Concern for fellow-beings sets apart sajjanas from others. As a Sanskrit proverb goes,
मृदुलं नवनीतमीरितं नवनीतादपि सज्जनस्य हृत् ।
यदिदं द्रवते स्वतापनात् परतापात् सतां पुनः ॥
"Butter is said to be soft, but the sajjana's heart is softer. Butter melts only when it is heated, but the heart of the sajjana melts (even) when others are in
Years ago, there was a very short story in the Kannada magazine, Mayura (I think). The protagonist was a poet, very poor but large-hearted man, like the sajjana in the above shloka. His child was ill, and the whole family was clothed in rags. Our poet was at the end of his wits. At this juncture, he received an unexpected sum of money as a fee (as far as I remember). Then there was a knock on his door. A poor man had come to ask him for help; he wanted to get his daughter married and did not have the money. Our poet gave him all the money he had, and he walked away happily. The poet then told his wife, "What could I do? I have a poet's heart!" ("ನಾನೇನು ಮಾಡಲಿ? ನನ್ನದು ಕವಿಹೃದಯ"). The wife accepted his decision.
Even back then, I had a question. How could the heart that melted at the plight of the poor man, not melt at the sight of his own sick child?
A few days ago, December Stud said in a comment, that all of us are selfish, or should at least be selfish to a certain degree. That struck me as being true, and I got thinking about the various stories of self-sacrifice that appear so often in our mythology and literature. I then realized that I have never liked the extreme self-sacrifice that is, as a rule, praised to the Heavens.
What Jimutavaahana did, was against dharma, in my opinion. As the king, his duty was to protect all his subjects, but he chose to protect Shankhachuda alone, because he was there at the right time and place. His sacrifice had a good result, in that Garuda stopped harming naagas any further, but suppose it had gone unnoticed? True, Jimutavahana was a vidyaadhara and a bodhisattva. But I think I would have had far more respect for him if he had fought and subdued Garuda like a true Kshatriya. (I did not like naagaanandam, the play written by Harsha, either... Well, that's the topic for a separate post).
We have a more realistic view of sacrifice and kshatriyadharma in the Mahabharata. When Kunti offered to send Bhima with the food for Bakasura, even Yudhishthira, the epitome of righteousness, did not approve of the act (as far as I remember). However, this had a good result too; Bhima killed Baka. What appealed to me here was the "down-to-earth-ness" of Yudhishthira.
Sometimes, the idea that self-sacrifice always brings about good results, is comforting. At other times it is disturbing. Finally, it all comes down to doing the right thing, and not just sacrificing. But just how can we decide if what we are doing is right?