliss on suffering creatures. If, while I am present, torment does not hurt these men, here then will I remain, firm as a mountain."

Yama's officer: "Come, O king; we proceed. Enjoy the delights won by your own merit; leave here the evildoers to their torments."

Vipascit, "As long as these beings are in sore suffering, I will not go. From my presence the denizens of hell grow happy. Fie on the sickly protection-begging life of that man who shows no favor to one distressed, even though he be a resolute foe! Sacrifices, gifts, austerities do not work for the welfare of him who has no thought for the succor of the distressed.... To grant deliverance to these men excels, I consider, the joy of heaven. If many sufferers shall obtain happiness while only I undergo pain, shall I not in truth embrace it?"

Dharma (the Law): "These evil-doers have come to hell in consequence of their own deeds; you also, O king, must go to heaven in consequence of your meritorious deeds. I lead you to heaven; mount this heavenly chariot and linger not; let us go."

Vipascit: "Men in thousands, O Dharma, suffer pain here in hell; and being in affliction they cry to me to save them; hence I will not depart."

Dharma: "O king! Your merit is truly beyond reckoning. In evincing now this compassion here in the hells, your merit has amounted even higher. Come, enjoy the abode of the immortals; let these unfortunates consume away in hell the sin arising from their own actions!"

Vipascit: "Whatever good deeds I possess, O Lord of the Thirty Gods, by means thereof let the sinners who are undergoing torment be delivered from hell!"

Indra: "So be it, O king! You have gained an even more exalted station: see too these sinners delivered from hell!"

11.Hinduism. Markandeya Purana 13-15

Markandeya Purana 13-15: Compare Christ's tour of hell in 1 Peter 3.18-20, p. 450. For another Hindu story of exemplary sacrificial love, see the account of Rantideva, Srimad Bhagavatam 9, pp. 842f.

When all the preparations were finished, the dancers stood at the foot of the sacred tree, at the west, and, gazing up at the top of the tree, they raised their right hands and blew upon the eagle-bone whistles. As they did this, Kablaya prayed,
"O Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, bend down and look upon me as I raise my hand to You. You see here the faces of my people... You have beheld the sacred place and the sacred center which we have fixed, and where we shall suffer. I offer all my suffering to You on behalf of the people... Be merciful to me, O Great Spirit, that my people may live!"

Then all the singers chanted together, "O Wakan Tanka, be merciful to me! I am doing this that my people may live!"

The dancers all moved around to the east, looking towards the top of the sacred tree at the west, and, raising up their hands, they sang, "Our Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, has given to me a path which is sacred!"

The dancers moved now to the south... to the west... to the north, and again to the west, all the time blowing upon their shrill eagle-bone whistles. Then the dancers all began to cry, and Kablaya was given a long thong and two wooden pegs, and with these he went to the center, and grasping the sacred tree he cried, "O Wakan Tanka, be merciful to me. I do this that my people may live!"...

As the singers and drummers increased the speed of their chanting and drumming, the helpers rushed up and, grasping Kablaya roughly, threw him on the ground. The helper then pulled up the skin of Kablaya's left breast, and through this loose skin a sharp stick was thrust; and in the same manner the right breast was pierced. The long rawhide rope had been tied at its middle around the sacred tree, towards its top, and then the two ends of the rope were tied to the pegs in Kablaya's chest. The helpers stood Kablaya up roughly, and he blew upon his whistle, and, leaning back upon the thongs, he danced, and continued to dance in this manner until the thongs broke loose from his flesh.

12.Native American Religions. Sun Dance (Sioux)

Sun Dance: This dance is performed in times of famine, disease, or other danger to the community. The dancer afflicts himself in this prescribed way in order to procure spiritual help for his people. Cf. Rig Veda 10.136.7, p. 755.