Sitting among the Native American cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde in the southwest U.S., my mind drifts back to another time; a time that many consider an ancient period for humanity though only a few thousand years ago. While it is fascinating to see their homes, as I imagine the activities of these ancient people, something more deep, more primal, something deeply personal arises within my mind—thoughts of the ancestors. At night, I can look to the sky and see the same stars that our ancestors gazed upon. There is a connection through this process, a deep psychological connection that unites the past and present, they seem to merge together briefly within the mind.
Regrettably, very few people give much thought to the ancestors in this day and age. A few cultures, rooted in ancient traditions, are attempting to hold onto an honoring of the ancestors, but as western values, consumerism and ideology influence the global consciousness, these teachings are becoming lost and rarely understood. Many people are surprised to know that yoga and its mother-Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma) have a deep and well-established tradition of honoring the ancestors. In fact, Yoga/Hinduism is one of the few (if not only major tradition) surviving to this day that still highly favors honoring one’s ancestors. While it is somewhat understandable as to why the modern mind would ask the question, ‘what is the value of honoring the ancestors?’ In reality, the answer to this question is found within oneself, and this answer needs to be brought into the light for humanity.
In the current age, we like to think of this as the age of individuals. As an individual, we are somehow unique. And, as an individual, we believe we are somehow removed from our ancestral past. Yet, a segment of the western population seeks to self-identify with their ancestral roots, as some are seeking to reestablish a link with the past as a way of deepening self-identification and acknowledging their roots, so to speak. No doubt this is the result of having lost a sense of connection with the past for many. This is evident through websites that allow one to search their ancestry, and even DNA tests are now available to provide insight into one’s ancestral roots. Seeking one’s roots is in a sense a subconscious need to reconnect with one’s past or at least a subconscious recognition that our unique qualities are an amalgamation of our ancestors. In reality, we are a walking record of our ancestors. We are a monument to their achievements, challenges, victories, and defeats. We are shaped by their thoughts, hopes and dreams influenced by our own karmas that are combined with our own hopes and dreams in which we shape future generations. Of course, all of this is recorded in our DNA-the library of the human journey. While it is true that we are individuals, one must recognize that we are also influenced and shaped by over 200,000 years of human growth and development.
While numerous cultures have historically honored the ancestors, it is within the yoga/Hindu tradition that we find the remnants of a highly evolved understanding of ancient DNA. It was understood by the yogi’s that the actions of previous members of one’s family could and would easily carry forward to future generations. References to this appear, to varying degrees, within a variety of different religious teachings, of course, the nomenclature is different from that of modern day. Our modern day application to this concept of ancestors would be the term genetics. Science recognizes that we carry genetic dispositions toward various diseases such as alcoholism and cancer as an example. We carry much of the data of actions of our ancestors. For this purpose, ancient people(s) recognized the importance of honoring the ancestors as an important form of healing, empowerment and for mental and physical growth and transformation. While we may carry the DNA from our ancestors, its manifestation is shaped by our personal karma and choices. But there are generational karmas that we often incarnate into as well. These can be powerful karmas that are linked to compulsions and behaviors that are not easily explained by social conditioning. Working with the ancestors has been a powerful tool for ancient people in attempting to address these issues. Though few know this ancient system of healing now or practice it; there are powerful systems of healing found within yoga/Hinduism that focus heavily upon work with the ancestors. These forms of healing can be an important part of a wellness program and personal healing program as well. But this is a two-fold process, we do not merely wish to heal past events recorded within one’s DNA; we want to heal within this incarnation and then project forward for future generations. This concept permeates the yoga/Hindu traditions. As there are techniques for projecting positive vibrations to future generations, and one might ask, ‘who will be these future generations?’ Why they are you, and others, that reincarnate as the future generations. As we are reminded in the Rig Veda:
a ta etu mana punah kratve dakshaya jivase,
Jyok ca suryam drishe. Rig Veda 10.4.57.4
“May your spirit return again, to perform pure acts for exercising strength, and to live long to see Surya [the sun].
Or as we see in the Yajur Veda:
savita te shridebhyah prthivyam lokamicchatu,
tasmai yujyantAmustriyah. Yajur Veda 35.2 (Shukla)
“Savita [The Sun God] grants bodies in different births and worlds, providing a happy/ unhappy place on this earth, according to your deeds…”
Within Hinduism, there are many common times for honoring the ancestors, one of the most well known might be Pitri/Pitru Paksha This is a somewhat longer cycle as it is about 16 nights in length. While commonly viewed as an effort of projecting peace for the ancestors during this period, one must remain mindful that we carry their DNA; therefore, there is a secondary benefit of projecting peace to the ancestors to bring about change within our own being as well. Due to its association with the lunar cycle, its connection with the mind is somewhat apparent as the mind and lunar quality are powerfully associated with one another.
How does one begin to work on this important aspect of the human incarnation? An easy way is to begin with a simple offering to the ancestors. Take a stick of incense. Sit for a brief moment and set the intent that your lighting of the incense is to honor the ancestors. Then light the incense stick. Allow the incense to completely burn. Traditionally this would be performed daily. May this aid the ancestors and help each of us to heal, as well as help future generations!
By Yogi Baba Prem Th.D, Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.