We may ask how the graces emanating from feeding the Brahmin reach our ancestors wherever they may be. If human ingenuity can ensure so many scientific marvels, a superhuman agency can definitely accomplish the same for transferring the blessings.
We should not forget that the subtle body (Soul, Mind and Intellect as eternal consciousness) exists even when the physical body does not. This subtle body of our ancestors receives God’s graces because of our acts of kindness (ordained as rituals) performed in their name.
The ancestral rituals entail performing Puja and offering favourite dishes to the departed souls while setting aside five bites ~ one each for a Brahmin, cow, dog, crow and ants.
The Brahmin represents the departed soul. By feeding him, we satiate our ancestor. By offering food to the cow, we feed all the celestial beings and seek their blessings. Dog was the form that Indra, the Hindu Lord of Heaven, took while accompanying Yudhishthira on his last journey.
Food is offered to ants and the crow which represents all birds. Both, because of their dark colour, are said to absorb all negative energies. The rituals are intended for all ancestors, irrespective of when they died, benefitting even those without offspring.
The rituals also serve as a psychiatric treatment to relieve us of the fear and guilt resulting from our misdemeanours against our elders, removing any preconceived ideas we may have about them.
Such an institutionalised arrangement of kindness and charity, if anything, also ensures that we remain compassionate to our fellow human and other living beings. Community congregation and ritual feasts not only reinforce the social consciousness, but also consolidate the societal bonding.
Legend has it that when the soul of Karna, a mythical warrior in Mahabharata, transcended to heaven, he was offered gold and jewels as food. When he asked Indra for real food, he was told that there was none for him as he donated only gold all his life and never offered food to his ancestors during the Sradh ceremony. Since Karna was unaware of his ancestors, he was allowed to return to earth for a 16-day period to make amends to perform the necessary rituals, donating food and water in their memory.
The intervening period between death and rebirth may vary, depending on the circumstances including the time taken for clustering of all the souls with whom an individual soul needs to settle the ‘Give and Take’ account. The souls are believed to wait before rebirth till all the souls connected by mutual Karmic debt are clustered together.
Early or delayed birth of a soul depends on the role being taken according to the debts and desired lessons to be learnt. More often than not, the souls, due to ignorance, end up creating more accounts than settling the earlier ones, thereby keeping them trapped in the unending Cosmic Drama.
If the souls so decide, they could continue living in the ethereal world, though the same significantly slows down their spiritual progress. The disembodied souls knowing everything about the relevant rules and laws of the spiritual world, their entire conduct becomes very mechanical.
However, the souls forget all about their past lives in a physical form. When embodied, they make faster spiritual progress according to the dominant impressions carved in their consciousness.
Stuck in Maya (read Cosmic Drama), we keep chasing a mirage. Our endless desires for false values keep us tied to the mortal world. All our work, positions, achievements and acquisitions remain meaningless if the same are not utilised as means towards our spiritual development.
All physical forms being nothing but energy in motion, we are actually incarnated ‘energy’ chasing other forms of ‘energy’. Everything around us is an evanescent myth, afforded to us by the Lord for facilitating our spiritual progress.
This definitely does not mean that we should renounce this world. That is not the purpose of Creation. As the souls move up the spiritual stepladder only through the mediating physical forms, they are valuable. But in our bid to push ahead in life, we must not push and shove others as that spoils our Karma.
The lessons we learn through our myriad experiences and interactions in the material world help enrichment and evolution of our eternal consciousness.
We should not be cursing the God for unpleasant experiences in our lives as the same are God’s ways to help us with our spiritual growth. The difficulties and difficult people in our lives are actually our teachers.
As enlightened selfish, we should not abhor these circumstances or people as by unwittingly harming their own Karma, they help improve ours. How we see ourselves through the same determines whether or not we use the opportunity for our spiritual growth. Ungrateful, we often curse the Almighty for our woes, forgetting to count our blessings which far outnumber our privations.
Being blessed with God’s innumerable benedictions and being among His chosen few, we ought to give back to the underprivileged millions over whom God favoured us. We should continue doing good despite being cursed and criticised. After all, stones are thrown at the trees laden with fruits.
We should not feel bad that our near and dear ones remember us only in need. Aren’t candles lighted only in darkness or an umbrella opened only in rain or sun? Deeming ourselves to be a candle or an umbrella, we should continue helping others as that is our divine duty. Being an enlightened selfish, we know that all our altruistic works add to our positive Karma which eventually rid us from the eternal cycle of birth and death.
We should not judge our success by our acquisitions or positions as the same are easily forgotten after our demise. How larger the circle of goodness we create by dint of our superior Karma determines our success on earth. How positive the impact we create on earth and how many lives we touch positively while on earth should determine our success.
Lately, many in Japan, in keeping with the tenets of Zen Buddhism, are renouncing and reducing their material acquisitions to the barest minimum with a view to enhance the happiness quotient in their lives.
We may not remember the names of Nobel laureates, Oscar winners or other super achievers, but we definitely remember the names of our loved ones. It is the latter who matter the most and add quality and meaning to our lives.
So, while trying to make a living, we should look forward to make our lives meaningful and enriching without being bothered about the fripperies. Life is much too beautiful to be squandered over meaningless trinkets and trivia. It’s a beautiful opportunity afforded by God to bask in His glory while simultaneously making spiritual progress.
The writer is an IAS officer, presently posted as the Commissioner of School Education, West Bengal. The views are personal and not the Government‘s