The art of sacrifice

I was never good at chess but always loved to play.  There are certainly good points and bad points to the game of chess.  But if you don’t get too involved or obsessed with it we can analyze the principles and take only what is good from it.

chess set


The relative value of pieces must first be known.  The pawn is worth one point.  The bishop and knight are worth three points.  The rook is worth five points and the queen is worth nine points.  The king, because he can be captured and the game lost has infinite value.

Once you understand this you can make an educated choice on how to move or capture your opponent’s pieces.  As you learn to make better choices, you can definitely apply this to your life – whether it is raising a family or developing yourself on the quest.  Chess teaches us to utilize our often neglected reasoning skills.


Compassion is the understanding or empathy for the suffering of others.  It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love and foundational to the highest principles in philosophy and religion.  It is much needed today in our society yet it starts with a good intention and proper goals in life.

In chess, one of the great tactics is to sacrifice material to gain a special advantage later.  This teaches us a nice lesson not to be greedy solely for the purpose of material gain.  This is the heart of the bodhisattva’s way of life.  He or she lives on good principles and not bad ones that consist of harming others.  In other cultures, this type of hero is called a good Samaritan in Christianity or a Caretaker in the Native American religion.  It is a universal principle that shines through in most religions.

Needless to say, one of the most surprising moves is considered the queen-sacrifice because her value is among the highest.  When executed properly a master will, more often than not, win the game.

“Combinations with a queen sacrifice are among the most striking and memorable.”  –  Anatoly Karpov

There are two types of sacrifices.  The good sacrifice and the bad sacrifice.  The good sacrifice helps gain an advantage later on.  The bad sacrifice is done without proper forethought and planning.  It would be more of an unconscious impulse – something akin to a martyr complex.

In the spiritual world, it is often thought that we must sacrifice our self in order to attain enlightenment.  Of course, this is very true but how you give up your self is very important.  Without the guidance of a guru and without the guidance of proper scriptural sources you may just believe that suicide is the answer.  Therefore, without any consideration you end up seeking your own death without thinking of how it will affect your parents, children or spouse.

You truly will be creating negative karma if you act selfishly and without awareness.  The results of suicide are told over and over that you end up in a hell realm or a bad migration in your next lifetime.  One must contemplate this, consider the consequences correctly and receive proper instruction before one can gain confidence to act correctly in all situations.


Chess may have a hidden element in it that could be the starting point to proper insight (vipashana) meditation later on.

I always wondered what would happen if two Buddhas played chess with each other.  Who would win?

By studying the texts of the great chess masters, the answer is already known.  They tell us that the perfect game will consist of neither a win nor a loss.  If either player doesn’t make a mistake then the game will certainly end in a draw.

Two important questions:

  1. What is his intent?
  2. What is his weakness?

If you keep these two questions in mind; you will be ahead of the game.  Often you will just look at your side of the board and rush to make your move.  But each move consists of an intrinsic advantage and weakness.  You just have to discover it.  When you get stuck ask the question, “What weakness did he leave behind?” and you will learn to expand your awareness to his side of the board.

Life stories:

Here are two beautiful stories that hit the essential point.  In the first, we might not see any immediate benefit to the Bodhisattva hero.  On the surface, it just seems like he lost his life.  But it was a conscious act of compassion that eventually leads to his full enlightenment.  In a future life he does awaken to Buddhahood.  Naturally, this act did not go unnoticed by the Buddhas who have the eye of omniscience.  This compassionate action sped up his development as positive karma was created.

In the second story, we see the power of a realized Buddha making a sacrifice with the principle of crazy wisdom.  Since he was a Buddha there were no harmful consequence to him and his action only enhanced and benefited all who heard, saw and believed the display-like miracle.

1.  The touching story of The Hungry Tigress is from the Jataka tales.  This is one excerpt from a collection of past life stories of Shakyamuni Buddha.

The Bodhisattva, in a lifetime before he became the Buddha, came upon a hungry tigress and her cubs.  Seeing the tigress was too weak to hunt, the Bodhisattva sent his traveling companions away to look for food.  While they were away, he threw himself over a cliff, thereby offering his body for food to the hungry tigress and her cubs.

2.  The story of the Eight Manifestations of Padmasambhava is part of a long discourse given by the late Khenchen Palden Sherab in 1992 on the life of Guru Rinpoche:

With Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava we see the deep sacrifice of both the master and the disciple.  Wanting to learn the dharma from the Guru rather than lead a worldly life and get married, the princess was sentenced to prison for her actions while he was to be burned at the stake.

“The men ignored her and Guru Padmasambhava was captured.  His hands were bound and they led him off surrounded by hordes of people.  They wanted to make sure that he did not try to run away.  By royal decree, his punishment was to be burned at the stake.  Mandarava was sentenced to prison for 25 years, while all 500 of her attendants were sentenced to ten years.  All of this was the king’s decision.  A great quantity of wood was collected from the local households and soaked with sesame oil.”

Guru Rinpoche was tied in the center and the pyre was lit.  The king ordered that no one be allowed into the area for a week except those who were tending the fire.

“Now while Guru Rinpoche was in the midst of the flames, the fire transformed into water, which soon became a lake encircled on its outer perimeter by a ditch sporting a halo of upside-down flames.  In the center of this beautiful lake there was a wondrous lotus flower and above that, Guru Padmasambhava was sitting in the posture of royal ease, even more glorious than before.”


Vimalakirti explains, in The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti that even sharing the dharma with others is a great dharma sacrifice.  It definitely is not an easy action to perform.

Vimalakirti explains that:

“Those who teach it to others, whether it be no more than a single stanza of four lines, or a single summary phrase from this teaching of the Dharma, will be performing the great Dharma-sacrifice.”

The truth is that obstacles can arise when doing any type of good deed.  Furthermore, it is much harder to spread the dharma that helps liberate sentient beings lost in confusion.  As one common axiom explains:  No good deed goes unpunished.  People often reject unsolicited advice.


Most people that love computer programming and chess believe that calculating up to fifteen or twenty moves means more intelligence.  In reality, that is just the power of the intellectual mind and not necessarily intelligence in the sense of having Awareness and Compassion.  For basic game-play, one just needs to utilize three half-moves as the chess coach Bruce Pandolfini advises.  You move once, your opponent moves, then you move again.  This is called a combination.  Only in certain instances does one need to calculate up to ten moves and that usually is near the end of the game.

In Buddhism, there are explicit instructions on how to develop the mind.  With a little thought we can see how our body and mind is also like a computer.  Our ordinary mind, while still unenlightened has a glitch.  The main misconception – the belief in an inherently existent self, needs to be corrected.  Once we can organize our mind properly we surely gain better clarity.  One way to do this is to study and reflect on the scriptural teachings.  And if you are fortunate enough to participate in shedra courses you will be all the better for it.

Final point:

The sutras and tantras tell us that on the eighth stage of a Bodhisattva’s realization there is no longer any separation between meditation and post-meditation.  At that point, there is no compulsive reification of concepts.  What this means is that when you turn away from the chess board, the next moment you no longer have the same habitual thought-patterns going on.  If you lost the game, you can let it go.

In fact, you can let anything go – whatever good or bad things happen, you just abide in the nature of mind.  This is Mahamudra.  In the next moment, you can bring your awareness to the task at hand.  This is something we should all aspire towards.

good luck!



Filed under Emotional Health, Masters, Mental Health, Spiritual Healing

7 responses to “The art of sacrifice

  1. Daniella

    What a wonderful text to learn from. In reading this, I felt a shift in my mind. I take away the realization that most of the concepts – I have intuited somehow, but of those I haven’t …being led to learn from them, struck an immediate chord within!! Thank you for posting such a mind-changing lesson!! Blessings,Daniella


    • Daniella,

      If it wasn’t for your encouragement in your previous comment, this article would never have come about. I had to do a deeper contemplation, generate even more bodhichitta and then tie everything together so it fits. I just hope that it doesn’t cause others to stray too far off the path otherwise someone could get too self-absorbed or paranoid like a Bobby Fischer.

      If you have time, could you elaborate on what you felt was already true for youself and what new insights struck a chord within you? It might help others gain even more clarity on this difficult topic.

      thanks so much!!


  2. wow..very profound….I love the buddist religion…I never lived near a buddast temple…too bad as I really like the teachings….i also beleive there is the truth in all religions…I have found the ability to let go and accept what is , thru my christain faith..I believe in the end there is only God and that is enough…knowing the diffrence of good sacrifice and bad…such a huge lesson for many people…it is a lesson I am trying very hard to learn as I write this……I am so used to the bad self sacrifice…I do however think I do more good these days….


    • Channa,

      I am glad you could appreciate the topic. It wasn’t easy to put together. I wanted to express these points for many years. As you know, Christ sacrificed his life for his friends. Even Nargarjuna sacrificed his life for his enemies. Both trained their minds in compassion without partiality. It is amazing when you read and consider what they have done for us.



  3. yah and i just wanted to mention my friend always told me people play chess the way they think in life……I sacrifice all my important players right away and of course I always lose (doht!)….very interesting about the chess…..


    • I’ve always appreciated how there are so many comparisons to life and the way we play chess. Now you can learn the art of making good sacrifices!

      I recall that you posted once before. How is your son doing now? And were there any therapies here or on the Barefoot Herbalist’s forum that you found beneficial for him?


      • that is very sweet of you to remember him..yes he is doing amazingly well,I consider him in managed recovery…meaning he still needs strict diet and supplements to function normally…..I did not get to try any of the therapys on your site :(…but it is one of those things that nag at me that I keep telling myself I need to do….I believed then and I still do that energy healing is a very important part of my sons recovery…and you have such wonderful info on your site….
        blessings to you dear friend


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