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Dedication and sacrifice in the service of faith.

Updated on May 12, 2013

Spiritual sacrifice

In this world of many cultures and belief's, one's faith can make a huge difference to the way that you live your life. For many in the more material area's of the globe, market forces overrule the pursuit of inner spiritual awakening. Since the end of the Second World War, society has sought to distance itself from previous cultural beliefs in the hope of eliminating traditional bias and hostilities.

The Eastern philosophies and religious practices are often highlighted in the Western media as been a purer form of worship. It is often believed that the religious practices of Europe and North America are less observant and simplistic compared to different belief structures. In truth there is only a difference in how worshipers show their dedication to their faith. The Christian faith in Africa is celebrated in a much different way than a Christian event in a rural church in Scotland.The following faith's highlight the extremes some followers go to, in their commitment to their chosen path.

A devotee of Shinto, in silent prayer.
A devotee of Shinto, in silent prayer. | Source

Mind,Body and Spirit

The denial of the body, is found in many religions throughout the world. Some religions practice the mutilation of the body to help achieve spiritual enlightenment, the desecration of the reproductive organs has been practiced throughout human history to bring the righteous closer to purity. Doing this kind of sacrifice is often thought to bring the devoted closer to their deity. The removal of impure sexual thoughts and desires, is believed to purify the body and the incumbent soul. In post Roman Britain a small fertility cult grew, which required the male priests to sacrifice parts of their reproductive anatomy to ensure the success of the groups fertility. This was a form of sacrifice that celebrated the gods of fertility, by returning their gift so that others could use it.

Many established religions have clergy who abstain from sexual activity and the taking of a life partner. Nuns and Monks have undertaken these Christian vows throughout the ages, the Shaolin monks of Asia also keep their bodies pure from sexual contact. Thoughts of sexual activity are an unwelcome distraction from attaining further enlightenment, or a further cause of tension when combined with a sexual relationship. Many of the faithful see their relationship with their gods as more beneficial to the world than their needs for carnal desire.

A native American fasting ceremony in Montana.
A native American fasting ceremony in Montana. | Source

Native American vision quests.

The Shamanic practices of the native American tribes are a rite of passage that most young adults within the community experience. There are different levels of vision quests and most are undertaken to give an answer to some of life's inner workings. Most indigenous American tribes use some form of vision quest to seek wisdom from the natural or spirit world. For the more ardent and experienced pioneers of the other side, certain physical sacrifices have to be made to achieve the desired answer. The start of a vision quest will usually involve fasting and taking the follower to a remote location, so they can commune with the natural spirits away from the influence of the mortal world.

The use of psychotropic compounds were a particular risk to many wanting to learn more from the spirit realm. The poisoning of the already weakened body could seriously damage the health of those seeking enlightenment. Also venturing out into remote and inhospitable terrain with little in the way of supplies, was inviting the natural world to put a premature end to the inquisitive followers destiny.

The use of poisonous flora and fauna is often used by Shamanic practitioners to help breach the divide between the waking world and the spirit world. The incorrect use of hallucinogenic flora can cause great pain, illness, disability, seizures and in some cases death. The Shaman's are experienced in their craft, but nothing is certain in the natural world and people can react severely to a foreign toxin.

Members of the group experience the flagellation of Christ.
Members of the group experience the flagellation of Christ. | Source

Opus Dei

Opus Dei are best known for the questionable light cast upon them by the Hollywood blockbuster "The Da Vinci Code." This highly secretive Catholic group within the greater church is well known for it's strict discipline and adherence to the ancient rites and rituals of Roman Catholicism. Opus Dei are often seen as fierce protectors of the Vatican and believe in a more archaic brand of Christianity. The Da Vinci Code illustrates the use of self-flagellation in order for the members of the group to feel the pain of Christ's suffering.

Devices designed to draw blood or restrict the followers movements are used to highlight many injuries described within the Holy Bible. The members of Opus Dei perform a penance for the saviour's suffering, everyday of their mortal lives. The picture opposite depicts the suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of his captors. Members of the Opus Dei group experience similar sufferings and injuries, so they can feel closer to the actions their saviour endured.

One of the most well known devices used by members of Opus Dei is the cilice, this chain worn around the thigh is designed to cause pain and leave indentations in the skin.The term given in the Catholic faith for the act of physical pain in the pursuit of worship is Corporal Mortification.

Terminology of faith.

The practice of self-denial to cause death.
Mystical Buddhist sect
Opus Dei
A Catholic group within the Vatican
Followers of the teachings of Buddha
Shaolin Monks demonstrating their inner strength and discipline.
Shaolin Monks demonstrating their inner strength and discipline. | Source

Dedication of the body

"My body is a temple!"

Many faith's embrace this philosophy, the purity of the vessel is celebrated in many faiths from across the globe. This could be the innocence of a virgin, the abstention of physical sexual activity, length of beards, the disregard for vanity and the attainment of physical perfection. The physical perfection is not to be confused with a narcissistic complex, it is the union of a perfect body to an enlightened soul.

Some followers of the Sikh religion, try to attain the perfection of the male form by building up their strength and physique. Their physical body is dedicated to the determination and power that their gods have bestowed upon them. The body holds the spark of life and human essence, the devotee's of their faith are in a way building a temple or other place of worship within themselves.

In the Middle East through to the Indian subcontinent, there are many cultures that scar their body or create wounds in their dedication and devotion. There are those who can pierce their cheeks with steel rods yet they do not suffer with pain as their meditative(devotional) state protects them from injuries that would require urgent medical attention. At the side of this article the monks are seen resting on sharp tips of ceremonial spears, yet they are now suffering or bleeding out.

A question of faith.

Could you dedicate yourself to these levels of faith?

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Buddhist mummies of Japan.

The religious practice of Sokushinbutsu was followed in Japan by disciples of the Buddhist tradition. It was outlawed by the Japanese government by the late 1890's, due to the continued drive to modernize the country. In northern Japan the followers of the Shugendo, have left behind a number of skeletal mummies. These monks followed an ancient Buddhist path that encouraged then to dedicate themselves to the highest levels of their belief's. They were in effect slowly killing themselves to attain enlightenment.

For the first three years, the Buddhist monks would consume a sparse meal consisting of nothing more than nuts and seeds. This meagre diet was used in tandem with an exhaustive and brutal physical regime. This daily work out was designed to burn away the reserves of fat stored on the monk's body. Once the monks became skeletal, the next part of their preparation would begin.

They then switched onto a starvation diet of consuming only bark and roots for the next few years. They also began drinking a poisonous tea from a local tree, this caused the monks to expel the fluids from their bodies. The monks inner determination to achieve a perfect state, would sustain the monks were others would have succumbed to their own mortality. As their bodies started to fail, the near skeletal monks were entombed in miniature shrines. All they had within their cramped environment was a tiny bell to signify they were still alive. Those who succeeded in showing their ability to perform the ultimate sacrifice of self denial were thought of as Buddha, and their perfectly preserved body was treated with reverence. For those who perished attempting to attain the preservation of the spirit and body, they were acknowledged in their attempt but did not receive the level of worship in their passing.


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    • Asp52 profile image

      Andrew Stewart 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Eric, I do find the varying levels of devotion displayed by followers of certain beliefs inspiring and confusing. One persons faith can move them to perform great acts of sacrifice, for themselves and others. I appreciate peoples dedication to a belief more than blindly following the bare essentials of a religion.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. I like critics of these notions. I was sitting around with some friends of mine after a wild night of too much fun and a football game. I was serving up bloody mary's for breakfast. I was happily a designated driver. And so felt great at 9am on Sunday morning. Of course they had their jocularity at my expense as I studied all morning for preaching mid day. "Why do you do all that prayer and meditation and denial of partying".

      Oh how I laughed inside, here they were suffering at their own hands and laughing at me for sacrificing time and freedom. Life is funny that way.